One of my favorite Gospel stories is found in John 5. Jesus was walking through Jerusalem and came by the pool of Bethesda. Many blind and crippled people would stay near the pool because they believed an angel would occasionally stir the waters and the first person in would be instantly healed of whatever ailed them.
Though multitudes were gathered there for a touch from God, Jesus centered in on a man who had basically been an invalid for 38 years. The Bible also says that Jesus knew he had been that way for a long time. Looking at the man, Jesus asked him what many would consider an awkward question. “Do you want to get well (Vs 6)?”
Why would Jesus ask that question to a man who obviously needs a miracle?
Perhaps at the man’s core, he was afraid of the responsibility that would come with being healed. Perhaps he enjoyed the attention and sympathy he received due to his illness. Perhaps he was still bitter over the traumatic circumstances that caused his condition, and felt that persisting in the pain of his past was more pleasurable than walking in uncertainty of liberty.
Whatever the case, the man gave a remarkable reply. Instead of simply saying, “Yes, of course I want to be healed,” he began to blame everyone around him for his troubles.
When simple questions regularly receive run-around replies, a victim mindset is usually framing one’s reality.
Viktor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor and author of the popular book Man’s Search for Meaning. In it, he describes how the Nazis took the Jewish people’s clothes, pictures, belongings, and separated them from their families. However, he also wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
How we frame each situation we encounter (the attitude/worldview we choose in any given situation) is a critical aspect of living as a faithful servant of King Jesus.
For instance, Hebrews 2 says one of the greatest fears every human possesses is the fear of death. Politicians and media constantly play on that fear to manipulate us into believing that the right type of governing body of this world will save us from various forms of death. They masterfully use the fear of death to convert worshippers of God into worshippers of the State.
You can see the evidence in the way the American Church vacillates between two extremes. On one hand we spew absolute filth about either the Left or Right while making general threats to anyone who might physically or emotionally hurt us or a loved one. And on the other hand, we’ve watered down the Gospel so radically for the sake of “unity” that the most popular social media posts by Christians are pictures of our pets, and the most common rebuke heard inside the walls of the Church is, “Don’t judge me!”
We’re so afraid of both physical and emotional death. But I wonder, how would our lives change if we framed our circumstances in light of the resurrection? How would our reactions to persecutions, insults and trouble change if we framed them in light of the simple words of Christ in the Beatitudes?
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matthew 5:11-12
How do you think the early Christians, who were not held in high regard throughout the Roman Empire, framed those words of Jesus? Let’s see:
Blessed are they who suffer the same things as the prophets, according to what was said by the Savior, “For in the same manner did their fathers treat the prophets.” Now if any one who attends carefully to these things be hated and attacked because of his living with rigorous seriousness and his rebuke of sinners, as a man who is persecuted and criticized for the sake of righteousness, he will … rejoice and be exceeding glad, being assured that because of these things, he has great reward in heaven from Him who likened him to the prophets on the ground of his having suffered the same things. – Origen 225CE, Volume 9, p. 664-665 [CD-ROM]
The early Christians didn’t brush off the Beatitudes simply because they lived in perilous times. They framed suffering for Christ as an opportunity, not an obstacle. They viewed the command to love our enemies not as hyperbole, but rather as an effective means of spreading the Gospel. As Tertullian famously wrote, “The blood of martyrs is seed.”
I think it’s important to note that John wrote that the man in our story had been lame for 38 years. In chapter 9, John writes about a man that was blind from birth. What that tells us is that the man from John 5 must have gone through a traumatic situation 38 years ago that radically changed his life.
Being the parent of two adopted children from Child Protective Services, I have seen first hand how a trauma suffered years ago can still shape one’s worldview.
No one is exempt from trauma. We all suffer loss. We all will experience radical disappointments, heartaches and wounds that leave deep scars. It is imperative, then, that we are honest with ourselves and others about how those traumas affect the way we see the world. And more importantly, how those traumas affect the way we frame the simple words of Christ.
In John 5, despite the man’s reluctance to affirm his need, Jesus told him to get up, pick up his mat and walk! And he did! The power of the kingdom of God turned a trauma into a testimony.