Hope Beyond Answers by Joni Eareckson Tada
All the passages below are taken from Joni Eareckson Tada’s book, “A Lifetime of Wisdom—Embracing the Way God Heals You,” which was published in 2009.
Diana came in again today to read to me from the Bible.
She said, “Is there any special verse you want to hear, Joni?” She asked, but she already knew.
It’s the same every time she—or anyone else—comes in. I heard her little sigh. She wants me to pick something else. Maybe a couple of psalms. But I can’t. I can’t get enough of it.
It’s a page in the Bible I’ve rehearsed over and over—through the long, boring parts of the day and the hours of endless night. It’s about a place where I go in my mind. A place far, far from this hospital.
I moved my lips as Diana read. I have this part almost memorized.
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. (John 5:2-9 NKJV)
Diana closed the Bible, lowered her eyes. She didn’t know what to say. Nobody ever knows what to say. But that doesn’t matter. I don’t really care. If someone wants to read to me—if they want to take time to sit by my bed and give me words from the Bible—that’s what I want to hear.
Bethesda. I can see it all. Hear it. Feel it. Smell it. It has become like a movie in my mind, running in a continuous loop. Sometimes I’m “there” as much as I’m “here.” In fact, I’m there right now….
It’s Judea, two thousand years ago, at the Pool of Bethesda, with its sun-baked pavement and colonnades.
Heat shimmers. Flies buzz. A donkey brays. Somewhere off in the distance (I can hear it so clearly) a dog keeps barking. But the crowd around me, normally languid in the afternoon heat, is restless. Murmuring, shuffling, expectant without knowing why. (But I know.)
I’m just one of those disabled people—sick, paralyzed, diseased—out here on the hot pavement unable to even swat flies. That’s who I am now, and I’d better get used to it. I’m one of them. Some of us are slumped on the steps leading down to the pool. Others lean up against the colonnades, looking for a little shade from this heat.
Heat sends my blood pressure up. But I don’t care. I wouldn’t move from this place even if I Could.
I’m one of the lucky ones today, lying on a mat against a cool, shady wall. Someone covered me with a rough cloak. That was kind.
But others treat me like a piece of dirt on the street, even kicking me or stepping on my legs. I guess I get the last laugh on them—I can’t feel a thing.
The sun climbs higher and I’m hot even in this poor shade. I can feel the sweat trickle off my scalp into my eyes. I’m thirsty.
I hope Jesus comes soon. No one else knows He is coming. But I do.
Now … it’s late afternoon. Something ripples in the air that isn’t wind. Over by the colonnades, movement. A stir. A shout. The crowd parting.
And there He is, Jesus. Stepping out of the shadows into brilliant sunlight. My heart pounds in my ears. It’s Him. It’s really Him. He’s stopped and turned—saying some words to a small group. I can’t hear. Now He’s stooping, touching the eyes of the blind man who’s been here forever. I can hear the crowd gasp—then silence—then cheering. He’s been healed! He can see!
Jesus, come to me. I need healing too! Son of David, help me. I’m over here by the wall!
People are elbowing, jostling, crawling, dragging themselves, pressing in on Him, trying to get near. This is better than an angel stirring the waters. This is the Healer Himself. But I can’t move, can’t crawl. And who will drag a paralyzed girl into His path?
Jesus, it’s me … Joni! Don’t forget me. Don’t pass me by again. Please! I’m over here!
He’s not looking at me. He’s turned to someone else. I thought—this time—He would come. I thought He would see how much I need Him and come, touch me, heal me. But now, I guess He’s moved on.
That’s how this movie loop in my head always ends. Somehow, it spins off the reel and splices into something else—a visitor at the door, a nurse coming to take my blood pressure, an orderly to change the bedding. And I’m so, so disappointed.
But maybe next time. Next time someone reads me that Scripture the movie will finish a different way. Jesus will hear me, look my way. He’ll put His strong, carpenter’s hands on my face, speak to me, and I’ll feel a tingle in the tips of my fingers and toes. Warmth and strength will shoot through my limbs. Then He’ll smile and say, “Joni, get up. You can walk now!”
