It works for everyone else, but not for me. Is there something wrong with me? Maybe I'm too messed up even for God to heal me. Maybe I'm not like everyone else. I must have done something wrong - a really horrible sinner. Or I'm just not one of the people God loves or wants. Now I really know there's no hope for me.
With these questions, Ned Arnold recently opened an insightful reflection on the following passage from Mark, imagining what the half-healed man may have been thinking as he saw people like trees walking around:
22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.”25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.” (Mark 8:22-26)
Disappointment? Shame? Despair? Self-pity? What must the blind man have felt when he realized he couldn't see clearly, that he wasn't fully healed yet? It's likely, suggested Ned, that he felt the same pressure we often feel to please those who pray for us, or to put on a good face, when the reality is that the healing session didn't seem to work very well.
How do we respond in situations like this? Based on Ned's comments, let me suggest a couple principles:
Principle 1: Honesty The man didn't say, "Um, you know, it's pretty good. Better than it was. Thanks, Jesus, I appreciate your help." He didn't say, "Yeah, I can see fine. Good enough. You're a really great healer, Jesus," and head home. He told the truth: "I see people, but they look pretty strange. It's not quite what I expected. You know, they kinda look like trees walking around." Then he let Jesus figure out how to respond and what to do next. Let's be honest: honesty is hard, especially in situations like this. Being honest takes courage, because we may hurt or offend the prayer minister, or make them feel or look bad. But it's the only way to get real healing instead of "good enough." Jesus, of all people, can handle our honesty. And those who are following him need to learn to handle it too.
Principle 2: Trust We could assume Jesus made a mistake, or that he's not as powerful or loving or knowledgeable as we'd hoped. Alternatively, we could assume Jesus is as powerful, loving, and knowledgeable as he claims to be, and that he did exactly what he intended to do. Given the way this story ends, he's certainly powerful enough and loving enough to complete the healing he began (cf Phil 1:6). What if we choose to trust that he knows what he's doing and has a reason for partial healing?
I recently facilitated an Immanuel session in which Jesus allowed a long-forgotten and very positive memory to come to the surface. He explained to the recipient, "You couldn't handle this memory before. You would have been overwhelmed. But now you have the strength to take in the full goodness of it."
In Mark's story, this two-part healing precedes Peter's confession of Jesus as Christ and Jesus' transfiguration. Both involve partial "sight," moments in which Jesus' followers see more clearly than before but not so fully they totally comprehend the reality of Jesus' identity. Perhaps Jesus, Mark, or both, intended this healing as a sign. The point of the healing wasn't only to restore sight to a blind man but to model the way we often grow by stages in our ability to see and know spiritually.
If Jesus truly has a reason for partial healing, are we willing to surrender to his decisions in trust, appreciating the gift of "halfway" without giving up on desiring and requesting and believing he can provide full healing?