Being different often breeds loneliness of the deepest kind. This is especially true when someone is different in a way that offends the sensibilities of others. For some, the difference is due to illness. Others are born with deformities or are disfigured in an accident. And for many, there will be no remedy in this lifetime. Where is God in this?
While we cannot know all his purposes in such cases, his Word reveals some of them, and through an ailing woman in Mark’s Gospel we are shown his primary purpose. The story of this woman is found in Mark 5:25–34. She had a gynecological malady, and it had plagued her for 12 long years. She’d sought all possible medical help, but to no avail. Her condition only worsened, and her suffering increased.
Worst of all, perhaps, was the social suffering. Her condition resulted in an endless flow of blood, which in those days rendered her unfit for regular fellowship. Others saw her as unclean, and she was commanded by law to apply that label to herself. Adding insult to injury, anyone who had contact with her was, according to the law, rendered unclean as well (Lev. 15:25–28; Num. 5:2).
Clearly, her condition was not conducive to a dynamic social life. In fact, it basically kept her from having a social life at all for more than a decade. No doubt that was among the worst aspects of her illness.
Blessing of Desperation
Despite her isolation, she had heard about Jesus, a man who reportedly could heal disease with merely a word and a touch. So one day she slipped into a crowd of people who were watching for him. Hopeless and out of options, she mustered up the courage to reach out and touch him as he passed by, hoping no one—least of all Jesus himself—would notice.
“If I touch even his garments, I will be made well,” she said (Mark 5:28). Sometimes, desperation is the door through which faith enters. “And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease” (v. 29).
Sometimes, desperation is the door through which faith enters.
Jesus was aware that healing power had gone out of him, so he stopped in his tracks. “Who touched my garments?” he asked (v. 30). Did he not know? Most likely he did know, but he wanted the woman to come forward. He was issuing an invitation and preparing not only the woman but also the entire crowd to learn something about faith.
Terrified to the point of falling down, she came forward nevertheless. After all, if a mere touch of his cloak had healed her, surely it was safe to approach! So she revealed herself to him and told her story.
When Jesus heard what had happened, he said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (v. 34). That’s the last we read about her, but given the Jewish customs of the day, we can safely guess that afterward she went through the required purification rituals and was then restored to full fellowship within her community.
She was healed. She was made clean. She was restored.
I believe that, you might be thinking, but it doesn’t happen that way for the majority of suffering people. So how does this show me where God is in the things that isolate me? But actually, it does happen. This is exactly what God does for all who come to him by faith: he heals, he cleanses, and he restores.
Healed, Cleansed, and Restored
Our problem isn’t God’s failure to heal—it’s our expectation of what that healing should look like. Often he does not give physical healing, although he could. But he always provides spiritual healing.
And it’s precisely at this point that we learn God’s primary purpose in allowing the woman in Mark’s Gospel to be afflicted in the first place—he wanted to heal her of sin and eternal separation from God. And God used her illness and the social isolation that came with it to bring that healing about.
The physical healing she received was temporary, for this life only, but her spiritual healing was given for eternity. The flow of blood ceased, removing the disgrace of being socially unclean, but that too was temporary, because in those days before the death and resurrection of Christ, ritual cleansing was an ongoing necessity in the lives of God’s people. That’s why the cleansing she received from Jesus points to something so much greater—the cleansing that comes by being washed in his very own blood (Titus 3:4–7).
Our problem isn’t God’s failure to heal—it’s our expectation of what that healing should look like.
We tend to miss this big picture of spiritual healing forever because we so badly want the little picture—relief from suffering right now. But what if God’s big-picture purpose will best be accomplished by not removing the hated thing that tends to isolate us from others? How we answer reveals which one we want most.
“I want both,” we say. “Why does it have to be either-or?”
That’s where we get stuck, and because we’re stuck, we focus all our energy on finding a remedy that will make us normal and lift us out of the loneliness that comes from being different. But when no remedy works, to our loneliness is added frustration and discouragement.
There is only one way out of that muck, but there is a way out, as the woman in Mark’s Gospel shows us. It’s to get near to Jesus. He is the only one who can give us what we really long for. He can certainly change our circumstances if he chooses. And he just might.
But even if he doesn’t, he won’t leave us to ourselves and all alone. He will give us himself, and if we’re willing to let him have his way with us and with our problems, we will find him to be exactly what he is—the One who fills up what is lacking. He wants us to know him this way, and sometimes leaving us where we don’t want to be is the only way we find it. As has been said so truly, sometimes we don’t know that God is all we need until God is all we have.