Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 103) transports me to a land I love to visit, where all is well and there’s nothing to worry about. At least that’s the message you get if you ask the people there how things are going. What land am I talking about? It’s the small crocodile-shaped island 90 miles south of the Florida keys. Any objective evaluation of the state of affairs in Cuba will come to a different conclusion entirely, of course – it’s an incredibly problem-ridden island, economically, politically, socially. But the Cuban mantra, which you’ll hear over and over again if you visit, is todo esta bien. It’s all good. No te preocupe. Don’t worry. Todo esta mamé. Everything’s peachy keen. It’s a statement of faith more than a state of the union proclamation. It’s the same kind of faith professed by the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich – the most famous lines of her journal were, All shall be well; all manner of things shall be well. She lived during a time when the objective assessment would have reached a far different conclusion as well; it was a time when the bubonic plague induced the great Black Death in Europe, not to mention the violent upheavals of the Peasant Revolts characterizing the history of her time. In the midst of all this crisis, though, she had her revelation of the nature of God, in which she heard God’s voice telling her not to worry, that all would be well. A later example of this kind of theological confidence is seen in the hymn writer Horatio Spafford. In 1871 he endured the death of his four year old son, followed soon by his financial ruin caused by the great Chicago fire, and two years later he lost all four of his daughters when the ship his family was sailing on collided with another ship and sank into the watery grave of the Atlantic. Shortly after hearing word of this tragedy, he penned the immortal lyrics, when peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrow like sea billows roll, whatever my lot Thou has taught me to say, “it is well, it is well with my soul.”
That’s what a little three letter word in verse 3 of today’s Psalm seems to be telling us: ALL is well. The benefits of faith in the Lord include forgiveness of ALL sins and healing of ALL diseases. That first benefit, total forgiveness, is something we can soak in, but it doesn’t take much life experience to make us wonder what the second total benefit really means. Healing of all diseases? Just sit with people of faith who have been fervently praying and have been fervently prayed for, but whose disease only worsens, by any objective analysis. Sit with a loved one suffering from cancer, or listen to an Alzheimer’s victim ask you the same question over and over, or watch children struggle to learn when they have been dealt a hand of cards including disabling birth defects. I’m reminded of home visits I used to make at the church Kim and I co-pastored, Providence Baptist in Stoneville. Today I’m going there to help in the funeral service for one of the saints of the church, Jessie Cox. One of the homebound members Jessie and I regularly visited was Rachel Carter, who had lost both legs to diabetes. I remember when this Psalm came up in our Sunday School lesson, and Jessie and I discussed what the promise of total healing meant for people like Rachel. We wondered if any of the faith healers on tv who slapped crippled people on the head and enabled them to walk had ever attempted to grow some new legs for amputee victims. Jessie and I concluded that we can and do hope for a final healing of all diseases in heaven, but that doesn’t completely unravel the mystery at work here, and after all, doesn’t this Psalm imply that these benefits are for the here and now? Justice for the oppressed, compassion, forgiveness – these are all things we expect God to bring about while we’re in this earthly life.
I am continuing to learn how to live with the mystery of God’s compassionate care for His children, a care that leaves some healed here on earth and leaves some to await healing on the other side. I suppose I could even say that I have experienced some healing of my dis-ease with that mystery, for it has troubled me for most of my life. For now, I can say that I am grateful to believe in a God who can handle my questions and my confusions. And I trust that any God who is as the Psalmist describes, a compassionate parent caring for children, would never willingly withhold or postpone a healing touch. Farther along we’ll know all about it.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Healing.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.