Oh, God, it seems like ages since I’ve been in this hospital. Where are You? Do You see me at all? Why am I not getting better?
FORTY YEARS LATER
If I could speak to that younger self of mine in the Baltimore hospital, I would say, “Joni, you were right. You were looking in the right direction all along.
“That movie that played over and over in your mind … I know the ending now. It’s forty years later, and I know what happens. I’ve seen the movie, and I know how it turns out.
“Jesus didn’t walk away from you. He didn’t ignore the cry of your heart. He didn’t close His eyes to your plight or close His heart to your suffering. He did hear. He did respond. He came to you.
“No, He didn’t heal your physical wounds, and I know that is hard to bear. But Joni, He picked you up into His arms like a little lamb, and He has carried you close to His heart ever since. You were in His embrace then, as I am in His embrace now. He is carrying you, Joni” (see Isaiah 40:11).
Just a few years ago, I went back to the scene of my youthful dreams and longings. But this time I went in person. And in that place where I would so often hide as a frightened teenager, I found something.
A priceless ruby.
JERUSALEM, SEPTEMBER 1998
It was a dry, warm, and windy day in old Jerusalem.
Ken and I passed through the bazaar and found ourselves in a quieter, less congested part of the city.
Somehow, it was more than just sightseeing to me that day. I felt like God had something there for me. Something to see. Something to experience. Something He’d been waiting to tell me. I know His presence is every bit as real and near in California or Maryland as it is in Jerusalem. Even so … I felt an anticipation in my heart that went beyond normal curiosity about an interesting tourist spot.
We slowly meandered toward the Sheep Gate. Looking off to our right, we saw the tops of the cedar trees bending in the breeze above the Temple Mount. Making our way to the left, we followed a stone path bordering a church built by Crusaders and leading through a small grove of olive trees.
A warm breeze rustled the branches, and flowers along the path bobbed. It was almost like the wind was whispering something to me, but I couldn’t make out the words.
No one was around but us, and all was oddly quiet.
Suddenly, the path opened out into an acre or two of white stone ruins. A plaque on the guardrail read:
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water….
I stared at the verse a long time before lifting my eyes to explore the crumbled colonnades. I had never been there before and yet … I had. Times beyond number. Lying in the hospital, hearing the story, placing myself there in my imagination, in my grief, in my yearning to be healed. I had waited and waited for Jesus in that very place. And now, it was as if that intense longing had permeated these very stones.
The place was deserted, and the city sounds seemed muted and far away, the wind sighing among the ruins. Ken decided to amble down to see if he could find any water left in the cistern below.
I stayed by the plaque on the railing. Waiting. Expectant.
It wasn’t only God’s Son who walked the narrow dusty tracks and stone-paved alleyways in Israel and Jerusalem.
Abraham too had traversed the tiny country Ken and I explored that day. The Lord had told him, “Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you” (Genesis 13:17).
And before Jerusalem was even Jerusalem, one who was known as a priest of God Most High and the king of Salem came out to meet the patriarch after his battles, bearing bread and wine (see Genesis 14:18-20).
I think about Abraham and Sarah, and how they had longed with everything in them for a child. God eventually granted them a son, just as He had promised, but before He gave them the desire of their hearts, He appeared to Abraham in a vision.
Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.
At the time, Abraham was too bound up by his fear and sorrow to respond to those magnificent words. He went on to say, “0 Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless….?” (Genesis 15:2).
I think God had just answered that question. He was giving Abraham Himself.
He was the Prize. He Himself was the Very Great Reward. And if you have Him, if He has willingly given Himself to you in all His wonder, splendor, might, and love, what else do you need?
There’s a ruby of wisdom in these thoughts, a flashing, many-faceted diamond of understanding. When God denies your dearest desire, get ready to open up your heart even wider, for He will become that desire Himself.
“I am … your very great reward.”
Abraham wasn’t satisfied with God’s answer, because his mind was locked on earthly things—a child, a son, an heir, a family. So often, in our troubles and human limitations, we’re not satisfied either.
