Leviticus 12:1-15:33; 2 Kings 5:1-19, 7:3-20; Job 13:15-16; Luke 4:14-30; 1 Corinthians 15:12-28; Hebrews 3:23-28
Many of the people I have known who wrestled with cancer were people of faith surrounded by intercessors who prayed for their healing. Yet not many of those ordeals ended in healing. Most ended in tearful farewells, followed by a memorial service with grief and eternal hope simultaneously on display. Then life returned to normal, until the insidious disease afflicted the next person.
Enough repetitions of this cycle can cause even the most faithful to question whether our God really heals. Doubts, anger, frustration, and shattered hopes are enough to drive people away from the Creator, or become so numbed that they simply go through the motions of serving Him. We believe He can heal, but what if He doesn’t?
God’s people have been asking that question for a long time. We don’t know what lies beyond death. All we have to go on is the testimony of our Creator, which brings us back to the same question: God says He can bring life from death, but what if He doesn’t? We have to ask even if the answers are unsatisfying and frightening. This question gets to the core of our identity, and the reason for our existence – if there is any reason.
Naaman the Syrian could ask that question. So could four men of Israel who counted Naaman as an enemy. They shared the affliction of leprosy, which might have been any of several diseases of the skin that created a wall of separation between them and their families and communities. Even Naaman the Syrian warrior became a social pariah, but unlike the Hebrew lepers, he sought and received help from the prophet Elisha.
Naaman’s healing spelled disaster for Israel, which is how we learn about the four lepers stuck outside the city of Samaria when Syria’s army besieged it. When they threw themselves on the mercy of the Syrians, they found that God had caused the enemy to flee in fear. They took that news to the city, and became the unlikely agents of salvation for Israel’s northern kingdom. However, as Yeshua points out:
There were many with tzara’at [leprosy] in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them were purified apart from Naaman the Syrian. Luke 4:27 TLV
Yeshua was speaking about the faith of people in His hometown who had trouble believing He just might be the Messiah. He had already worked many miracles in other places, but why wouldn’t He do miracles in their town?
But then, it wasn’t only a matter of faith. Yeshua’s audience all knew people with debilitating conditions who languished without a touch from God. Most were good people, faithful to the God of Israel. Some were saintly tzadiks, righteous people who did good for everyone. Why would they have to suffer so long and so terribly?
There are no satisfying answers. We don’t know why God heals some and not others, but it might help if we try to take an eternal perspective. There’s a clue in Yeshua’s comment about Naaman: he wasn’t simply healed of leprosy, but purified, or cleansed. That kind of affliction is like a living death. Lepers in ancient Israel might hope to be healed, but healing did not mean automatic readmittance to society. After their healing, a priest had to examine them, and they had to bring sacrificial offerings in a protocol of cleansing that marked their return to the society of otherwise healthy people.
Otherwise healthy. That doesn’t mean free of the taint of death. Those who suffer from debilitating diseases remind us that we come into this world with a terminal condition. We are wise to take care of our physical bodies, but even the best regimen of diet, exercise, clean food, and fresh air can’t insulate us from the plague of death. We can’t escape it, so we might as well learn what we can from it. Even healed lepers will die one day – as will all the cancer survivors we know.
What we need is something, or someone, to deal with the sting and stench of death that separates us from the Creator of Life. That’s the mission of our Heavenly High Priest, the Messiah Who presented His own blood in the heavenly temple to open the way for our final cleansing and reunification with our Maker. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. We’re not meant to languish in this half-life of the present shadow world, but to breathe freely in the light of the renewed earth under the rejuvenated heavens. Until then, suffering is part of our existence.
But what if He doesn’t renew our lives? Can we really trust Him?
Yes we can. That’s why He navigated that road ahead of us. He promises that all our suffering and all the suffering of our loved ones will become joy when we dance in the new life He bought for us. The question is whether we choose to believe. Our choice won’t change the suffering we endure, but it will change the way we endure it.
Albert J. McCarn
BYNA Executive Director