“Do you want to get well?” This may have seemed like a silly question for Jesus to ask a person lying ill for 38 years. After all, the answer appears obvious. Who would choose to struggle against persistent sickness, when an offer of healing was available? Why watch others receive the soothing balm when you, in your own flesh, could be cured? Surely the man near the pool of Bethesda wanted what Jesus was offering—a life of restored physical health, or more simply, just to walk again.
In many ways, I can deeply relate to this first century story. Although physically well, I battle other chronic ills, more spiritual and emotional in nature. I ache for the friend who has turned away from God and I cry over the pain of unmet desires. I pray to God about desperate and seemingly desperate situations, but sometimes I don’t hear anything in return. I occasionally feel what C.S. Lewis described when he was swimming in the grief of his wife’s death. Hoping to find God in his own despair, Lewis found “a door slammed in [his] face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”1 This is hardly the response one hopes to get when all resources are depleted and the last Kleenex used.
Although I want to be like the determined widow of Luke 18, whose tireless quest for justice ends victoriously, I don’t always persist in my knocking. Of course I hope for circumstances to change, and for restoration to come, but then I recall how much time has passed and I grow faint. In those times, I turn to this story in John 5, and I marvel over the unending persistence of God. For when I am lying lifeless, God takes the initiative, approaches me, and asks me whether I want my ills to be made well. I don’t always receive the instantaneous healing that the lame man got. Sometimes I taste just enough balm to last the day. But this story reminds me that when I surrender my long-held afflictions to God, I can be assured that whether in this life or the next, I will hear the words, “take up your mat and walk.” For God is the healer who binds up the wounds of His people, even those that seem most difficult to cure.
1. Lewis, C.S. 1961. A Grief Observed. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, p.6