In Biblical times when catastrophic illness or prolonged health issues came into a person’s life, three possibilities were assumed as the cause. The first and least likely was that illness happened by chance; that there was no rhyme or reason as to why it happened, but it did. The second was that illness was caused by the devil; an attack of a demon against one of God’s people in order to thwart God Himself. This too was considered unlikely. The third and most prominent explanation was that God was meting out judgment against some hidden sin within that person or that person’s parents. Such is the case with the blind man that Jesus heals in John 9. In fact a whole discussion ensues from the start with the question, “Who sinned? This man or his parents?” as the disciples were certain the common explanation for his blindness was THE explanation for his blindness. Jesus surprises them with a fourth reason that none had ever considered before. “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (Jn. 9:3).
It is difficult for us to imagine in the 21st century the emotional distress an illness (such as leprosy) or disability (such as this man’s blindness) added to the already painful condition of the one who was suffering. Our culture is truly based on individualism. Many of us are self-sufficient (at least we think we are!) and we firmly cling to our self-reliance when a difficulty or trial sets in. But the Biblical world was all about community and reliance on one another. So when a person was cut-off from that community it was devastating. In some cases, the illness passed and relationships were restored after an examination by a priest determined that a person could return to the community (Lev. 14:1-32; Mt. 8:1-4; Mk. 1:40-45; Lk. 15:12-16; 17:11-19), but before that could take place, one can imagine the gossip and whispering which occurred behind the afflicted person’s back because we still do that today!
This is the plight of the psalmist in Psalm 38. As he cries out to God in his distress he describes this very situation. Could God be punishing him (vv. 1-8)? If so his heart, both physical and spiritual as indicated by the word used here, has lost its reason to beat and the strength he once had to get through the day has utterly abandoned him leaving him with no will to move on (vv. 9-10). Adding to the distress of this situation is the fact that both friends and family have distanced themselves from him and are now talking about him and against him (vv.11-12) as if they were his enemies. While we would understandably expect the psalmist to completely give up, his words remind us that even within our deepest struggles and trials there is a glimmer of hope (v. 15). The psalmist’s prayer is first and foremost that this catastrophe would not ruin his reputation (vv. 13-16, 19-20) and that if there is sin in his life that God would forgive him of it (vv. 17-18). He then calls upon the Lord to not forsake him as his friends and family have done, but to come to his rescue as “The Lord My Salvation” (v. 22).
With this title and through Biblical examples such as the blind man in John 9, we learn of one God’s most important attributes. He is Adonai T’shuah- the Lord who helps. This title is not based on something the Lord will do, but because it is something the Lord already does. It also reveals that God never desires for people to be sick or struggle with debilitating physical conditions. Sadly we live in a fallen world and illness great or small is a result of that condition. Yet for many who suffer, knowing that whether in this world or someday in heaven, the restoration of their bodies will be used to manifest God’s glory is reassuring. Having suffered so much here, they will perhaps enjoy their glorified body more than some of us who’ve not suffered here will.
No matter what form of suffering you may face, there will be a moment when “The Lord my Salvation” will step into that experience and help you. He may sit down across from you at the lunch table when others will not. He made spit into the dirt and make a clay poultice to put on your eyes and lift off the scales that blind you. Or He may walk alongside you in your infirmity with His hand tightly holding yours until you enter into His presence in glory and the infirmity is gone. But for now you must join with the psalmist in proclaiming, “For I hope in you The Lord my Salvation, and I know You will answer, O Lord my God” (Ps. 37:39; 40:16; 51:14; 71:15).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 1/17/2016