I’ve always been particularly 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 this infirmity was that she was constantly stooped over and couldn’t straighten herself up at all. She was a walking cripple.
What’s so fascinating to me is the stated source of this woman’s pitiful condition. When verse 4 speaks of that “spirit of infirmity,” it is saying that a demon (fallen angel) kept this woman in that state. In verse 16, Jesus even calls the woman, “a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound – think of it – for eighteen years.”
I’m not trying to be blasphemous, but it seems to me that the woman spent eighteen long years as a prisoner of war in Satan’s hands. Sure, Jesus healed her, but that didn’t take away the painful memories of those previous eighteen years. Why would an all-powerful God who despises the works of Satan sit up in heaven and watch one of Satan’s fallen angels afflict a decent woman for almost two decades? Someone responds, “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 pat answer, but it doesn’t give that woman those eighteen years back.
Let’s just be honest and admit the obvious: Even though Satan is surely destined to lose the war, God lets him win a lot of battles. Think about Job. God won that war, but Satan left his scars on Job. 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 Job lost. Yes, He 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 that died?
I realize that we don’t usually speak this bluntly when we talk about God. I suppose we are scared to sound even remotely critical of Him. But God isn’t afraid of a straight word 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). Jesus didn’t rebuke either of them for saying that. He simply continued along in His timing and plan to raise Lazarus from the dead.
Of course, that story has a happy ending. Furthermore, the delay until that ending is only four days. But what do we do with a delay of eighteen years? That’s how long the woman from Luke 13:10-17 had to wait for her miracle. You know, I’ve heard plenty of preaching in praise of Christ’s miracle-working power, but I want to hear a sermon on why Satan got to have his way with that woman for that many years.
You say, “Well, why don’t you preach it yourself?” I would, but there’s one thing that keeps me from doing it: I don’t have the answer to the question myself. You see, I’m not writing this blog 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 you would let these people off the hook. I even said it back in Israel. So why 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.
Perhaps my favorite story from the book of Genesis 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.” 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 to him. For over a decade, Abraham had been waiting on God to grant him a promised son, but his wife Sarah remained barren.
Because of this Abraham’s response to God’s good words were direct and to the point. 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 in 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, 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? I don’t know. We can all ask Him when we get to heaven. Until then we’ll have to be content with Isaiah 55:8: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
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. He doesn’t want fake niceness. He doesn’t want fake contentment. He doesn’t want to listen to our typical prayers and think, “Why don’t you tell me how you are really feeling?!!!” And it is only when we speak with such honesty that we can enter into the deepest kind of prayer to Him.