By Russ Ramsey
Not long ago, my doctor called to tell me to go to the emergency room. I had been battling a fever that wouldn’t break, and a blood test revealed a raging bacterial infection that was in the process of destroying my heart. I was dying.
Up until that moment, I had never been in the hospital for anything. I’d never broken a bone, or had my appendix out, or anything like that. I was the picture of health. But when I pulled up to the ER and gave my name at the nurse’s station, a team of medical professionals was waiting for me. They took me to a room and began a process of diagnosis and treatment that would soon require open-heart surgery followed by months of recovery.
I turned 40 during this season and, for the first time in my life, came face to face with my mortality. My body was destroying itself, and unless someone who knew my affliction and how to fix it intervened, I would have died. My heart valves would have failed and my lungs would have filled with blood, drowning me.
The onset of affliction brought me closer than I had ever come to the knowledge that we are all in the process of falling apart. We are the image-bearers of God living in bodies that are breaking down. We are given the glorious promise that every sorrow and sickness will one day end (Revelation 21:4), but that day has not yet come. What do we make of that?
The apostle Paul describes suffering in this life as “momentary light affliction” when compared to the “absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory” that is ours when our faith is in Christ (2 Corinthians 4:17). But this doesn’t mean the momentary nature of our suffering, or its comparative lightness, is of no consequence to God.
In Mark 1, we read about a leper who called out to Jesus, “If you are willing, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40). Mark tells us that Jesus was “moved with compassion” (v.41). The Messiah felt something in response to the suffering man’s affliction. He didn’t wave the leper off or speak a little blessing. He was moved with compassion. “I am willing.” Jesus told him. “Be made clean” (v.41).
I love this about Jesus. God cares about our need for eternal healing (our greater need, by far), but He does not dismiss our present suffering in the process. Sometimes He heals us in the here and now. Sometimes He does not. And we cannot know why God does what He does in this regard. That information just isn’t given to us. But the fact that we’re promised that one day all our sufferings will cease tells us our afflictions matter to God right now.
Even when God does not remove our afflictions from us, His eternal plan has them in view. When I was afflicted and uncertain about what the future held, this truth was profoundly comforting. We are the object of God’s compassion. This means we are free to put our faith in the One who has promised to deliver us from a world where hospitals are necessary. I look forward to that.
Written by Russ Ramsey