. . . actually, 17 days to be exact.
Why? The Bible gives this reason: “The whole creation groans,” (Romans 8:22).
I’ll fill in the blanks: In an attempt to treat a medical problem involving my digestive tract, I spent a period of time ingesting nothing but an enteral nutrition formula. The thick yellowish liquid consisted of pre-digested nutrients, relieving my system of the need to process food, almost like an I.V. In some cases this can be curative.
The problem with the formula is that because it’s predigested, it tastes remarkably like vomit. I could add a little aspartame, making the whole business almost tolerable, but still I watched flesh evaporate as if my bones were being vacuum-sealed by skin.
In the middle of the 17 days of vomit, I asked my pastor to please arrange an anointing service for me. She quickly gathered the elders for a Sabbath-afternoon service in a little classroom in our church. I found it very difficult to admit my need, to spill out with tears my suffering. I didn’t want to be weak and needy. I wanted to be strong, resourceful, and brave. But God said, “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord,” (James 5:14). In my distress I surrendered to this loving command of God. And I’m glad I did. Elders cried for me, laid their hands on me, and for deep emotion choked on their prayers. It felt so humbling . . . and so good. Through their touch, I felt God’s touch. Through their prayers I heard God’s voice.
I’m uncured. Neither the treatment nor the anointing gave me back the health I once had. This doesn’t mean I’ll die, or even stop working and be bedridden. It means I’ll slow down a little and, for maybe the rest of my life, suffer a bit with a painful, distressing disorder. It has been a cruel blow, but “the cruel blow that blights the joys of earth will be the means of turning our eyes to heaven.” Ellen White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 10.
Anointing proved that while perhaps uncured, I’m not unloved. Physical distress drove me to confide in my brethren. I wanted to lick my wounds in private, but God said, “Be honest, trust them, they’ll care.” I did and they did. This resembles my dance with God. I withdraw in pain, but He says, “Cast yourself upon Me.” When I do, the sweet love of heaven fills my soul and puts the pain in perspective.
It would be a really good thing if we stopped throwing punches at God long enough to receive comfort from the very One we tend to blame. There are many good books on apologetics; brilliant minds eloquently defend God’s goodness in the face of suffering. But nothing answers the “Why, God?” questions as well as faith in His goodness, expressed by simple trust in the face of persistent pain.