This spring as the Coronavirus pandemic gained momentum, my husband and I got ready to start a construction project at our house. We found a contractor, met with him a couple of times to talk about the plan – we even had masking tape lines on the floor where a new wall would go. Supplies were scheduled to arrive on a Friday and work would begin on that Saturday. And then, the stay-at-home order went out. I started having second thoughts about the timeline. Was it a good idea to start a construction project in the middle of a pandemic? Would we or the contractor get sick? Would we be able to buy the supplies we needed throughout the project?
Really, my core concern wasn’t whether we could start, but whether we’d be able to finish. The only thing worse than a construction project is a half-done, stalled construction project.
Any half-done project is frustrating. It’s messy, unusable, a constant reminder that there’s more work waiting. Usually, you can’t see a half-done, stalled project with any satisfaction. Instead, it’s a reminder that there’s more work to do – every time you walk past it. We put construction on hold.
Thinking about the construction dilemma makes me acknowledge that what I won’t tolerate in my home, I often tolerate in myself. I am not a finished project. I am still being formed in the image of Christ. My wounds are still being healed. My relationship with God has a lot of room to grow and deepen. All of that is okay. Those things will be “under construction” until I am done with my earthly life.
The problem is that – at times – I let those projects stall. There have been times I settle for them when they’re stalled out, half-way done, no new progress made for stretches at a time. That’s the problem.
But we love and serve a God who finishes projects. God completes what he starts. God doesn’t just want to save us – to rescue us and then leave us as we were. God wants to bring us into the safety of communion with him and then begin the work of restoration – of healing. We love and serve Jehovah Rophe – the God who heals.
The Lord is Healer
Early in the biblical story, God introduces himself to his people as healer. In Exodus, God refers to himself as Jehovah Rophe – The Lord Who Heals You. Some of the names of God were given to him by people as they had significant experiences with the Almighty. Like Hagar who called God Jehovah Roi – The God Who Sees Me. But in this case, God doesn’t wait for someone to notice through experience; instead, God announces it.
Look with me at Exodus 15:22-26:
Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”
Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.
There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”
A few days before this event at Marah, God orchestrated a mass exodus of his people out of slavery – out from under Egyptian control – and into freedom. They were free – but in many ways, they were still dragging their broken chains with them. They bore damage done by generations of enslavement. They had been mistreated, abused, threatened, their babies killed, their lives and dignity stolen. They were officially free – but not yet in a way to live the abundant life that God promised them. They needed a God who heals.
If you read those early moments of their exodus, you know that healing didn’t happen overnight for them. This event at Marah was the first of many events orchestrated by God to heal. Look at the passage again. Do you notice the signs that God’s people needed healing? They panicked when faced with adversity; their resilience was tapped out from repeated trauma. We can’t underestimate their suffering here, from our well-hydrated, air-conditioned, padded seats. This was a tough spot: three days walking in the desert without water means significant suffering. In their group are babies and children, elderly people, thirsty animals. And then, to their suffering, they add disappointment: the water they do find is undrinkable.
Their response to the situation shows that they need not only water, but the deep, inner freedom of healing. They panicked, fight or flight kicking in: “What are we going to drink?” And they grumbled not to Moses but against him; under pressure, this traumatized group of people turned on Moses.
Moses is dealing with the same situation. He is thirsty too; and he is responsible for leading this group. But Moses does something helpful: he cries out to the Lord. Healing had already begun in this leader. God had been working Moses’ healing during his time in Midian. He knows to bring his problems to God. Sometimes, people grumble when they need a God who heals; but people cry out to God when they’ve begun the process of healing.
Moses cries out and God responds. God tells Moses to throw a piece of wood into the water; instantly, the water is turned from bitter to sweet. On the surface, this is a practical move to provide desperately needed water. In another way, it was like a parable acted out: God’s kind and gentle way of saying, “Hey, Israelites, do you see yourselves a little in this bitter water? Here’s good news – I am a God who heals things. Would you like to be healed?”
God could have just yelled, “Stop being bitter!” Instead, God patiently introduces himself to this people as The God Who Heals. God heals the diseased water as a demonstration of his goodness and his healing power. Then God asks: “Will you let me heal you?”
If you read the rest of Exodus, you’ll see that the people didn’t initially get God’s deeper purpose in this miracle. They were distracted by their thirst and the water; they moved onto the next thing. Once the crisis was over, they forgot to circle back and confront their own bitterness. They continued in survival mode.
Is it tempting to stand back and admire God who heals, but to neglect allowing God to begin the healing process in you? It’s one thing to know that God can heal; it’s another thing to experience God as the One who heals you. Knowing about God only gets you so far. You and I need to experience God – not just once but many times.
God didn’t want the Israelites to be a half-way done, stalled construction project. God doesn’t want to leave you half-done and stalled out, either.
God has the power to change the very essence of something. How long had that water been bitter? Long enough for the locals to name the spot Marah – which means bitter. That’s how deep the bitterness ran.
How long had the Israelites tasted bitter suffering? For generations. As long as they could remember. But the God who heals can turn what is into what can be. How long have you been bitter, or sad, or angry, or shamed? Do you have ways of thinking and responding that are so deep you don’t even recognize them as broken? What has become your normal?
Maybe you’ve been angry or sad or hurt or sick for a long time – maybe for as long as you can remember. God’s not put off by that. The God who heals can change the very essence of who we are. Just like God changed water from bitter – so diseased that people dying of thirst couldn’t drink it – to sweet – a life-giving joy to experience.
The water was healed much more quickly than the Israelites were; it takes time to earn trust. So God began a process of healing with the Israelites – a 40-year process. The Israelites didn’t have a lot of patience for the process; do any of us? Do you expect an instant of salvation to resolve what can take the process of sanctification a lifetime? Sometimes if we get frustrated with the process, we opt out.
