January 20, 2011

Comfortable Pain

The base of her back is uncharacteristically fixed at a right angle. Like a rusted hinge, her back muscles are knotted to help bear the weight of her severely curved spine. Her nerves are twisted from the horribly misaligned vertebrae.

For almost two decades she has been chained to this deformed state, held tightly in the grip of what the Bible leads us to believe is a spirit from Satan. This spirit has done a disfiguring dance on her back, leaving behind its heel marks in what was once a healthy, tall, and statuesque young woman.

Under the stress of her deformity, she winces in pain as she trudges along toward the synagogue. She can't see the beautiful sky and the wonderful clouds overhead. She is bound in a posture that fixes her gaze on dirt and yesterday's rubbish in the streets.

As she takes her seat in the synagogue, Jesus' attention is diverted from the scriptures to fall on the yellowing dog eared pages of this woman's life. With divine knowledge, He skims the story of the last eighteen years, reading every sentence and pondering every question mark that punctuates her pain. Yet, her suffering and pain are merely minor characters in the story of her life. The featured character is her faith.

She is a true daughter of Abraham. She has come to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as she does every Sabbath. In spite of the pain, in spite of the pitied looks from adults, and in spite of the quiet giggling of children in the streets, she comes to sit before her God and praise Him in a commotion that would tempt others to curse.

Jesus closes his scroll and bids her to come to the front of the synagogue. It is an embarrassing moment for this woman because the journey to Jesus displays evermore clearly the awkwardness of her deformity.

She stops before him, twisting her torso in a strained attempt to see his face. And their eyes meet. "Woman you are freed from your sickness." Then she stands before her Master. . .

. . . I often wonder what went through her mind that day. Scripture doesn’t really spend much time on her response to this enormous gift.

Like this woman, we have experienced being crippled. But our crippling is caused by sin. Instead of curving our backs, Satan twists our hearts. He creates a deformity that prevents us from seeing beauty in God’s providence. He contorts our perceptions to make blessings appear as a curse. He distorts our view of the Father by diverting our thoughts to focus on the filth that is beneath us.

I wonder what would have happened if she refused to stand up? What if her response had been, “Jesus, no thank you. I like pain. The humiliation has become like an old friend. I have become accustomed to this disease and have altered my entire life to accommodate it. If I stand up, I might have to change parts of my life that I have worked hard for and are designed to fit my old impairment. The cost of accepting your gift is just too high.” Imagine that response!

Then realize that this is exactly what many of us have done. We have been freed from the bondage of Satan. Forgiveness is on the tips of our tongues. Jesus really has paid it all. But when the Savior asks us to walk and live upright, we choose to hang on to our sin because it is familiar and comfortable.

Jesus really does read the pages of our life. I pray that He will see faith as our major character. If you are bowed by selfishness and twisted by sin, you can count on the fact that being able to “stand” in His presence is better than anything else you might be grasping in desperation.

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