God understands, “For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14 NASB). Even so, the Holy Spirit who dwells within us must long for a deeper understanding among God’s children. If only we could see with the eyes of faith just a little bit deeper into eternal realities. When we spurn God’s offer of more of Himself in exchange for our cherished desires, it’s a little like asking our dad for a nickel and being crushed with disappointment because he gives us all the gold in Fort Knox. The truth is, if God says no to one of our requests, it is only that He might say yes to something infinitely more valuable and beyond our reckoning.
Sometimes the process of weaning us from a lesser good in order to give us something much greater simply breaks our heart. The rich young ruler walked away sad after Jesus had offered him rewards in heaven and His own close companionship in exchange for his meager earthly portfolio. He just didn’t understand. He just couldn’t see. I wonder if, before he died, he ever did.
In the same way, you and I feel torn and grieve when our Christian loved one exchanges a brief, transitory, shadow life for life unending and the very presence of Christ just on the other side of death’s door.
And as that young girl in the hospital bed in Baltimore forty years ago, I too was devastated when He declined to give me my heart’s desire—a restored, whole, fully functional body.
Here is a ruby of wisdom, hard-won. It has taken me years to understand that what He has taken away in one currency He has given back—a million to one—in the currency of heaven.
By denying me the hope of physical healing, He has given me unspeakable privileges. Looking back, I am reminded that He has appointed me to be His ambassador of hope all over the world to so many who have no hope at all. I can close my eyes and see countless faces in over forty-five nations. Africa. Asia. Romania. The Middle East.
I think of Wheels for the World, and nearly forty thousand wheelchairs collected nationwide, refurbished by inmates in nineteen correctional facilities, and hand-delivered to needy disabled children and adults in poor, developing nations. I recall story after story of men and women and children who have been given hope—real, tangible, practical help—in forgotten places and desolate pockets of despair around the world. I think of the opportunity to declare the wonder and worth of Jesus to over a million listeners every week on my radio program. I think of hundreds and hundreds of special needs families that Joni and Friends will serve through our Family Retreats across the country.
And beyond all those opportunities to serve Him, to carry the hope of Christ around this dark world, He has given me Himself. He has told me, “Don’t be afraid, Joni. I am your shield. I am your reward, your very great reward.”
The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. And what He takes away may tear our hearts in two, but what He gives may change someone’s world forever.
But let’s be honest here, That “taking away” part can push us to the very brink.
Hope on the Edge
My friend David lives on the edge. He’s a quadriplegic, his wife left him after the car accident, he survives on government benefits, and he lives alone in a little apartment downtown. After getting up in the morning he more or less fends for himself after his part-time attendant leaves. Despite all his struggles, David always orders the public access van on Saturday evening so that he can come to our church for Sunday services.
“Who helps you with dinner?” I asked him once. David explained that he usually powers his wheelchair over to the Pizza Hut. “The Lord always provides someone to help,” he laughed. “Sometimes it’s one of the waiters on break. Or a stranger having dinner who offers to help.
“I can feed myself,” he said proudly. “I just need someone to place the pizza in the curve of my hand just so. But Joni, I’ll tell you something, all this helps me to depend on the Lord. I mean…. I depend on Him.”
Like flickering candles snuffed in the wind, this man’s hopes had been extinguished one by one. Just try to imagine. Try to place yourself in his shoes.
The hope of marriage and lifelong love. Gone.
The hope of fathering sons and daughters. Gone.
The hope of rising to the top in a fruitful and engaging career. Gone.
And all of those incredibly precious little things in life. Peeling an apple. Fishing. Backpacking. Shooting a few baskets with the guys. Paddling a canoe across a still lake in the morning mist. Cooking dinner. Working out. Walking under the stars. All gone. All irretrievably out of reach for the rest of his life. With Job, he could have said,
My days have passed, my plans are shattered,
and so are the desires of my heart. .
where then is my hope?
Who can see any hope for me?
(Job 17:11, 15)
David only has one—just one—answer to that question.
Jesus is David’s only hope.