Let Yourself Be Healed
Sometimes healing happens suddenly. I know of physical healing that’s happened in a moment. You may know someone God has instantaneously healed of emotional wounds. But other times, healing happens in the slow lane. That was certainly the Israelites story. God healed them in stages.
You won’t just see this in the Old Testament, you can see it in the New Testament as well. Think about the disciples’ three-year-long journey with Jesus. There’s an interesting account of healing found in Mark 8:22-26:
They came to Bethsaida. Some peoplebrought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the manlooked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesuslaid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”
Jesus heals this man, but in a way that is unique from every healing story in the Gospels. For some reason, Jesus doesn’t heal him instantly like he did all the others. It’s certainly not because he couldn’t. Jesus healed people left and right. It’s not because the man lacked faith for full healing: Jesus raised the dead man Lazarus back to life, and dead people don’t have any faith.
I don’t know why Jesus took two turns at healing this guy, but I’m glad he did. It gives me hope. For me, healing has come in stages. I don’t think I’m alone. So this story gives my story context – a way of understanding why something can take so long. What can we learn about the healing journey?
I love these stories of Jesus interacting with people one-on-one. They are each unique and personal. The blind man’s friends want him to be healed; they must have heard about or seen Jesus heal people. So they bring the man to Jesus and beg for healing for their friend.
Jesus offers his hand to the man and leads him to a quiet spot where they can speak privately. Then – Jesus spits on the man’s eyes, touches him, and asks, “do you see anything?”
Each of us might handle being in the blind man’s shoes differently; I think I would have felt some performance pressure to be a success story. Everyone else had been healed instantly. Why wasn’t I? But the way Jesus asks the question, “Do you see anything?” sets up the man to answer honestly. “Well…I see what must be people, but they kind of look like trees…”
From this brave man’s example, I learn to be honest about where I am in my healing journey: honest with myself, with God, and with others. We all have areas that are works in progress. We all see more than we used to, but not everything clearly yet. Can we admit that?
Sometimes in faith communities there’s an expectation that because we go to church or believe in Christ that we are done – healed – good to go. We struggle to make room for the process of healing.
This man honestly reported exactly what he was experiencing. Jesus didn’t blame him, question his faith or intelligence, yell at him, or get frustrated and quit. Instead, the man’s honesty led to more healing. This man didn’t settle for half-a-healing. Jesus stood right there – present, kind, patient, through the whole process. Not an eye roll. Not a sign of irritation or frustration.
And the man didn’t walk away, either. He could have said, “well, people looking like trees is better than nothing,” and settled for that. He could have decided he wasn’t up for being smeared with saliva again. Instead, he spoke honestly with Jesus, and waited while the healing continued. Jesus did all the work. All the man had to do was stay present. And just like God transformed the water from bitter to sweet, God transformed a blind man into someone who could see clearly. Polar opposites: bitter to sweet, blind to 20/20 vision. Jehovah Rophe: The Lord Who Heals You.
At times, I have settled for half-a-healing; I have settled for being healed enough to hold it together in public – but falling apart inside. I have settled for seeing through a fog, when I could have been seeing clearly. Does that sound like you?
Why do we do this? Because sometimes, healing hurts. Ask anyone who has gone through cancer treatments. The God Who Heals does the work; but we have to submit to it, and it’s hard. If you get into a hard part, you may think you must be doing it wrong. But if it’s hard – you are probably doing it right. Healing requires us to name our baggage, wounds, hurt, or trauma, and allow God to work there – in a place that’s sometimes quite painful, that we’d rather ignore or hide or protect.
None of us are completed projects. That’s not the problem. The problem is when you begin to tolerate a constant state of disruptive “good enough.” If you let the healing process stall out and come to a standstill. If you know deep down you’re still only seeing shadows but you don’t want to admit it.
Today, do you know God as Jehovah Rophe – The Lord Who Heals You?
Where are you on your healing journey?
Everyone in this world needs healing of some kind. I’m not surprised when you tell me you have baggage. I trust that you will not be surprised when I’m honest about ways in which God is still healing me.
God doesn’t ever just heal us for our own sake, but also for the sake of others. Who are the others in your life who will be impacted when you allow God to work healing in your life? Your children, your spouse, your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors? In the hard moments, if you are tempted to walk away half-done, make a list of their names. What difference will it make in their lives when you patiently stick with the process?
It is not self-centered to choose to search for healing. It’s so that you can come out on the other side more whole and healthy. It’s as if God is throwing pieces of wood into the water, saying, “Come on! Taste the water now. I can do this for you, too.”
Where are you on your healing journey? Is the construction in process; has it come to a standstill? Have you settled for blurry, good-enough vision? Do you hear God’s patient invitation to stick with it? Wherever you are, consider some of these next steps:
- Ask for help. You might not even know how to frame the question or issue. “Will you help me?” might be all you can say. That’s a perfectly fine place to start.
- Reach out. Maybe you know right away what needs healing and you’re ready to engage with God. Reach out to someone and let them walk with you – a pastor, a small group leader, a district confidant, a spiritual director, a trusted friend.
- Tell your story to someone. Sometimes our healing lies in bringing things to the surface that we’ve ignored until we’ve almost forgotten. Tell your story to someone and notice what still hurts. That might be an area God wants to bring wholeness and restoration.
- Seek out professional help. Spiritual healing does not happen apart from emotional healing. God uses professional therapists, counselors, addiction specialists and many others to heal.
What is your next step? God is so patient with us. Will you be patient and let God change the essence of your life? God remains Jehovah Rophe: The Lord Who Heals You. God can take your life from:
bitter to sweet
sadness to joy
fear to trust
So how does the water taste to you today? What is it that’s blurry? What can you see?