It’s been so many years of waiting. Praying. Hoping. Struggling.
And as a follower of Jesus, what most often tempts me to question God’s goodness and love for me is this: If God can heal me, rescue me, free me, and grant my desires – why doesn’t he?
The flame of doubt is only further fanned when my eyes turn outward to those who seem to have received the miracle I desire – taunting me to believe that my doubts have merit.
But I know first hand that these doubts are one of the first and most damaging arrows in the enemy’s arsenal. Because if we question God’s goodness and love for us, then the very foundation we stand upon will feel like quick sand beneath our spiritual feet.
Learning from Jesus
As I came across John 5 this week in my reading plan, I was freshly struck by the account of Jesus healing a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years as he laid helplessly in front of the pool of Bethesda.
John retells the account like this:
“One man lying there had been an invalid for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?‘ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir I have no one to put me into the pool when the water was stirred up, and while I am going, another steps down before me.‘ Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take your bed, and walk.’ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” John 5:5-9
Although the account may be short, there were several takeaways that jumped out at me, all of which I hope will be a helpful encouragement and reminder to you as well.
Jesus knows us and our sorrows intimately
Jesus already knew this man’s story. And he knew this man’s heart. We don’t know why he zeroed in on this particular man, when many others were hurting around him, but the scriptures specify that Jesus knew the length of time he had suffered – and seemed to have compassion toward his long-suffering.
Jesus knew every detail of this man’s life. He had nothing impressive to show for himself; nothing to offer; and no value according to the world’s standards. Yet, even still – Jesus knew and pursued him personally. And the same is true for us.
He sees you. He knows your pain, even when no one else can. And more than anything – he cares.
Jesus prioritizes the heart
Interestingly, Jesus didn’t ask the man if he believed he was the Son of God. He didn’t immediately ask him to repent of his sin. He simply asked, “Do you want to be healed?”
At first glance, I thought: “Of course he wants to be healed! What kind of question is that? Everyone wants to be healed!” But I wonder, if after so many years as an invalid, Jesus was instead asking him, “Do you believe you can be healed? Or have you sealed your fate, closed your heart, accepted your identity as an invalid, and given up hope?”
I don’t know about you, but that question convicts me. I know all too well how easy it is to grow hardened by the years of long-suffering, cynical toward any hope of healing or change. On top of that, as much as we may hate our pain, it can subtly become our identity. We become uncomfortably comfortable in the pain, disappointment, and loss we’ve lived with for so long. We may hate it, but if it’s all we know, it can taint the way we view God, ourselves, and the world around us.
But Jesus is gracious toward our humanity. In the Gospels, he often drew the heart of a person to the surface by asking a question, rather than giving a command or demanding repentance. And in this instance, he asked a question that began to draw to the surface where this man was placing his hope.
We focus on the challenges
I chuckled when I first read the man’s response to Jesus’ question. Not because it’s innately funny, but because we’re so limited by our human understanding – despite having direct access to the God of the universe. It seems the man responded to Jesus’ question as if Jesus was really saying, “If you really want to be healed, then why don’t you do more? If you really want to be healed, why don’t you get into the medicinal pool and do something to help yourself?”
I imagine that was a common self-help narrative in those times, just as it is today.
But the truth is, this man was standing before his Creator, the very One who spoke the world into existence and could bring the dead to life, and yet all he could see were the earthly hindrances to the path of healing.
How often do we do the same? We become so focused on all that we’re up against that we lose sight of the One who rules over every single molecule and atom, let alone every circumstance that we deem impossible.
But friend, there’s also a deeper question to ask ourselves. Do we truly want to be healed in the eternal sense, even if at the cost of our earthly comfort?
That’s not an easy answer because it goes against every natural bone in our body, which desires relief now.
But it’s important to examine what our basis of God’s goodness is founded upon. Is it upon the fact that he’s granted or not granted us what seems good in our eyes? Or is it based upon the truth that he sacrificed himself to die in our place in order to purchase our eternal healing and freedom?
If it’s the first, we’ll question his goodness every time his will is at odds with ours. If it’s the latter, we will learn to remain hopeful for earthly change, while keeping the basis of our hope in its proper place – the character and promises of God through the gospel.