David inspires me because he’s not afraid to live on that edge. Somehow he finds light in the darkness and hope in the midst of helplessness. And God has revealed to him the preciousness of Isaiah 45:3 where the Lord promises,
I will give you the treasures of darkness,
riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the LORD,
the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
Out there on the frayed and tattered edge of life, David has found a stash of rubies.
Oh, how wealthy are the people who need God desperately; whose treasure in the darkness is a deeper knowledge of Him.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you shall laugh.
(Luke 6:21 NASB)
In the midst Of your own darkness, there are treasures, riches, and rubies of wisdom that could never by discovered in the light of ease and peace. Needing God desperately will always make you wealthy.
But once again, arriving at that point may be the most difficult path you can imagine.
A Choice of Life or Death
When someone is newly paralyzed, finding and holding on to such a hope can he the difference between life and death. If you become so depressed that you won’t do physical therapy, won’t get out of bed, or won’t even eat, you’ve chosen the grave.
That’s where Ron was. When his wife emailed me, the girls who help me with correspondence could immediately read the fear in her words.
“Joni,” she wrote, “I’m so sorry to bother you. But would you please call my husband?”
A former pastor, Ron had broken his neck in a motorcycle accident and had been lying in bed for months. He had been sinking into such a profound depression that his wife became distraught. Her last straw was to “email Joni.”
I talked on the phone to him for an hour, sharing Scriptures that had helped me through the dark times over the years. But Ron knew more Scripture than I did and simply refused to respond. I sang a few hymns to him, but I only got silence on the other end.
Finally, near the end of our time on the phone, I shot a quick prayer toward heaven and took a different tack.
“Ron, did you see the movie The Shawshank Redemption?” He seemed surprised at my question and indicated that he had.
“Maybe you remember Andy DuPhrane’s line when he was talking to his fellow prisoner. He said, `Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies … so get busy living, or get busy dying.”
Ron was quiet for a tong moment. Then he said softly, “Hope is a good thing.” The former pastor returned to his hope in Christ. And from then on, he got busy living.
Titus 2:13 (KJV) speaks, of, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” From the Lord alone flows all joy and peace. With my own eyes, I saw hope overflow in Ron’s life when he and his wife finally came to one of our Family Retreats. There they were, busy passing on hope to others!
All of this may sound good.
You might even think it sounds easy.
But we are speaking here about some of the deepest valleys and darkest nights of life. Times when you feel bumped up against the outer fence of your very sanity. Times when you wonder if you’ll even survive. Times when you feel so weak and depleted or so locked in a vise of depression that you don’t even have the strength or will to pray for help.
That was the case with my friend, Jeannie.
Hope in the Rock Higher than I
Jeannie asked me if I ever lose my handle on hope because of my pain or disability.
She has good reason to ask. Jeannie has been through monumentally difficult times over the last eighteen months. After a painful divorce, she gained a lot of weight, could not get it off, lost her job, and then developed a couple of medical problems related to her weight gain—which made finding a new job even more difficult.
She feels so alone sometimes. So crushed by hardships. She’s not whining or looking for sympathy, but I can understand. Sometimes problems pile on so high they only seem to wear you down. She confided the other day that she didn’t feel like she had the strength to even reach out for God.
“What do you do, Joni, when you feel hope slipping away from you?”
I don’t always have something profound to say when I get asked a question like that. But the Scripture does. I’ve been rescued, I told her, more than many times by Psalm 61:2-3:
From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
There are a couple of things I love about this verse. First, it doesn’t matter if you are at the end of things—at the end of the earth—at the end of yourself, like my friend Jeannie. Please know that God will hear you.
“The ends of the earth” speaks of regions you would never willingly go. No one wants to look for an apartment on the backside of the moon. No one wants to pitch their tent in a wilderness of suffering. No one wants to linger along the road in the gray, twilight lands of depression. No one volunteers to walk that long, lonely highway of blasted hopes and demolished dreams.
We don’t sign up to go such places. I never asked for paralysis. Jeannie never asked for betrayal and divorce. Nevertheless, whether we like it or not, our path in this life will traverse such places. Jesus said it would. At some point in the course of our lives, we will find ourselves at the ends of the earth.
Maybe so. But you are never so far down and out that God is not near.
