In Part 1 I talked about the tension between having faith to “suffer well” and faith to “get well.” Sometimes God has his reasons for miraculously making us well and at other times he gives us the strength to suffer well. The same God who said to Moses, “I am the Lord who heals you,” also said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you” (to endure his “thorn in the flesh”). Both options require faith. Then I coined the phrase “the mediocre middle,” which is a place between the two “wells” in which many Christians languish lazily – a pitiful spiritual location, which requires little-to-no faith at all. People who live in the “mediocre middle” don’t trust God for the grace to either make them well or to help them suffer well. They’ve lost touch with the adventure of trusting God for whatever he brings.
A mature faith…
Then I proposed an alternative position; one that camps neither in the middle place nor exclusively on either the “get well” or “suffer well” side. I indicated that if we point our faith primarily toward the character of God we’d have what we need in order to receive whichever “well” he gives us at the time. When I’m not sure if I should be contending for a healing miracle or pleading for grace to endure my malady, it helps me when I focus my attention on how good God is, how wise are his judgments, and how reliable is his track record. Then my faith is in him instead in a certain outcome. I trust in him rather than in the formula I’ve concocted in order to get from him what I want.
Solomon wrote, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3), not “Trust for healing (or any miracle) with all your heart.” To me, this is the key to living peacefully with the tension between the two “wells” (suffer well and get well). In my estimation, this is one way to differentiate between a mature faith and an immature one. Mature followers of Jesus don’t live in the “mediocre middle,” but are willing to tenaciously hold both edges in tension. Maturity is not having answers to all your questions about God, it’s having unanswered questions (maybe lots of them) and being able to live with the paradoxes and mysteries.
My guess is that most people think that the person with the “biggest faith” (even though Jesus said a mustard seed size was sufficient) is the one that gets the biggest things from God. The proponent of what my friend Mike calls “Super Faith,” argues that the spiritually mature person is the one with the most answered prayers. They pray right, use the right words, and get the “best” results. But to my mind, the most mature person is the one who trusts God when he doesn’t know what’s coming. He doesn’t know what God’s going to do, but he knows that he knows what he’s doing (that is, God knows what he’s doing)!
From prison, Paul wrote to the Philippians that it was entirely possible (even desirable from his vantage point) that he’d be martyred soon. Then again, the best thing for them would be for him to survive and continue his apostolic mission. So he said, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves here like Christians.” “Whatever happens” that’s one of my favorite phrases! To me it means that he was going trust God either way it turned out, and he encouraged his friends to do the same! “I don’t know if I’m going to get out of this jail or be called by God to endure my suffering until I’m eventually martyred. Whatever happens, trust him – he’s a God of character – and follow him wherever he goes!” I like the spirit of that, don’t you?
Frankly, for myself, I don’t prefer the tension. I sort of wish that living by faith was a little easier and a tad more predictable. But I have to admit that it does tend to keep me on my toes spiritually when I don’t know which way God might go next (which is pretty much all the time)!
Suffer well until you get well…
So, for me, I try to think more about what he’s like than what he’s likely to do. With my attention on the Person of God, and not on my needs at the moment (or even on his ability to meet those needs), whether I get well or not, I’m content (as much as I let myself be at the time). And I honestly don’t think the Lord is as uptight as many seem to think he is about our expectations of a certain outcome having a cancelling influence on the possibility of another. In other words, I’m pretty sure that, if in a certain circumstance, my focus is on suffering well; God is not automatically unable (or unwilling) to make me well. Or vice versa, if my faith is aimed at getting well, it’s not like I’m going to be unable to suffer well. Do we really think he’s such a tight-fisted miser that’s obsessed with the “rules of faith” as he doles out his gifts? (BTW, don’t look for “rules of faith” in a concordance; it’s not in the Bible – I made it up.) That’s one of the reasons I try to focus my faith on his personality and not just on his power to bring about a particular result. That way, as I venture with him on whichever path he chooses for me, I’m content.
I’m not saying that if God asks us to suffer well, that it precludes the possibility that we’ll ever get well. In his wisdom he might have us suffer well for a while and then get well at a future time. “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning!” On one level, those of us who love Jesus are all going to get well someday. That is, heaven is a place where we’ll all get well, and never have to suffer again. We’ll just be well forever. Sounds good – yes? I think it’s important to remember that the place we live now is the in-between place where we get tested. The world we live in contains a mixture of heaven and hell. There’s some heaven here so we’ll be inspired to want to go there and there’s some hell here too, so we’ll want to avoid ending up there at any cost. But one day our suffering (whether we do it well or not so well) will end, and we won’t have to deal with that tension between “the wells” anymore!
But we don’t always have to wait until we get to the well-place (heaven) to “get well,” because a lot of times God makes us well on this side of heaven (as well as we can be on this unwell planet in these not-so-well bodies with our hell-bent natures).
Sometimes we have to wait for him to make us well, but not necessarily until we go to that well place. We might have to suffer “a little while” here and then get well here. I don’t assume that just because my mandate on Monday is to suffer well, that on Tuesday that won’t all change and I’ll get well.
Why do people opt for the mediocre middle?
Inhabitants of this middle place, who neither get well or suffer well, often just stay sick and depressed! Instead of suffering well they suffer poorly and instead of getting well they stay unwell. They get bitter rather than better. The middle zone is a place of almost no faith at all. It’s resigning oneself to destiny without inviting God into your reality.
I wonder if people opt for it because it takes the least exertion of faith (that phrase is oxymoronic since faith doesn’t take exertion as much as surrender). This space in the middle may seem like a more balanced, sensible, and secure place; but it’s really not so much. I think of it as the laziest of options when it comes to faith. To my mind it’s more of a resignation to the inevitable and a fear of the unpredictable than any kind of real faith posture. The alternative is a risky faith that embraces God (just as he is) without knowing what he’s going to do or not do – a trust in his wistful wisdom and solid character.
Psychologists speak of the “Approach-Avoidance Complex” where a person can’t make up their minds among options. They speak of a horse trying to decide between two equally sumptuous bails of hay. He goes back and forth so many times that he finally collapses in-between them, having not tasted either one. So many of our brothers and sisters are equally collapsed between “the wells.” They neither have faith to withstand or to be relieved of their suffering. It’s good when the horse gets up and begins to eat from both bails and when believers leave the mediocre middle and exert the kind of faith “in God” needed for “whatever” God chooses to supply.
[Let’s bookmark this here and take it up next time where I’ll talk about “The sufferer’s testimony” and why I’m not ashamed to suffer… In the meantime, what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.]