Jesus offers unmerited grace despite imperfect faith
Jesus doesn’t scold the man for his short-sighted answer. He graciously heals him anyway. This man didn’t deserve it. He didn’t earn it. He didn’t pray the right prayer. He wasn’t of more value than those around him. He was simply a recipient of God’s grace to display God’s glory to those around him.
And that is true for each of us. Sometimes God may show his power through healing us, providing a much needed job, fulfilling our longings, or granting a miracle. And if he does, it’s not because of our own merit. But sometimes (or most of the time), he shows us his power through sustaining us through the impossible, giving us joy in the midst of sorrow, and changing our hearts instead of our circumstances. All of these are miracles of grace amidst our faithlessness, but we must have the eyes to see it.
Jesus’ miraculous healings in the gospel doesn’t guarantee ours
The verse preceding this passage tells us that the pool of Bethesda was where “a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed (v 3).”
But Jesus didn’t heal everyone he encountered. For whatever reason, he chose this particular man – not because he was more worthy than the others or just happened to draw the right straw – but because Jesus used the miraculous healing of a few for the purpose of leading magnitudes to the greater healing he had come to offer.
Yes, Jesus can grant the miracles and change in circumstances that we desire. But scripture shows us that that’s not his greatest priority in our lives because it’s not actually what we most need. This life is short. Eternity is…well, eternal. Sometimes his love means allowing what is temporarily unwanted for what is eternally needed.
Jesus’ miracles are meant to draw us toward him, not to greater independence.
Interestingly, the passage ends right after the man gets up and walks away. At first glance, it seems like Jesus simply healed him and went on his way. But if you read further, you’ll see that a little while later Jesus “found” this man again in the temple and drew to the surface what he was really after – his heart.
Jesus said, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” (v 14). There’s some debate on what Jesus meant by “something worse may happen to you”, but I think we can assume, in part, that he was pointing out that his spiritual healing was of even greater value than his physical – because eternal separation from God would be far greater suffering than a lifetime of being an invalid.
Jesus didn’t heal him so that he could be on his merry way and no longer need a Savior. He healed him to bear evidence to the fact that he was the Son of God, powerful enough to heal, but more importantly, powerful enough to save.
Remain hopeful, but Place your hope in what is promised rather than desired.
Christian, if you haven’t been granted an earthly miracle or the longings of your heart – rest in this assurance: You are a miracle of God’s grace through salvation because Jesus chose not to use the power he had to heal, protect, and rescue himself when faced with the agony of the cross. And as followers of Jesus, we too, are called to walk in the footsteps of our suffering (but victorious) Savior.
Yes, God may grant earthly relief, but he will offer the comfort of himself regardless of the circumstances (1 Cor. 1:3-7). He may or may not grant you the miracle you desire (and it’s okay to pray to that end), but he promises to grant you all that you need to live the life God has called you to. And above all else, he has already granted you the greatest miracle of all – bringing your dead heart to life (Eph 2:8-9).
Today, let us pray with hope, assured that God loves us with the tender love of a Father who knows what is best for us, and will bring it about in his perfect timing. As we wait in faith, we can rest in the truth that his goodness and love toward us is not measured by the weight of earthly miracles and tangible blessings – it’s measured by the unimaginable weight of the cross.
Home is around the corner,
6 thoughts on “When the Miracle Doesn’t Come”
I so needed this today. I know in my heart the truths you have written, I have told myself them over the many many years of suffering I am in. But today what I most needed was just someone who gets it, who understands the long years of pain and wondering. Thank you for sharing your story and living out 2 Cor. 1-3-5, for me. He used you.
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I’m so thankful it encouraged your weary heart. I love when God knows exactly what someone needs in a way far bigger than us. Praying he continues to sustain and draw near as you wait on him…
Thank you for this Sarah. And on the day I needed it most. Catherine
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Thank you for this post. I have been reading your emails for a few years but I have never commented. I have had muscular weakness since childhood that is continuing to worsen and I am having a muscle biopsy Monday to see if there is an answer. The doctors now believe what I have is genetic but we don’t have a name. Your post is a reminder I need because more than likely my disability is not going to be healed on earth but that is ok too, because God is using it for His glory. Thank you for your post.
Well said, Sarah. I have been a believer long enough to realize the value of the eternal gifts that are mine, regardless of the physical healing I desire. Through my suffering my faith has grown immensely.
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