The psalmist says he cried “as my heart grows faint” (Psalm 61:2 TNIV). The old King James Version says, “when my heart is overwhelmed:” Psalm 61 is for anybody who has a fainting heart—that includes my friend, me, and you too. You know what it feels like to be overwhelmed. Your senses are numb, you feel spiritually tired, battered and bruised, your prayers don’t seem to get answers, God seems far away, you feel like giving up, like throwing in the towel (or maybe like eating more chocolate, as my friend Jeannie has been prone to do).
If this describes you, friend, you’ve got a fainting heart!
But finally the psalmist cries, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” That thought amazes me. To me, it says that in those times when our hearts are so low and we feel so weak and depleted that we can’t drag ourselves to that High Rock, we can ask the Rock to come to us. We can ask the Rock of Ages to take us by our weary hand and lead us to Himself.
Praise Him! When we’re too weak and overwhelmed to come to Him, He will come to us!
And this is the way my friend finally sighed in the weakest of prayers, “Oh Lord, I have absolutely no strength. But I know enough to ask You to please, please inspire me, give me the ‘want to,’ give me the desire, Lord, to reach out to You. I need to get above things, I need a brighter, clearer outlook on things—and You, Lord Jesus, are the Rock that is higher than I am.”
It’s been a while since her husband left her, and Jeannie still has a few pounds to shed—she’s doing that to get her health back. But things are looking up for my friend right now. And Psalm 61 and the grace of God which can he found in it—and in all of God’s Word—is her rock.
Jeannie had come to me looking for answers.
But sometimes there simply aren’t any answers to be found.
Hope beyond Answers
I couldn’t think of a better way to spend time off in my hometown than to dress up for a fancy luncheon with my high school girlfriends and swap stories, pass photos, dig up funny memories, and carve out an hour for prayer and hymn singing. We hadn’t been together since graduation in ’67, and I was on pins and needles to see them.
“Hey Connie,” I said to my friend over the phone, “I’m flying into Baltimore for a speaking engagement in a couple of weeks, and I would love to get together with some old Young Life club friends.”
I wheeled through Connie’s front door three weeks later, geared up for a soulful afternoon.
“What did you do to your hair?”
“Hey, I brought a couple of old songbooks.”
It was a traffic jam of hugs and hellos in the entry way of her house until Connie called us into the dining room. Linen, china, bowls of fruit, and fresh flowers greeted us.
“Okay, I have only three requests,” I announced after grace was sung and platters started around the table. “Set aside time for prayer, singing, and each give an update on what’s been happening.”
Millie, at the far end with her arm in a cast, started. Yes, we’d all sign her cast before leaving, and, yes, I promised I wouldn’t drool when I autographed it with my mouth. No, we didn’t realize it had been on for months. Oh really? The prognosis is that bleak? The news of chronic infection subdued us.
Next was Jacque, my fun-loving friend with whom I had shared boyfriends, milkshakes, and laps around the hockey field. “You all know about my husband. It didn’t work out between us. My son’s having a rough time . . . .” She spoke to her plate, pushing food with her fork. The table was quiet except for the clinking of silverware.
The mother of my high school boyfriend, Mrs. Filbert, told how her son’s wife had fled the marriage, leaving her to tend to her grandchildren while he worked. Now that the grandkids were older, she was devoting her time to her husband stricken with Parkinson’s. I heard the words, but I saw memories of long ago Friday evenings when I would play the piano in her stately home. A safe, orderly, beautiful home, which kept heartache beyond the threshold.
“Some people say I shouldn’t give up speaking at Christian Women’s Clubs,” she said, her eyes becoming wet, “but I’m convinced the Lord has me where He wants me.”
At the far end sat Diana, taking it all in. She hadn’t said much. When we greeted each other, she seemed unusually quiet. It was her turn to speak. Diana’s glum look fit her words as she shared a story of rebellion and drug abuse in her family. Dishes stopped clattering. Ever since high school, Diana had been a spiritual stalwart. Closer to God than any of us. It was she who read me the Bethesda story (over and over again) in my hospital room when I was seventeen.
