“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.” - Teilhard de Chardin
In today’s Lenten reading, Matthew 8 and 9, there are at least eleven instances of Jesus healing people. He heals a leper, he heals a paralyzed man, he gives two blind men their sight, he casts out four demons, and to top it off, Jesus casually brings a dead girl back to life. Oh, and in the middle of it all, Jesus rebukes a storm, “Even the wind and waves obey him” (Mt 8:27).
When I read passages like this, I wonder why my back is still hurting me. How after back surgery, three months of physical therapy, and hours of prayer asking God to heal me, am I still suffering from this injury? Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Am I doing it wrong? Did I need to be there in person to receive that kind of healing? Perhaps you need healing in your life too. I know of many who have prayed more fervently than I for God to bring that healing and have yet to experience it fully. So, how does it work?
The temptation in reading isolated stories from the bible is to ignore the greater story of what’s going on. Jesus’ healing power in the New Testament, especially early on in his ministry, brought legitimacy and authority to his teaching. Jesus the Healer gave credibility to Jesus the Christ. This logic is something Jesus himself talked about,
“Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to a paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” And the man jumped up and went home! (Mt 9:5-7)
Jesus had compassion on people, and he healed them, sure. But, Jesus’ purpose in ministry was to announce the Kingdom of God and the forgiveness of sin. Everything he did was in service of these two aims. He often healed people to prove his authority in these matters. The same is true today. God does heal people, but God’s great aim is to save people, to bring about His Kingdom and to forgive sin. If I’m honest, God is saving me by not healing my back. God is slowing me down. God is inviting me to trust Him, to live daily in what Teilhard de Chardin calls, “the slow work of God.” My prolonged back injury is, in no small way, God's way of announcing the Kingdom in my life all over again. It's God's gift to me, to be patient and wait. God's gradual movement of healing is infuriating and beautiful. It’s precise in its purpose but measured in its unveiling. And it's what I've needed, reluctantly so, but yes, I've needed it.
Where is God taking his time in bringing healing to your life or the lives of those around you? How is the slowness of it all saving you?
As we read stories of Jesus together, may we have the courage to be honest about our frustrations. And along with it, may we have the wisdom to see the greater story at work. May that story offer us hope. May it heal us.
Here is the full prayer of Teilhard de Chardin,
an Ignatian Prayer of Trust:
“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”
- Kevin Knox
(The image from Johan Jaeger is called Glacier Painting)