Getting to Know God Meditations: 32. God of Hope – the practice (2)
Jn 5:6,7 “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Taking Stock: We need, I think, to pause and take stock of where we are. We have been considering the ways that hope is conveyed as something God brings to our confused states within the human race, to help us be more reassured in today as we face tomorrow. Hope is always about tomorrow – or maybe the next hour or the next few minutes, and the question arises, will God be there for me? To conclude this little section, I want to focus us on some illustrations from the Bible that say that, not only is God there, but He is there for us.
The Hopelessness of Bethesda: Our verses above come from an incident involving Jesus who had returned to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the Jewish feasts. He goes to a pool in the city, identified as having five covered alcoves (5:2). Now something happened to this pool every now and then, it bubbled up, and seemingly when you managed to get into the water when it bubbled up, you were healed. Now whether this was a natural occurrence or something else we don’t know, but the fact was that many people who were sick or disabled came to this pool and sheltered under the alcoves (keeping out of the sun or rain, no doubt). In a day when there was no health service or health insurance, the sick and disabled were pretty much helpless and their circumstances hopeless. Those who were able, stumbled into the water when it was stirred but perhaps there were so many of them, it was often impossible to get near it. Whether anyone was healed is open to speculation. Nevertheless they came with hope that it might happen. This one man had been an invalid for thirty eight years and he was just lying there, clearly with all hope gone: “‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’” (v.7)
Then Jesus: Why Jesus chose this man and not others is unclear; perhaps he wanted to make the point that no one was beyond his help. He commands the man to get up and he is instantly healed. The cynic might suggest the man was just pretending to be sick, but to what purpose? Lying around, begging, in the midst of a sick crowd. It is bad enough sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, this must have been far worse. No, he was sick and now he has been healed. When we look carefully at the Gospels, we see that Jesus healed vast numbers of the sick, disabled and demon-possessed who either came to him or were brought to him – see Mt 4:24, 8:16, 12:15, 14:14,36, 15:30, 19:2, 21:14, as well as many individual healings. Jesus generated hope and when the people heard what was happening they flocked to him.
Only New Testament? Without doubt, this was a unique time that amongst other things verified that this was the Son of God, God incarnate on the earth, so was this three years a unique time when God healed? Well, no, because in Acts it is clear that the apostles continued Jesus’ healing ministry. In the teaching within the rest of the New Testament, there is reference to the gift of healing (1 Cor 12:9,30), and James specifically says that church elders should pray over the sick and heal them (Jas 5:14-16). So is healing restricted to the New Testament period? The categorical answer is no, healing is there in abundance in the Old Testament. I think I will do what I don’t normally do and leave it to other writers. John Wimber’s ‘Power Healing’ is possibly one of the best known and very comprehensive books on healing. Dr. Jack Deere’s ‘Surprised by the Power of the Spirit’ is also worth a read, as is ‘The Kingdom and the Power’ by a compilation of writers. The point we need to be making is that the all-powerful God sometimes (but not always – and there are reasons – read the books) heals and bring hope to those who feel hopeless in their circumstances.
Naaman: There is one healing that stands out in the Old Testament that speaks volumes about God. Naaman was commander of the army of Aram (2 Kings 5:1), a nearby nation who came and every now and then raided Israel (5:2) i.e. they were enemies of Israel. The only trouble was that Naaman contracted leprosy (5:1c). However he had taken, on one of his raids, a young Israelite girl, who he made maid to his wife. This maid suggested to his wife that he go to visit a prophet in Israel named Elisha who might heal him. To cut a long story short (read 2 Kings 5:1-15) Naaman is healed. Now just consider this: the man is an enemy of Israel and has done harm to Israel – but God still heals him! What an act of grace and mercy! It screams at us, whoever will come and surrender themselves to God (or His representatives) will find God’s help.
Wider Issues: There are times when circumstances seem so confusing they defy us and yet James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (Jas 1:5) Wisdom is the knowledge of how to act, so what is James saying? Go to God in a believing state (see v.6) and He will tell you how to deal with your problem. So, the knowledge of ‘how to’ is available to believers.
But what about other physical or relational issues. I hate moving in this area because of never wanting to bring false hope, but twice I have been privileged to have a prophetic word for barren couples that they would conceive within a year (and they did) and once to a single girl who felt she would be single for the rest of her life, that she would be married within a year (and she was). Is there anything special about this? No, the Bible is full of couples who were childless and God turned up and enabled them to have a child. God is concerned about all areas of our lives and I believe no area is ‘off limits’ as far as God is concerned. There is nothing automatic here for, as we’ve sought to show before, it is all about relationship. And, seeking to be wholly honest, it is sometimes a mystery why God heals some and not others. The book writers suggest a variety of reasons but the simple instruction has to be – know He loves you, pray and keep on praying and be at peace. Easy to say, hard to do.
But hope: But this is the message of the whole Bible, that we live in a fallen world where we get it wrong often, things go wrong often, and a mess often ensues. Left like that it would be depressing but the bigger picture is that God is there for us and as we cooperate with Him, so He works to redeem every messy situation and bring good into it, as we allow Him. Those are the only limiting criteria – ‘as we cooperate with him’ and ‘as we allow Him’. He never forces His way into our circumstances, but always comes when we call with an open heart. That is the hope we have, that tomorrow can be better than today because of God. That is what hope is all about, a God of hope. Without God it is all wishful thinking but thankfully the Bible and the testimony of millions down through the centuries says otherwise. Hallelujah! OK, it’s time to move on.