This morning I picked up the Freedom in Christ Bible as I sat down to spend some quiet time with the Lord. When I went to open it, I stumbled upon Jesus’ question to the disabled man at the pool of Bethesda: “Do you want to get well?“
That verse comes from the passage in John’s gospel where Jesus goes up to Jerusalem for a Jewish feast and Jesus saw this man lying there and learned that he had been lying there for the past 38 years. (John 5:1-15) In response to Jesus’ question, he never did say “yes” or “no.” Rather, he gave an excuse why he could not get to the healing pool in those rare moments when it had been “stirred” by an angel, and thus be healed.
In the devotional on the next page, titled: “Do you want to get well?” the author says:
“People who cannot be helped fall into three categories.”
- “people who will not acknowledge they have a problem…”
- “people who know they are in trouble but their pride won’t let them ask for the help they need.”
- “people who really don’t want to get well.”
The first group reminds me of passages throughout the Bible which refer to forgiveness starting with a confession of sin… and then God can forgive. Even Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programs, have long taught that step one of recovery is to admit you have a problem. To not do so, is to live in denial.
Much of the weight I carry continues to be with me, because I, through many years, have denied I really had a weight problem. Until I acknowledged (and confessed) that I had a weight problem, I could not be helped.
The second group reminds me of Scriptural passages like “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov. 16:18) A lot of people (especially us men), who are obviously suffering with an ailment or injury are like that. They know they’re sick or injured, and yet cannot bring themselves to go see a doctor. there’s a heart attitude there that says ‘I can take care of this all by myself… I am all sufficient to meet my own needs.’ In truth, however, we can never meet all of our own needs. To refuse to look to others for help, we essentially make ourselves into a substitute god. After all, only God is “all sufficient.”
When I was 11, I lived this out as well. I decided to go sled riding on a late Saturday morning after cartoons at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. Walking up the hill across the road from their place, I walked up beside the tractor path that we all rode on coming down the hill. I crunched my way up the hill. At the top of the hill you slid down and turned into the field off to the right of the tractor path.
It had been icy and snowy the night before and, unbeknownst to me, the tractor path was a sheet of ice with a little bit of snow cover over the ice. On to the sled I went and raced toward the turn off below. I turned the sled at the appropriate time and at the appropriate place, but the sled just kept going… the ice prevented the sled from being able to turn off the path.
Now, my grandparents lived one farm short of being at the top of a hollow on a dirt road in Potter County. I quickly looked ahead and to the sides and saw there were no cars coming. There seldom were any cars. So, in my 11 year old thinking I thought: ‘oh well, the road is cindered, that will stop me.’ It didn’t.
So I found myself in the yard plunging forward rapidly. So, in my 11 year old thinking, I thought: ‘OK, I’ll just turn the sled to the left and have all of that big yard to slide to a stop in.’ The sled (for the same reasons noted above) would not turn and I slammed into the cement porch of their house. My grandfather, upstairs in the house and not the side near the porch, heard the thud and came to investigate. what he found was me unable to catch my breath, bleeding profusely from where my front teeth had been sheered off and cutting through my lower lip, and me holding my back because of the pain. (Years later, I would have to have surgery on my lip where teeth fragments had been lodged and eventually blocked off a salivary gland. Likewise, my back continues to hurt often decades later.)
Looking back, I recognize that while I could have easily rolled off the sled long before the proch, I didn’t because i was convinced that I was actually in control. I could turn that sled, get stopped by the road, or turn the sled into the yard. I thought I was completely able and sufficient to care for myself. I was not. I continue to pay for my 11 year old pride. I wish I could say I don’t find myself in similar situations any more, but that would not be honest.
That third group, those who really do not want to get better, is where this paralyzed man is. All he has in response to Jesus’ question about wanting to get well is an excuse. And I think it’s pretty significant that the gospel clarifies that he had been in this situation for 38 years! Just lying there and begging for food or money or clothing is natural now. That was this man’s source of income and way of life.
Despite this, Jesus decides to heal the man. “To show his gratitude, the man turned Jesus in to the authorities for healing him on the Sabbath.”
The devotional goes on with a challenge for all of us who find ourselves in a place where we need healing or another chance in life. “If we really want to get well, we will make whatever commitment is necessary to overcome our infirmities or live productive lives through them. We won’t get mad at God or blame anybody else. We will choose to believe that we are overcomers in Christ and that we can do all things through Him who gives us strength.”
“We will do whatever it takes to become the person God created us to be because Jesus did what it took for us to be alive and free in Him.”
Denial, pride, or an attitude of not wanting to change a way of life; these are all signs of one who cannot be helped except by a Sovereign God.
O God, I personally have had times in all three of these categories. Times when I couldn’t believe I had a problem and so denied it. Times when I knew something was amiss, yet thought I could “take care of things” on my own. Times when i was so comfortable with the way things were in the status quo, that I couldn’t bring myself to face the uncertainty that change might bring and so opted to stay longer in whatever situation I found myself. Forgive me. Clarify my thinking. Help me to see my own life as you do. And when I need your healing in my mind, in my heart, in my body, help me to quickly recognize when I’m in denial, feeling self-sufficient, or becoming too comfortable in the status quo. AMEN!
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The Freedom in Christ Bible, Neil T. Anderson, general editor (Zondervan: 2001) pp. 1204-1205.