But today, our immovable and unshakable Rock of Gibraltar stared into her lap. “I wasn’t going to come to this luncheon. We brought my son home late last night from the rehab unit. It was pretty bad. I don’t know … I just don’t know.”
Silence settled over us. One person felt uneasy with the quiet—Jacque, the one who had a son who was struggling. “Well you got to keep hoping, keep praying. Somehow, you got to know it’s going to work out. Keep believing. Who knows? Maybe this happened because”—Jacque checked off a few inward qualities God was probably fashioning as a result of outward circumstances. Ironclad faith, Robust character. Sensitivity to others. But finally a heavier silence fell. Diana already knew all those things.
She could tie any of us in a tangle of theological thread from her years of Bible study, not to mention a masters degree in counseling. She knew the doctrinal ropes; she had spoon-fed me “suffering develops patience” and “suffering refines faith” when I kept bugging her as to “why?” Diana was doing that thirty years ago.
Slowly, out of the silence, a song began. First faintly, then swelling as all joined in:
Sometimes I feel discouraged,
and think my work’s in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again.
The old favorite from Young Life Club days came rising out of out, memories as though we were saddle-shoed teenagers again, sitting cross-legged on the church-hall floor.
There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.
It was an old spiritual inspired by the prophet Jeremiah who, amidst the horror of the Babylonian invasion, asked, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?” (Jeremiah 8:22). Back in high school, we sang about God, the balm in Gilead, to soothe a wounded heart from a sophomore crush. But now the lyrics glowed with a smooth patina from years tarnished by divorce, paralysis, disease, and drugs.
We sang the last note, then Connie sighed, “Dessert, anyone?”
Mrs. Filbert got up and began clearing the table. Chairs shuffled, dishes clinked, and the room filled with pleasant chatter. As coffee was served, I sat back and realized I had just passed—we all passed through—a new milestone.
When your heart is being wrung out like a sponge, an orderly list of “sixteen good biblical reasons as to why this is happening” can sting like salt in a wound. You don’t stop the bleeding that way. A checklist may be okay when you’re looking at your suffering in a rearview mirror, but when you’re hurting in the present tense, “Let me explain why this is happening” isn’t always livable.
Answers, no matter how good they are, cannot be the coup de grace. Purified faith is never an end in itself; it culminates in God. Stronger character is character made muscular not for its own sake, but God’s. A livelier hope is more spirited because of its focus on the Lord. To forget this is to tarnish faith, weaken character, and deflate hope. “If you have these qualities existing and growing in you then it means that knowing our Lord Jesus Christ has not made your lives either complacent or unproductive” (2 Peter 1:8 Phillips).
We must never distance the Bible’s answers from God. I once heard Dr. Peter Kreeft say that the problem of suffering is not about some thing, but Someone. It follows that the answer must not be something, but Someone. “Knowing our Lord Jesus Christ” is keeping your eye on the Sculptor—not on the suffering or even suffering’s benefits.
Besides, answers are for the head. They don’t always reach the problem where it hurts—in the gut and the heart. When people are sorely suffering, like my friend Diana, they are like hurting children looking up into the faces of their parents, crying and asking, “Daddy, why?” Those children don’t want explanations, answers, or “reasons why”; they want their daddy to pick them up, pat them on the back, and reassure them that everything is going to he okay.
Our heartfelt plea is for assurance—Fatherly assurance—that there is an order to reality that far transcends our problems. We want to know that, somehow, everything will be okay.
We amble on along our philosophical path, then—BAM!—we get hit with suffering. No longer is our fundamental view of life providing a sense of meaning or a sense of security in our world. Suffering has not only rocked the boat, it’s capsized it. We need assurance that the world is not splitting apart at the seams. We need to know we aren’t going to fizzle into a zillion atomic particles and go spinning off in space. We need to be reassured that the world, the universe, is not in nightmarish chaos, but orderly and stable.
God must be at the center of things. He must be in the center of our suffering. What’s more, He must be our Daddy. Personal and compassionate. This is our cry.
