And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. – Mark 8:22-25
This is a memorable story, but a puzzling one. Usually, when Jesus heals people, the restoration comes swiftly. A woman so much as touches his robe, and her bleeding stops (Matthew 9:20-22). He stretches out his hand to touch a leper, and the leper is immediately cleansed (Matthew 8:3). By merely the power of his words, he withers a fig tree, bids a dead man to live, and they do, right away.
Except for the blind man in Bethsaida. It’s not uncommon for me to read this passage and feel discouraged – like it took Jesus two “tries” to heal the man’s blindness. Was it too heavy to be lifted with one touch? If so, wouldn’t that mean there are there some things God can’t heal? Does that mean my circumstances can be too much for God to fix?
Maybe you’ve asked these questions yourself. You pray and pray for healing, but the cancer’s still there. Like Hannah, you petition for a child, but unlike Hannah, you have no Samuel to show for it. You labor and labor for the kingdom, but you’ve never felt more invisible or ineffective. And the worst part is, you know God can do it. You have seen him work miracles in other people’s lives, but those same miracles haven’t happened in yours. Maybe you’re the exception after all. Maybe the best God can do for you is heal you halfway, leaving you at least marginally better off than you were before.
We know, of course, that this isn’t true – God, not our circumstances, has the final say on our joy. One thing that’s helped me when I come across puzzling-to-me passages is to put my "why" questions aside and ask "who" instead:
Who are you, Lord?
It’s the same question the apostle Paul asked when he was accosted by the Lord on the way to Damascus (and ironically, right before he was blinded for three days). He does not do what I would be tempted to do in the same situation: defend himself or ask what’s going on. Those aren’t the most pressing concerns; finding out who Jesus is trumps it all.
So who is this Jesus, who needs two “tries” to heal a blind man in Bethsaida?
1. He is the Friend who draws near, who takes us by the hand and leads us out of our villages — away from our friends, our families, our familiar places — because that is where he will do his healing work. Just as Jesus himself withdrew to desolate (or as the NIV puts it, “lonely”) places to pray (Luke 5:16), he will take us to desolate places where we, too, will know the bittersweet communion with God. Bitter because it is lonely and we are not yet physically present with him, sweet because he is near to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
2. He is the Almighty God, and nothing is too hard for him — not our darkness, our sadness, our loneliness, our sins, our sickness, or our fears. When he does not heal us the way we want to be healed, it is not because our afflictions or convictions overwhelm him. Our tiny little imaginations can only dream up new circumstances, but our God is doing awesome things we were not looking for (Isaiah 64:3) in our waiting.
3. He is a wonder-working God who never does anything halfway. This is not to say that we will get what our hearts long for in this life—we may go to our graves single, barren, sick, or poor. But because Jesus is alive, we can be confident that our unfulfilled desires do not have the final say on our joy. We are waiting and we are longing, not ultimately for good earthly gifts, but for their Giver. Jesus is the Rescuer who will not leave us stranded in the murkiness of the already and the not yet, in the land where we see people as walking trees. He will come again to restore us fully and we will see him clearly.
I still don’t know why Jesus didn’t heal the blind man at Bethsaida with the same immediacy as he healed other people. I have no answers for why he has not acted in my life or your life the way we thought he would. But I am learning—trial by trial, disappointment by disappointment—that he is better than we can imagine, and that someday we will know fully that what he did (or did not do) was better than we could have dreamed.