Recently, my town has become a hotspot for Covid-19. As a result we have been distance learning for the past few weeks with our three children. As difficult as it has been on us, it has been way more damaging for others. Day after day kids are missing meals, dealing with academic anxiety, and depression. All sports and extracurricular activities have been canceled. It's not good for the children and families that desperately are looking for some normal routine during this abnormal time.
My wife got out of the car to run into the store, she took two steps and turned back because she
forgot her mask. I jokingly asked, "How long has this been going on and you still can’t remember your mask?” This virus, with the restrictions and lockdowns, has been dragging on and on for us since March. And the hurt, the frustration, the loss that accompanies it just keeps dragging on.
I've been through some difficult times in life. When suffering drags on and on a questions that usually arises is, “How much longer, God?” but another question that I've found myself asking is “What’s going on, God, can you not see how I'm hurting here?” The longer it drags on the more I feel unseen by God. The more I feel He doesn’t care. The more I wonder where this is all going. If there is actually a reason or purpose. If this hurt is actually going somewhere for my good.
Have you ever asked this kind of question; “Where is this going and does God see me?"
Let’s look in Luke chapter 13v10-17. Our short story starts with Jesus teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath. We don’t know how old this woman was, but we’re told that for eighteen years this woman has been bent over, staring at peoples’ dust caked toes. Eighteen years.
Luke writes in verse 11 “And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all.” Pay attention to Luke’s wording, this woman who “for eighteen years” had suffered.
Moving on to verse12 it says that Jesus "saw her” and he called her over to Him and said “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” Freed. In Greek it means “untied” Jesus had untied this woman from her suffering.
Jesus touches her and immediately she stands up straight. For the first time in 18 years. Years I’m sure which must have dragged on and on. This woman stands straight up with dignity, chin held high, no longer looking at other’s unsightly feet, but looking into the eyes of others and being seen. And she began to glorifying God.
But the synagogue official becomes angry and said to the rest of the crowd (in case they might get any ideas of getting healed also), “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath.”
Eighteen Long Years
Then Jesus shoots back, in His classic Jesus style: “you hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham who has been bound or tied up for eighteen LONG years...”
Luke described her suffering as eighteen years. Jesus describes it as eighteen long years. Jesus knows. Jesus knows not just the numbers of years, but the anguish of those long years; the anguish which dragged on and on. This woman’s hurt dragged on year after year, disappointment after disappointment, heartache, frustration, and helplessness for eighteen long years. Jesus asks the question, "should she not be released or untied (like your animals) from this bond on the Sabbath day?”
As Jesus said this all His opponents were humiliated. Jesus drew a connection with the act of Him untying this woman from her long anguishing sickness and the synagogue official’s denunciation of it, to his own hypocritical untying of his beasts to water on the Sabbath. Jesus uses what is called an a fortiori argument. Basically, Jesus is saying if you can untie your animals to take care of them on the Sabbath, how much more important is it to untie this woman - a daughter of Abraham Obviously, the question demands the answer that she is much more important and should be healed, regardless of what day it might be.
As a result, those who opposed Jesus because of their strict, hardline, and self-righteous interpretation of the Law, specifically Sabbath law, saw their own inconsistencies and were humiliated. Now, not just this woman, but the entire crowd is rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Jesus.
Direction and Purpose
Jesus said in Matthew 5 that He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill the Law. Jesus didn’t just see this woman as she shuffled past that Sabbath day. He has seen her all along. He has known those eighteen long years to be full of anguish and sadness, an anguish that just seemed to drag on and on.
But Jesus also knew that those eighteen long years were going somewhere. That one day her eighteen long years would careen into Jesus’s Sabbath day object lesson for the self-righteous. Her suffering partnered with Jesus’s mission to fulfill the Law; to bring a proper understanding of God’s Law to the people in order to point people back to God, whom the Law reveals.
God wants to do the same with your suffering that just keeps dragging on. God sees you and He knows the anguish you abhor and the frustration you feel that just seems to keep dragging on and on. And though we might not see where it is all going right now—one day, God willing—we will stand straight and tall and see that our suffering, which is dragging on; that just keeps going and going, is actually going somewhere for God’s glory. Take courage, God sees you and has a plan for you. You just keep going, knowing your suffering is going somewhere for God’s glory.
Eric Austin holds his Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas, USA. After almost seven years as a pastor he stepped out of vocational ministry to support his wife in her recovery of Borderline Disorder (BPD). Eric was born and has lived his life with an extremely rare bone disease, a disease which has profoundly impacted his personal views on suffering. In recent years, as a result of walking alongside his wife’s own suffering, he has learned the emotional and psychological pain that often comes from living with a loved one having a personality disorder. Eric is passionate about teaching the Bible and seeing the grace of God radically alter people into looking more like Jesus through the suffering that has drastically altered their lives. He is the host of The Altered Podcast a podcast in which he attempts to do just this. Eric lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA with his wife Heidi and three children.