Paul’s statement that ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain’ is one of the boldest sentences in Scripture. As Christians, it’s a passage that we often quote and that we readily intellectually assent to; however, most of us—if honest—sense that we are not really living it the way that Paul was. Our lives (time, money, passion) are not wholly given over to serving; and we do not face death fearlessly, longing for union with God. I’ve wanted to really understand these words. And as someone who now has an illness, I feel it’s imperative. This statement of Paul is found in the book of Philippians, which though a short letter, has some of the most recognized and poetic passages in the Bible. And much to my surprise, when I took a deeper look, I found that this book is all about suffering. So why does Paul write an entire letter addressing suffering?
I just noticed something fascinating about the story in Luke chapter 5 (see text at bottom of article) where Jesus heals the paralyzed man who is lowered down into the busy room through the roof. In many of the miracles that Jesus’ performs, he enacts physical and spiritual healing at the same time. Or occasionally he grants physical healing first, hoping to prompt a subsequent spiritual awakening by the recipient, such as in the story of the blind man healed at the Pool of Bethesda in John chapter 5. But this story is different. Here, Jesus forgives the man first. And it’s only after that that Jesus then heals the man’s legs. What this text subtly indicates is actually quite fascinating: our spiritual healing is not connected with our physical health.
“The crucial question in prayer is not whether God suspends the laws of the universe, or whether he grants what people ask for, but whether we really open ourselves to him, open ourselves to his creating, saving presence” (Christianity Rediscovered, page 137). In his now classic book, Christianity Rediscovered, Vincent Donovan writes of his experiences sharing the message of Christianity with the Maasai tribes in Tanzania. Prior to approaching the various Maasai clans, the young Catholic priest resolves to simply present the message of Christianity—stripped as much as possible of his own Western rituals and conventions. He presents the teaching of Jesus without offering anything else that would cajole the people into a response. Nor does he ask for anything in return. As Donovan proceeds through his instruction with the Maasai, he is faced with the question, “How should Christians pray?”
I recently finished C.S. Lewis’ brief work, “A Grief Observed.” Lewis originally published the book anonymously; it describes his heartache and confusion after the death of his wife, whom he had been married to for only 3 years. Like in so many of his writings, Lewis is able to articulate the feelings that many of us have had and his insights are lucidly expressed. Below are three passages that bring up perhaps some of the most important concepts about illness and spirituality. 1. Anger at God “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.” – C.S. Lewis. A Grief Observed, pg 6
Genesis 32 is quite simply one of the most perplexing stories in the entire Bible. This narrative, in which Jacob wrestles with a spiritual being (presumably God) throughout the night and is given the new name ‘Israel,’ is both hard to interpret and yet a monumentally important text in the Jewish and Christian faith. Jacob’s new name of Israel literally means ‘he struggles with God’. And according to the text, Jacob is said to have ‘struggled with God…and overcome.’ But what of course does that mean? Does Jacob defeat God, or at least wear him out, in some sense? Rabbi Joseph Teluskin, a Jewish scholar writes, ‘It is no small matter that Israel, the name for both the Jewish people and the modern Jewish state, implies neither submission to God nor pure faith, but means wrestling with God (and with men).’ (Jewish Literacy, pg 22) While the Bible presents numerous examples that God desires an honest dialogue with humans and is not put off by our anger or arguing (see the Psalms, the books of the prophets, and Jesus’ parables, for just a few examples), there are too many things about the story of Jacob wrestling with God that simply don’t make sense for this simple explanation to be valid. I recently came across one of the most insightful commentaries I’ve ever read on this passage. It points out what I think is the key to understanding this story.
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