A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty
by Joni Eareckson Tada
A Place Of Healing
By Joni Eareckson Tada
The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith, and has been in every generation.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning, and services were over. I was wheeling across the church parking lot toward my van when a handsome young man, who introduced himself as David, stopped me. “Are you Joni?” he asked. I smiled, nodding yes.
“Oh great!” David exclaimed. “I’m a visitor here, and I was hoping I would run into you today. I’ve really been praying for you.”
My eyes got wide. “Really? What about?”
“Your healing. I’ve been praying for you to get out of your wheelchair.” At that point, my spirit hesitated. David was a visitor. He came to church hoping to see me, and he wanted to see me healed. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met over the years who’ve done the same thing. In churches, on street corners, in convention centers, and in busy shopping malls. Some of those encounters have been a little overwhelming—almost frightening.
But not on this day, with this young
Still, I had to fight off eerie feelings. Several times, years ago, a group of men showed up at our farmhouse door in Maryland, all having been led there by the Holy Spirit to either heal me … or marry me! So perhaps you can understand my reticence.
“Well, I never refuse a prayer for healing,” I assured David. This guy wasted no time in getting down to business, launching into what sounded like a prepared speech. “Have you ever considered that it might be sin standing in the way of your healing? Tat you’ve disobeyed in some way?” Before I could answer, David flipped open his Bible—both of us still in the middle of the parking lot—and read from the gospel of Luke, “Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus” (5:18–19).
He closed his Bible and reminded me that the paralyzed man in the story was healed. And I could be, too, if only I would but confess my sins and have faith to believe. He added, “Joni, there must be some sin in your life that you haven’t dealt with yet.”
I told him that my conscience was clean before the Lord (he looked a little skeptical about that) and reiterated that I always welcome prayers for healing. I thanked him for his concern but told him I didn’t think this was a matter of faith. For David, that just didn’t add up. According to what he had been taught, if I was a Christian, and if there was no known sin in my life, and if I had faith that God could heal, well, then … I would be healed. Didn’t God want everyone healed? Didn’t Jesus want everyone well? Of course He did! It was so obvious!
“Joni, you must have a lack of faith. I mean, look at you. You’re still in your wheelchair!”
I thought for a moment about the biblical account he had just read me and asked him to open up his Bible again to that same passage, Luke 5. “Okay,” I said, “you’re right about one thing, David. Right after they lowered the paralyzed man through the roof and to the floor in front of Jesus, he was healed. But look at verse 20. It says that when Jesus saw the faith of those four friends, the man was made well.”
“Don’t you see? He didn’t require anything at all of the disabled man. What He was looking for was faith in those men who had lowered him through the roof. God doesn’t require my faith for healing. But He could require yours . The pressure’s off me, David. If God has it in His plan to lift me out of this wheelchair, He could use your faith! So keep believing, friend; the pressure’s on you ! ”
David didn’t like that point of view. Again, it wasn’t according to his script. It wasn’t what he had been taught. According to all his teachers, if a person wasn’t healed, it had to be a problem with him, with his faith.
Faith, however, is not the focus.
The focus is always on Jesus Christ and His will for those who suffer. To possess great faith is to believe in a great Savior, and Scripture welcomes the faith of anyone who believes in Jesus’ will to heal. In the days to come, that “anyone” could well be David.
Do we even need to say it?
God certainly does heal today, and there’s no doubt about it. To render any other verdict would be to ignore both the clear witness of God’s Word and the heartfelt testimonies of many grateful and exultant brothers and sisters around the world who want nothing more than to bring glory to the name of their Savior and Healer.
But reflecting on my recent parking–lot experience with David, perhaps that very statement—“God heals today”—requires closer scrutiny.
Does He always heal? Does He heal everyone who comes to Him in faith? Does He miraculously intervene in the lives of all who pray for release from migraine headaches … multiple sclerosis … prostate cancer … a bad case of the ?u … or, in my case, chronic pain?
And if not, then why not? And why does He heal some and not others?
Notice I didn’t even bring up quadriplegia with spinal cord injury in this context. Those long-ago and faraway days of pleading with God to raise me up on my feet and out of my wheelchair are behind me.
Oh, I’m still in my wheelchair. But I’m happy. And on that level, I have been healed. Big time.
Right now the big question for me is all about pain. (Yes, I know you’re probably wondering how it is that a completely paralyzed person can feel pain at all. Trust me. At my age at least, one can.) Frankly, if this pain weren’t so chronic, so jaw splitting at times, I’d leave it alone. But just as I used to tell Him years ago when I was first injured, I find myself once again praying, Lord, I can’t live like this for the rest of my life!
