I’m fascinated by the story found in Luke 13:10-17. It’s the story of a woman who was stricken with a “spirit of infirmity” for eighteen years. The result of the infirmity was that she was constantly stooped over, unable to stand fully erect.
What’s so fascinating is the stated source of the woman’s pitiful condition. When verse 11 uses the term “spirit of infirmity,” that means that a demon (fallen angel) kept this woman in her bent-over condition. In verse 16, Jesus even calls the woman, “a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound….for eighteen years.”
We might say that the woman spent eighteen long years as a prisoner of war in Satan’s hands. Yes, Jesus healed her, but that healing didn’t take away the painful memories of all those years. This raises the question: “Why would an all-powerful God who despises the works of Satan sit up in heaven and watch as one of Satan’s fallen angels afflicted a decent woman for almost two decades?” Somebody might answer, “It was because He knew that she would meet up with Jesus one day and He would cure her.” Well, that’s a nice little answer, but it doesn’t give that woman those eighteen years back.
Let’s admit that even though Satan is surely destined to lose his war against God, God lets him win a lot of battles. Think about Job. God did win that war in the end, but Satan sure left a lot of scars on Job before the end came. Even if God completely healed those sore, running boils with which Satan struck Job from head to toe, He didn’t resurrect those seven sons and three daughters that Satan more or less killed by way of orchestrating an accident. I know, I know, God gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters. But do you think that Job ever forgot the names and faces of all those kids he buried?
I realize that we don’t usually speak this bluntly when we talk about God. I guess we are too scared to sound even remotely critical of Him. But God isn’t afraid of a sincerely offered comment that seems to call His actions (or lack of them) into question. I offer Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, as proof. Each of them, on different occasions, pointedly said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21,32). Despite the not-so-subtle accusation in that comment, Jesus didn’t rebuke either of those sisters for making it. Instead, He simply continued along in His timing and plan to raise Lazarus from the dead.
Of course, we know the story of Lazarus has a happy ending. Furthermore, the delay until that happy ending was only four days. But what do we do with a delay of eighteen years? Remember, that’s how long the woman from Luke 13:10-17 had to wait for her healing. I myself have heard plenty of preaching in praise of Christ’s miracle-working power, but I’ve never heard even one sermon on why Satan got to have his way with that woman for all those years.
You say, “Then why don’t you preach it?” I would if I had the answer myself. You see, I’m not writing this blog post to share some profound insight with you, an insight that nobody else has ever shared; I’m writing it to get you to be more real with God.
The prophet Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh and preach. That’s what got him enrolled in “whale seminary.” Finally, after he had preached to Nineveh and Nineveh had repented to the point where God stayed their destruction, Jonah “got real” with God. With anger he prayed, “Lord, wasn’t this what I said when I was still in my country? I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm” (Jonah 4:1-2).
Basically, Jonah was saying, “God, I knew that You would let these people off the hook. I even said it back in Israel. Why, then, did You make me come all this way and go through the motions of prophesying destruction upon them when You and I both knew that You wouldn’t carry through with it?” Say what you will, but that kind of prayer inspires me. It inspires me to talk to God like I’m talking to a real person. It inspires me to dare question Him if I don’t agree with the way He is running the universe. It inspires me to show my anger and disillusionment over what He has done or hasn’t done.
My favorite story from the book of Genesis might well be the one that is found in Genesis chapter 15. God comes to Abraham (Abram) and says, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” Well, that sounds good, doesn’t it? But Abraham, at that point in his life and walk with God, was tired of hearing such talk. The way he saw it, God had reneged on a promise because Abraham’s wife Sarah (Sarai) was still barren even though Abraham had been waiting for over a decade for God to grant him a promised son through her.
Abraham’s frustration explains why his response to God was so coldly blunt. He said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” Allow me to put that into a Russell paraphrase. Abraham said, “Yes, Lord, that’s all well and good, but can we talk about the pink elephant in the room? You have given me no offspring.”
And how did God respond to that criticism? Did He get hysterical or mad? Did He launch into a fifty-point defense of Himself? No, He just calmly reiterated the promise one more time: “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.”
So, in closing, let me leave you with two thoughts. First, we simply have to deal with the fact that there are some things about God’s actions that we won’t understand until we get to heaven. Why did He let Satan hold sway over that woman for eighteen years? Why did He let Satan claim the lives of Job’s first ten children? Why did He let Lazarus die and put that family through all that grief? Why did He make Jonah go pronounce doom on a nation of people He was going to spare in the end? Why did He make Abraham and Sarah wait twenty-five years for their promised son? My only answer is, we can all ask Him when we get to heaven. Until then we’ll just have to be content with Isaiah 55:8: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
But, second, let’s not shy away from being “real” with God when we talk to Him. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). If that statement means nothing else it must mean that God takes no pleasure in a dialogue that showcases half-truths and outright lies. Putting it another way, He doesn’t want fake niceness or fake contentment from you. He doesn’t want to listen to your prayers and think, “Why don’t you tell Me how you are really feeling?” Instead, what He wants is the “real” you (warts and all), and it is only when you speak to Him with such honesty that you can enter into the deepest kind of prayer to Him.
“People think they’re in control, but they ain’t. The truth is, that which must befall thee must befall thee. And that which must pass thee by must pass thee by.”
Denver – The homeless man in “Same Kinda Different as Me”
A true story…
Perhaps Denver has a much better grip on the theology of pain than any of us. I’m reminded that the entire movement of Buddhism is centered on what the answer to pain is. Their conclusion? Stop living… Eliminate desire, want and need and become something akin to an inert mass. Don’t love, you might get hurt. Don’t desire something, it might not come your way. Don’t care for someone, they might die.
Jesus said to love; Love ourselves, love God and love others. Getting real with the creator of the universe is possible because He loves us. Who are we, as the psalmist laments, that we are so favored by God? – Grace defined, of course has nothing to do with deserve.
Great article – Russell…