When Jesus walked the earth, the people around him became preoccupied with his miracles, often to the neglect of his words. I think Jesus believed that his message would carry more weight if it came from a man who wielded the power of God. But in reality, everyone was too busy standing in line waiting for a miracle to hear a word of it.
But while good preachers are hard to come by, faith healers and snake oil salesmen are a dime a dozen. In his book Disappointed with God, Philip Yancey writes of his encounter with one of these so-called miracle workers. Yancey had been experiencing a crisis of faith, and seeking some tangible evidence of the existence of God. Without some kind of physical proof, he just couldn’t bring himself to believe in God. It was around this time that he turned on the television and saw a program called I Believe in Miracles. It was hosted by the infamous Katherine Kuhlman, a charismatic healer with an electric personality and a smile the size of a horse. Yancey watched, transfixed, as Kuhlman laid her hands on paralytics, cancer patients, and men and women plagued with heart disease, curing them all with the miraculous power of Jesus.
Three weeks later, Yancey had the opportunity to attend one of her programs in person. Now convinced of God’s presence in his life, he sang his heart out and waved his hands in the air like a good Christian, looking on as Katherine Kuhlman put her hands on the sick and took away their pain. Yancey watched in wonder as a doctor ambled onto the stage, weakened by the scourge of lung cancer that had wasted his body. Even being a doctor, he was unable to cure himself; he told the audience that he had only weeks to live. But Kuhlman worked her magic, and the good doctor walked off the stage with the strength of a new man. Yancey writes, “I had never known such certainty of faith before. My search was over; I had seen proof of a living God in those people on the stage. If he could work tangible miracles in them, then surely he had something wonderful in store for me.”
Desiring to speak with the man who had experienced God’s grace, Yancey tracked down the doctor through directory assistance exactly one week later. He called the man at home, and his wife answered the phone. Yes, this is the doctor’s residence. No, he can’t come to the phone. Yancey offered to call back later, to which the woman slowly replied, “My husband is dead.”
With that, Yancey’s world came crashing down. “For me,” he writes, “the certainty I had staked my life on had died with that phone call. A flame had flared bright for one fine, shining week and then gone dark, like a dying star.”
But really, it’s no surprise that his faith had collapsed with a single blow. It was built on smoke and mirrors, like a flimsy house of cards.
We all know that life isn’t always fair, but I think we like to believe that the universe has a sense of karmic justice, and that God plays by a certain set of rules—good people are rewarded, the evil are punished, and every disease has a cure. And when those rules are inevitably broken, we often feel as though we’re stuck in a game that we never agreed to play, a game that we cannot hope to win.
But then, maybe it was never about winning or losing, but rather a matter of how the game is played.
Jesus didn’t go to the people of Nazareth to take away all of their troubles, all of their pain. He went there to teach them how to live in the midst of it. He went there not to mend their broken bodies, but to fortify their trembling souls. Everyone gets hurt. Everyone gets sick, everyone dies. Nothing is going to change that, not even God, and certainly not Katherine Kuhlman. What can change, and what Jesus tried to change in Nazareth, is how we live with that fact. We can graciously accept it, confident in our faith that while the body may perish, the soul is eternal. Or, like the citizens of Nazareth, we can fill our hearts with hatred for the one who made us this way, the God who fashioned our mortal bodies in an act of unconditional love.
If life is a game, than what does it mean to win, or to lose? If to lose is to get sick, or to die, then we’re all doomed to failure. But I would contend that our success is measured by our performance on the field. Have we been fair? Have we been gracious? And have we been loving, right up until the last seconds on the clock have expired?
I suppose Jesus could have been a doctor, healing every infirmity in his path. But his time on this earth would come to an end, too, and he had to prepare us for the dark days ahead. So instead of healing bodies he focused his ministrations on the hearts and souls of humanity, hearts that would be wounded more deeply than the flesh could ever be, over and over again. And that was Christ’s gift. That is his legacy.
Rev. Seth Ethan Carey
(Excerpt from How the Game is Played, February 2018)