At least I don’t think I can. That remains to be seen.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not “taking back” anything I’ve written about miraculous healing in articles or even in my 1978 book, A Step Further. (Could that really have been over thirty years ago?) But this ongoing urgency has forced me to look back on familiar Scriptures and give them another turn or two, examining them a little more closely from new angles—and from a different perspective.
My friends, this is new turf for me.
As Joshua once told the children of Israel, “You have never been this way before.” And so it is with me. I have never been in such a place in all my life. But just as the Israelites found the Lord on both sides (and in the middle) of the Jordan, so I am finding His presence, His comfort, and His faithfulness in this strange and alien country of increased suffering. This book isn’t meant to be a detailed and exhaustive theological review of every verse in the Bible that seems to allude to miraculous healing. Much of why God does what He does and heals when He heals remains cloaked in divine mystery, and I certainly won’t be the one unwrapping those things in these few pages. Instead, I will be inviting you to join me on a contemporary and very personal journey as I return to some foundational questions about life and healing, suffering and perseverance, heartbreak and hope.
I also want to encourage us to look up from day-to-day battles to focus on that time of ultimate healing awaiting us all. The time when every eye will be opened, the ears of all those who are deaf will be unstopped, the tongues of those who cannot speak will shout for joy, and the lame shall leap like deer (Isaiah 35). Oh what a glorious day that will be!
For those of us who do not experience a miracle of physical healing in our present earthly lives, can we hang on? Can we hold onto hope? And more than just holding on, can we learn what we should learn during our “period of captivity”? (That’s what it feels like on days when my pain nearly drives me crazy.)
Do I pray for miraculous healing for my chronic pain? You bet I do. Am I expecting it? If God wills, yes.
“Whatever You want, Lord,” I pray. “If it would give You more glory and advance Your gospel more quickly, I’m all for it!” Always and always I want to be in submission to the Father and obedient to the Word of Jesus—knowing full well that if I had everything else in life and lacked that, I would have nothing at all.
Because isn’t that the bottom line? That Jesus gets the glory, whether I jump out of my wheelchair pain free and tell people that my healing is genuine evidence of God’s awesome power … or whether I continue smiling in my chair, not in spite of my pain but because of it, knowing I’ve got lessons to learn, a character to be honed, other wounded people to identify with, a hurting world to reach with the gospel, and a suffering Savior with whom I can enjoy greater intimacy. And every bit of it genuine evidence of God’s love and grace.
The book you hold in your hands is a chronicle of what I am going through right now. For the past five years I’ve been in the wrestling ring with an enemy that seems to grow larger, more fiendish and hatefully aggressive, with each passing month. I am speaking of my ongoing battle with pain—sometimes slow and grinding, sometimes white-hot and seemingly unbearable. In fact, as I write these words, I am seeing yet another specialist to see if there is anything—anything at all—that can be done for a simmering agony I would gladly and with great joy and gratitude leave behind.
I wanted to weave that aspect of my life into these pages as well. Not for sensational purposes, but simply because that is where I am and who I am. As you will see, writing a book about God’s healing from a platform of intense suffering gives an urgency to the subject that keeps it from becoming detached or academic.
Healing—or even a brief respite from the pain war—is certainly upper- most in my mind these days.
No … let me amend that. Bringing honor to the name of my Savior and King is uppermost, whether He chooses to give me relief now or just around the corner in His Father’s house. Either way, He will help me and save me and, yes, crown me with joy.
Just as He always has.
Report from the Front Lines
If God sends us on strong paths, we are provided strong shoes.
—Corrie ten Boom
This is no time to write a book.
But I have to try.
It won’t be easy. It may not be wise. Nevertheless, if you are reading these words, it has been accomplished, and the book has been published. God be thanked!
So mark it here. I am taking on a task that in-the-know book writers wouldn’t attempt, and setting myself to complete an assignment that military historians would never dream of undertaking.
I am writing in the midst of my experience, in the violence of a firefight, in the crush of circumstances, and in the vice grip of unrelenting pain. I am recording my combat-zone observations before the smoke has cleared, before the shells have stopped falling, before the guns have gone silent, before the long grass and wildflowers have grown over the scars of war.
And I am writing with great urgency. My life is changing, and I want to speak to these issues of suffering in a believer’s life—and yes, to God’s undeniable healing power—while I still can. Incessant pain, as those who have lived in its grip can attest, makes it very difficult to think, work, relate, plan, write, and—as I recently discovered—take on a public-speaking opportunity.