Groaning in Tents
I am not a camper. The few times that I’ve attempted to rough it and sleep outside, about ten o’clock, I start asking myself, “Now, why am I doing this?” I hate the thought that my perfectly comfortable bed at home lies empty while I’m in a sleeping bag on the ground. For me, a tent is not an acceptable substitute for home.
In 2 Corinthians 5:1–3, Paul describes our bodies as earthly tents, a place to reside only until we receive everlasting bodies in our heavenly home:
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.
The world stops feeling like a comfortable place when our bodies attack themselves. Even a minor sickness can remind us that our bodies are not permanent homes. When sickness enters our lives, we become keenly aware that our world is fallen. Our bodies are a gift from God, but as they age and get sick, they cause a lot of groaning.
While sickness, like death, is a product of the fall and therefore not a good thing in itself, it has the good by-product of helping us to feel less at home in the world. When we aren’t at home in our bodies, it reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20–21). Illness is not something that we should embrace for its own sake, but we can celebrate the fact that it makes us long for our heavenly home and resurrected bodies, in the same way that sleeping on the cold hard ground made me long for my bed at home.
The Hope of Healing
When sickness is serious, it is rarely over quickly. Thus, waiting is integral to the experience of illness. We wait on test results. We wait on remission. We wait on relief from side effects. Most of all, we wait on healing, and often we don’t know whether that healing will come in this life or the next.
God does not always respond to prayers for healing in the same way. Sometimes he heals quickly, either through medicine or through miracles with no scientific explanation. Sometimes he heals after many months or years. Other times, God withholds healing. I have seen each of these responses to my own prayers for the healing of others. And in Scripture, we see clear examples of God acting in these different ways in response to sickness.
Luke 4 contains the kind of healing that we would all choose for ourselves and those we love. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law has been stricken with a high fever. Those in the house “[appeal] to Jesus on her behalf,” which basically means they offered an in-person prayer for healing. Luke tells us that Jesus “stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them” (Luke 4:39). The healing was miraculous and instantaneous. That same night, Jesus laid hands on many others and healed them.
Illness is not something that we should embrace for its own sake, but we can celebrate the fact that it makes us long for our heavenly home and resurrected bodies.
This is the kind of healing our bodies and souls long for, the touch of our Savior that instantly restores. That kind of healing brings glory to God because it shows his miraculous power. But God is also glorified when we continue to walk in faith though we have not been healed. Anyone would praise God for instantaneous healing; there’s nothing supernatural about being glad for good health. But those who praise God in the midst of their suffering, even though he has not removed that suffering, show a kind of faith that can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit within them. It is not natural to give thanks and rejoice while being imprisoned in a groaning, aching body.
Waiting Well While Waiting for Healing
What does it mean to wait well when you long to be healed? Waiting well involves praying for healing and seeking a cure through medical means. It also means recognizing that God may have purposes for delaying that healing. One purpose may be to remind the healthy people around you that our bodies don’t last forever. Tents are not meant to be permanent.
We all long for the restoration that will come when God gives us new, resurrected bodies. We don’t have those bodies yet. Until we do, we are “those who have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Just as the woman with the hemorrhage of blood was a living parable of Israel’s need for cleansing, so those who suffer in the body serve as a parable of our need for resurrection.
How might this happen? If you suffer from a terminal illness, your life is living evidence of Psalm 103:15–17:
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to
everlasting on those who fear him.
Only God’s Love Endures
Those who see you will be reminded that we are not promised long lives. Neither our health nor our continued existence on earth is guaranteed; only God’s love for those who fear him endures eternally. Ultimately, we all have a terminal diagnosis and must repent before it is too late. As you wait for healing, realizing that it may not come this side of Jordan, you can help people see their urgent need to repent and believe before their time runs out.
Perhaps your illness is not terminal, but you live with chronic pain. You live with a daily, throbbing reminder that all is not as it should be. This is a message that our control-happy, fixit culture desperately needs to hear. There are some problems that can’t be solved by joining a gym or making more money or finding people who understand you. Our world is broken, and all the brainpower or buying power that exists cannot mend it. If your pain increases your longing for heaven, and you speak up about that hope, you will be a powerful sign pointing to the restoration that will come when Christ returns.
There are many other categories of illness, and the purpose or the parable of your illness may not be immediately obvious to you. Your illness may be messy. It may be someone else’s fault. It may be hard to untangle from your own sinful, addictive behaviors. But I assure you that it is not beyond God’s power to tell his story through you. It is only by digging deeply into God’s story that we can hope to understand our own.
As you wait, keep praying for healing, but pray also for God’s strength to be perfected in your weakness as long as he withholds health. There is no body so broken that it cannot be offered to God as a living sacrifice, and there is no arm too feeble to wield the sword of the Spirit.
This article is adapted from Seasons of Waiting: Walking by Faith When Dreams Are Delayed by Betsy Childs Howard.
When many families are reorienting their lives and schedules around more time at home, we hope you will find these resources helpful in grounding you in the hope of the gospel.
When we are weary and distraught, we have a place to go. Jesus welcomes us to come to him and cast our cares on him.
Read answers to common questions related to COVID-19 from a Christian physician.
The more you know about lament, the more things really come alive to you in reading Jeremiah's lament. His lament is so relevant to the suffering that we’re going through right now.