People often question why God doesn’t seem to act in the extraordinary ways He did in the Bible. Whether it’s a theophany (a visible manifestation of God) like those experienced by Abraham and Moses in the Old Testament or one of Jesus’ numerous miracles, many feel like God’s wonders have dried up in recent years.
The question itself is problematic for two reasons. First of all, a deeper dive into Scripture shows that although we easily remember the more fantastic ways in which God made Himself known, there are also numerous occasions where He acted more delicately in the lives of people like Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-13) and Samuel (1 Samuel 3).
Secondly, every saint that is canonized today only achieves that status once two miracles have been verified and approved by the Church. In recent years, the prayers of St. John Paul II were linked to the miraculous healings of a French nun from Parkinson’s Disease and a Costa Rican woman with a terminal brain aneurysm.
None of this changes the fact that for many of us God seems to be silent and we understandably wish that it was not so. The question becomes why – why does God interact with so many of us in such quiet and hidden ways?
Psychologist Dr. Peter Kleponis, writing to those seeking healing from addiction, has a profound insight that can help answer this question: “The fact is that God never leaves a prayer unanswered. While he answers all prayers, it may not be in the way you expect. The main problem is that while people pray for a cure … God offers healing.”
Jesus’ restoration of 10 lepers in Luke 17:11-19 is a great example of this. In Jesus’ day, there was a lot of fear when it comes to leprosy. This fear was so great that those who contracted leprosy were cast out of their homes, fired from their jobs, and seen as religiously unclean. In being cured of their leprosy, these 10 not were not only relieved of their physical ailments, but were also restored to homes, families, and a whole way of life. From that perspective it’s easy to understand how nine of them ran back to their lives without a word of thanks or a second thought to the One who had made it all possible.
St. Paul had a very different experience than that of the leper. In 2 Corinthians 12, we read that Paul begged God to cure him of some ‘thorn in the flesh,’ but God didn’t heal him. Instead, he was left with this burden so that he might know more deeply what God’s grace is about. Ultimately, Paul came to understand this gift so much that he boasted of his weakness “that the power of Christ may dwell in (him).” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
When you contrast the nine lepers who were granted their prayer and ran off and St. Paul who was not granted his prayer and instead clung to Christ, you’re left with a lesson for the rest of us. When we look for theophanies and miracles, it is usually in response to these sorts of ailments and weaknesses.
All of us, understandably, want to bring whatever ails us to the Divine Physician for a cure. As Dr. Kleponis points out He’s more concerned with the healing of the whole person – which, as was the case with St. Paul, isn’t always accomplished by granting our request in the way we wanted. Ultimately, whatever way it is that the Lord chooses to act (or not), He is working for our ultimate good … often in ways we don’t expect and can’t imagine.
If we pick up the story of the 10 lepers again, Devin Shadt imagines what might have become of one of the other nine in his book Show us the Father. This man, restored from his illness, returned to his family, and wound up opening a shop of some sort in downtown Jerusalem. One day, a raucous crowd passed by his shop, and the man stepped outside to investigate. It was then that he learned that the crowd was following Jesus on the road to His crucifixion. Here Shadt describes beautifully how this man might have responded to this news:
“I realize that I have only this one last opportunity to thank Him for healing me of my leprosy. I launch out after Him, determined to see Him, determined to thank Him one last time. I weave my way through the multitudes, pushing, pulling – just trying to find a way to reach Him. Finally, at the foot of Calvary the crowd thins, and I gain front-row access just at the moment when they strip Him of His clothing. And then I see it for the first time – His body, plagued with open sores, eaten by the scourges, lacerations, and infected wounds. And then I understand: in order for Jesus to heal me of my leprosy He took upon Himself my wounds, my leprosy.”
The wounds which Jesus took upon Himself were far more than just physical ailments. Jesus stepped in to fix all that had been broken since the fall of humanity weakened human nature and left it “subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #405).
If Shadt’s imagined encounter between this healed leper and Christ about to be crucified actually happened, it would mean that this man saw a physical representation of the redemption Jesus came to offer us. In the end, whether we receive the various cures we pray for or theophanies we hope for, it is the healing brought about by our Lord’s suffering, death, and resurrection which can point us to eternal life.
“But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” -Isaiah 53:5
— Mike Landry is chaplain to Evergreen Catholic Schools west of Edmonton, and serves as an occasional guest speaker and music minister in communities across Western Canada. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Stony Plain, Alta. with their five children.