In the fifth chapter of John, Jesus asks a poignant question: “Do you want to get well?” The Son of God stood amid the splendor and suffering of Jerusalem, under the elaborate covered colonnades of the Pool of Bethesda. The afflicted gathered there and entered the waters in hope of healing. We imagine Jesus kneeling beside the man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. What moved him to approach this particular person? And what inspired him to ask what seems like an absurd question? Who would not want to be healed from a lifetime of paralysis?
But perhaps it’s not absurd. Suffering, especially chronic suffering, can become precious to us. When suffering persists, we sculpt our lives around it. We craft an identity that encompasses our suffering until we scarcely know who we would be without it. We become so comfortable and accustomed to our suffering that the prospect of living without it becomes frightening. Of course, suffering can also be instructive. Paul learned humility and utter dependency on God from his thorn in his flesh. Even if the apostle could have removed the thorn, he might have chosen not to, or he might have kept it in a jar as a treasured reminder of all it taught him.
Which brings us to the present. The issue you hold in your hands reflects the many afflictions we confront as a people today. An unrelenting global pandemic. The profound and enduring wounds of our racial history. Political polarization that tears at the fabric of our families and communities. A culture that feels unmoored, confused, and permeated with despair.
Seeing the delight we take in torching our political opponents, the stubborn persistence of conspiracy theories, and the refusal to see the rationality and goodness in one another, one wonders: Do we want to be healed? Are we willing, like Paul, to listen to suffering’s instruction? When suffering is entangled in sin, perhaps humility comes before healing. And perhaps this is another reason why the paralytic might not have wanted to be healed—because healing takes work. It requires us to rethink our lives and revise our very understanding of who we are.
Some people prefer the familiarity of old sins and sufferings to the difficulty of reconciliation. As Christians, we should not be among them. What if Christians could be known as the most generous, compassionate, thoughtful, and hopeful participants in these painful conversations shaping the future of our people? What if we, like the paralytic, could become witnesses to the world of the healing found in Jesus? At Christianity Today, we will do our humble part. For everyone who supports and joins us in this work, we are profoundly grateful.
Timothy Dalrymple is president and CEO of Christianity Today. Follow him on Twitter @TimDalrymple_.
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