The nature of my autoimmune disease means that some days, unbeknownst to me until that morning arrives, I am completely out of commission. You wouldn’t know by looking at me, but full-body exhaustion, severe pain, and otherwise unfortunate and unmentionable symptoms are a part of my everyday reality. Because of my weakened immune system and struggling digestive system, I have countless frameworks and coping mechanisms in place to ensure that I can engage and attempt to thrive in the world each day. As a habitual achiever, this bodily deficiency is hugely disruptive and discouraging.
It’s been six long years of chronic disease, most of which has been defined by poorly controlled symptoms and by silently fighting (and failing) to get my body back to 100%. My gradual breaking is not the fault of any singular entity, occurring in part because of first, my initial slowness to act and lack of understanding at diagnosis, secondly, previous doctors’ lackadaisical approach in fighting for me and educating me, third, my genetic predisposition, fourth, my lived environment, and, apparently, God’s will for my life. Ultimately, though, my disease has persisted because my body, though always retaining its original status as imaged after the Father, is still subject to the effects of The Fall.
I have spent countless hours curled up, exhausted, crying out to God in a raw, repetitive sense (during which I always beat myself up as I think of Matthew 6 and Jesus’ command to pray differently than the pagans). When I’m unable to formulate novel thoughts in the midst of pain, it’s easy to feel like God isn’t working. Like He’s holding back His goodness from me, delaying the delivery of His stated promises. Still, as Jesus instructs us to do, I persistently (and stubbornly) ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7-8, Luke 18:1-8). Most of the time, physical relief does not come.
Is it discouraging not to be healed? Sure. It never fails to sting. However, not witnessing material change from my prayers in the specific ways I ask for only reflects my own short-sightedness in assuming my imperfect will is worthy of prevailing over God’s perfect will. It says absolutely nothing negative about the character of God. My disappointment in what He permits in the present moment is not an accurate indicator that He is doing nothing, or that He doesn’t care about my physical deliverance. He very much does. In my desperation, I too easily forget that the current work of Christ is to continually intercede on my behalf – which is no small task. Dane Ortlund masterfully articulates the nature of God’s intercession in Gentle and Lowly, a book to which I owe a great deal of gratitude for shaping my heart over the past year. Referencing Hebrews 7:25, Ortlund states,
“Christ’s present heavenly intercession on our behalf is a reflection of the fullness and victory and completeness of his earthly work, not a reflection of anything lacking in his earthly work. The atonement accomplished our salvation; intercession is the moment-by-moment application of that atoning work.” (emphasis added)
Ortlund explains this glorious and distinct aspect of Jesus’s actions accurately, but his primary goal is to show us that it is the character and nature of Christ, the intention behind the action, that is even more remarkable and worthy of understanding. In my lowest physical moments, when my head is spinning and the nausea sets in, I repeat this truth to myself – Because of Jesus’s heart, I have hope. Because of who He is, healing is possible.
I admit that it is strange to meditate on the heart of Christ when in debilitating pain, but His heart is the source from which all action and blessing flows. While Jesus’s sacrifice is the pinnacle of Christian faith, it means very little without an understanding of who He is. In other words, understanding what He did requires full context of why he did it – of what’s in His heart. Rightly regarding Jesus’s work on the cross in relation to our innate human brokenness is essential, inspiring awe, reverence, and worship all on its own, but it is His consistent character that draws us in and makes Him lovely, spurring us to actually love Him.
Every time I think about the presentness and tenderness of God, I basically melt into a giant puddle. Though difficult to pick only one, this is perhaps my favorite attribute of God. As evidenced in John 11 (and beyond), Jesus is unafraid to linger in emotion, to simply be with people in the midst of tragedy. This is so extraordinary and beautiful to me. He is Emmanuel – God with us. Nothing can deter Him from being with us. After all, His actions are an overflow of His heart. He is with us because He wants to be.
Miraculously, not only does Christ embody what it means to “be”, He also is the epitome of “do”. He takes action in the form of intercession and advocacy, divinely bridging us back to our Father, aligning His causes with our own as He approaches God on our behalf. He is not only God with us, but God for us. So, though I am disheartened by my body’s present defiance, I no longer believe the lie that God is doing nothing about it.
Christ’s redemption on my behalf is not lacking or partial; it is perfect.
I’m still working out the details of what it looks like for me to be fully redeemed by Christ in this world, even when my body screams otherwise. My impatient mind too easily forgets that the greater feat, the more glorious and eternal solution, is that God has already done the most important work possible. His death and resurrection purchased the redemption of our souls, paving the ultimate pathway to liberation and deliverance. In Christ, the spiritual chains that bind us are broken, which, contrary to our distorted earthly perception, are infinitely weightier than any physical chains ever could be. In Christ, we are free.
But, again, this anecdotal description of what Christ did for us begs the explanation of intention. Why did He do it?
An answer we too often embrace is that Christ died on the cross simply because of His love for us. While technically true, this human-centric view of the crucifixion doesn’t just reduce the cross, but also misses the point. While God certainly loves us and this spurred Him to action (John 3:16), God’s love for us could have theoretically caused Him to do any number of things to reconcile us to Himself and pardon our sin – including spare His only son from a horrific death! But no, Jesus died for us and was resurrected because it was the fullest possible display of the glory and character of God in His plan for our restoration. Christ poured himself out for us because “redemptive” is a quality fundamental to who He is. He acted in accordance with His nature, as an overflow of His heart. God had no reason, no motive, other than to retain authenticity and usher in His Kingdom according to His perfectly divine will. He is constant, consistent, just, kind. Generous, compassionate, mighty, humble. Gentle and lowly. Merciful and sovereign. He redeemed us for no reason other than it pleased Him to do so (Ephesians 1:5-6). It’s simply who He is.
Do you see now why the heart of Christ is so alluring, so magnificent? His heart is the necessary precedent for all He does – therefore allowing for the miracle of salvation, and subsequently for the possibility, and eventual Heavenly guarantee, of bodily restoration.
I do not aim to not diminish the importance and impact of biblical and present-day experiential accounts of God physically healing people. Personally, I ask for it often. Healing does happen, and our only correct response when it does is worship! I merely want to articulate that our physical healing is not the point. Spiritual liberation and atonement through Christ’s death and resurrection is God’s greater work, only made possible by the innate nature of His heart. This is where our true hope lies – not in earthly healing, but in God’s divine disposition.
Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly
“We are not focusing centrally on what Christ has done. We are considering who he is. The two matters are bound up together and indeed interdependent. But they are distinct. The gospel offers us not only legal exoneration – inviolably precious truth!- it also sweeps us into Christ’s very heart.” –