God, like a father, doesn’t just give advice. He gives Himself. He becomes the husband to the grieving widow (Isaiah 54:5). He becomes the comforter to the barren woman (Isaiah 54:1). He becomes the father of the orphaned (Psalm 10:14). He becomes the bridegroom to the single person (Isaiah 62:5). He is the healer to the sick (Exodus 15:26). He is the wonderful counselor to the confused and depressed (Isaiah 9:6).
He is our hope.
He is our shield and very great reward.
This is what you do when someone you love is in anguish; you respond to the pleas of their heart by giving them your heart. If you are the One at the center of the universe holding it together, if everything moves, breathes, and has its being in you, you can do no more than give yourself (Acts 17:28).
It’s the only answer that ultimately matters.
It is the only hope that truly satisfies.1
Back at the Pool of Bethesda
A flurry of dust swirled at my feet as a warm, dry breeze rose and tossed my hair. I was speechless here. Large tears welled in my eyes, and I sniffed hard, as I imagined blind people clustered against the wall and the lame leaning against the pillars. I could see paralyzed people lying on stretchers and mats, their eyes searching and their hands pleading.
And I saw myself among them—just as I had so many years before—a scruffy, sun-browned young girl dressed in a burlap cloak, lying on a mat, squeezed somewhere between a shady cool wall and the paralyzed man who had been there for thirty-eight years.
Another dry breeze touched my wet face.
Oh Lord, You waited more than thirty years—almost as many years as the paralyzed man You healed that day—to bring me to this place.
I gulped hard, remembering the times I’d lain numb and depressed in my hospital bed, hoping and praying that Jesus would heal me, that He would come to my bedside as He did with the man on the straw mat, that He would see me and not pass me by. I remembered the times Diana would read to me about this place, and the film clip that looped in my mind, playing over and over again.
Ken waved at me from way down in the ruins.
“You won’t believe how many times I used to picture myself here,” I called, my voice echoing across the crumbled stones and columns. Ken nodded, continuing to explore below.
I couldn’t expect him to understand how much I had invested myself in this place years ago and far, far away.
I leaned on my arm against the guardrail.
“And now … after thirty years … I’m here,” I whispered. “I made it.”
That’s when it hit me. Jesus didn’t pass me by. He didn’t overlook me. He didn’t walk away. I had never been able to see the end to that movie loop in my imagination, but I could see it now.
Jesus had truly come my way and answered my prayer.
And His answer was no.
I turned my thoughts, my words, heavenward.
Lord, Your no answer to physical healing meant yes to a deeper healing. And a better one. Your answer has bound me to other believers and taught me so much about myself. It’s purged sin from my life; it’s strengthened my commitment to You. Forced me to depend on Your grace. Your wiser, deeper answer has stretched my hope, refined my faith, and helped me to know You better. And You are good. You are so good.
I let the tears fall.
I know I wouldn’t know You … I wouldn’t love and trust You .. were it not for—
I looked down at my paralyzed legs.
—for this wheelchair. Thank You, Lord, for this chair.
Ken returned to my side, his chest heaving and his hands cupped. “Look,” he said excitedly, “I have something for you.” He extended his hands. “Water from the Pool of Bethesda. I found it way down at the bottom of some steps. It was pitch black—and scary. But I got some for you.”
A brisk wind rumpled our shirts as Ken placed cool, wet hands on my forehead. “Lord,” he prayed, “thank You for my wife.”
I cried and laughed at the same time. Ken’s prayer was like a capstone, a seal on a most remarkable day. We said good-bye to the Pool of Bethesda, and as we walked back up the path toward the Lion’s Gate, I glanced back and shook my head in amazement.
It wasn’t often I could presuppose God’s motives, but I could this one. He had brought me to that Pool, the Pool I had seen over and over in my dreams, that I might make an altar of remembrance out of the ruins. That I might see—and thank Him for—the wiser choice, the better answer, the harder yet richer path.
He had brought me here, all the way from home—halfway around the earth—so I could declare it to anyone within earshot of the whole universe, to anyone who might care.
And that was the ruby of wisdom, so very valuable, so terribly hard-won.
There are more important things in life than walking. [117-137]