A biblical perspective on suffering and Jesus’ response to it. Jesus as a model for man’s approach to one who is ill.

By Dr. David Webb

In the first chapter of his Gospel, Mark describes an encounter between Jesus and a leper.  This particular leper, sufficiently confident of Jesus’ ability to make him “clean,” begs Him to also be willing to do so.  In response to this request, most versions of the Bible describe Jesus as being “filled with compassion.”  Some earlier versions describe Him as being “filled with anger.”  Clearly, Jesus held deep and strong feelings for the man and his state of being.  He responds in action; he “reaches out His hand and touches the man.”

Possibly He knew at that moment both emotions: compassion and anger.  He may well have been deeply disturbed at the totally ill state of mankind: the physical body destruction, the emotional distortion, the relational estrangement, and the depravity of life styles.  Men and women, all of us, are as unclean and as dying as that Galilean leper.  Jesus hated what resulted from our choice to reject God: the cosmic derailment of all creation from the wholeness, health and well being He intended.  There in front of Him, personified in this one individual, was the state of all mankind: estranged, desperate, rejected by community, valueless, tormented by bodily pain, and dying without hope, joy or peace.  From the moment of Adam and Eve’s first sin and our consequent adoption of the sin nature, His whole creation was thrown into conflict with one another: virus and bacteria now sought to invade and destroy, body cells now were capable of transitioning to cancer cells, knee cartilage could wear out over time, man could justify killing another because of war, tobacco was used in destructive  ways, and the list can go on inexhaustibly.  Further, man’s self serving motives and loss of understanding of good and bad open him up to a life style that breeds accelerated destruction of the body, harmful habits and addictions, risk taking behaviors and unloving conduct in relationships.  Anger, anxiety, depression and all forms of emotional distress spin out of control.  Jesus came to have victory over our sin nature and the evil forces of Satan and his demons that tempt and deceive all of creation.  Jesus was angry at the state of His beloved creation and the evil perpetrators of its demise.

Yet simultaneously Jesus was filled with compassion, fueled with unconditional “agape” love, for those the triune God had created.  We were made in Their image to know intimate fellowship with Them, and to share in the depth of Their love and community.  Jesus’ designated eternal purpose was to bring a remnant of this creation back to the intended state of being.  Going back to Mark 1, we now see that of course He was “willing – it was His joy, His mission and the demand of His love!  Jesus “reaches” across all barriers of man: social, political, and religious.  He overcomes man’s fear, pride, and jealous disdain.  He “touches” the untouchable, gives warmth to him who has become cold from society’s rejection and isolation, respects what all others have condemned,  and shows understanding to him who has been regarded as inhuman.  Without a moment’s hesitation, Jesus risks all for the sake of the leper who is on his knees pleading for the Lord’s mercy.

Jesus declares the leper “clean,” not just healed of his physical disease, but also emotionally whole and relationally welcomed back to community.  As the leper connected with the Lord of Life, the creator, maintainer and sustainer of all life, he was spiritually realigned so that he was able to be whole and healthy; he was restored, for ever so brief a moment, to the man God intended him to be.  At the moment of His touch and command, all the forces of evil that distort, confuse and tempt all of creation were paralyzed, the body’s physiology was jolted into proper synchronization, the mind knew and understood a peace never before experienced, and the cleansed leper sought community in which to love and be loved.  The man was whole but just for a moment, then the sin of the fallen creation overtook him and the spiral to uncleanness commenced again.

Jesus sees the brokenness of all of His creation as a result of the spiritual breech of man.  This then produces a pervasive and a downward spiraling array of disease: disease of the body, mind and the relational person.  He shows us a vivid and exalted example of the great physician as He makes “clean” what is so diseased.