I am currently reading A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty by Joni Eareckson Tada. In case you are not familiar with her, Joni became a quadriplegic in her late teens as a result of a diving accident in 1967. A committed follower of Jesus, she has become a noted artist, author and speaker and has been a tireless advocate for those with disabilities through her Joni and Friends ministry.
In A Place of Healing, she invites readers into her struggles that she has experienced late in life as a result of her physical challenges. Although I'm just a few chapters into the book, I'm finding her vulnerability refreshing. She is a living testament of how God can use suffering in the life of a believer to positively impact the lives of others.
In the first chapter, Joni shares how dealing with her disability all of these years has affected how she views Jesus. She says this:
"Here at our ministry we refuse to present a picture of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” a portrait that tugs at your sentiments or pulls at your heartstrings. That’s because we deal with so many people who suffer, and when you’re hurting hard, you’re neither helped nor inspired by a syrupy picture of the Lord, like those sugary, sentimental images many of us grew up with.
You know what I mean? Jesus with His hair parted down the middle, surrounded by cherubic children and bluebirds. Come on. Admit it: When your heart is being wrung out like a sponge, when you feel like Morton’s salt is being poured into your wounded soul, you don’t want a thin, pale, emotional Jesus who relates only to lambs and birds and babies. You want a warrior Jesus. You want a battlefield Jesus. You want His rigorous and robust gospel to command your sensibilities to stand at attention.
To be honest, many of the sentimental hymns and gospel songs of our heritage don’t do much to hone that image. One of the favorite words of hymn writers in days gone by was sweet. It’s a term that doesn’t have the edge on it that it once did. When you’re in a dark place, when lions surround you, when you need strong help to rescue you from impossibility, you don’t want “sweet.” You don’t want faded pastels and honeyed softness. You want mighty. You want the strong arm and unshakable grip of God who will not let you go—no matter what.
For instance, I absolutely love that beautiful old hymn (a great favorite of my parents) “I Come to the Garden Alone.” Remember the verse that says, “He speaks and the sound of His voice is so sweet, the birds hush their singing”? It’s a nice sentiment, and I’m aware that a thought like that can provide comfort. But it’s really just a reinforcement of a romanticized nineteenth-century image. We have gilded the real Jesus with so much “dew on the roses” that many people have lost touch with Him—or simply turned away.
Why do some people gravitate to a sentimental picture? Well, think about it: A sugar-coated Christ requires nothing from us—neither conviction nor commitment. Why? Because it’s an image that lacks truth and power. We have to try to change that picture. And the only way to do it is to think about the resurrection. Sure, romanticists try to color the resurrection with lilies and songbirds, but lay aside the emotions and think of the facts for a moment: A man, stone-cold dead—a cadaver of gray, cold flesh, really—rose up from His slab and walked out of His grave. Friend, that’s almost frightening. There’s nothing sugar-coated about it. And the powerful thing is that it accurately describes what Jesus did. That reality has power; it’s truth that grips you.
Some people believe Jesus came to do sweet, pleasant things, like turning bad people into nice people. Not so. As someone once said, our Lord and Savior came to turn dead people into living ones—and there’s nothing sentimental about that. At different times in my life I’ve enjoyed the old pictures of Jesus cradling cute lambs or walking around with blow-dried hair, clad in a white robe looking like it just arrived from the dry cleaner. But these days, these warfare days, those old images just don’t cut it for me. I need a battlefield Jesus at my side down here in the dangerous, often messy trenches of daily life. I need Jesus the rescuer, ready to wade through pain, death, and hell itself to find me, grasp my hand, and bring me safely through.
There will be a time very soon, I hope, when I will once again enjoy the casual stroll through the garden with Him, admiring the dew drops on the roses. But for right now, if I am to “endure hardship … like a good soldier” as 2 Timothy 2:3 mandates, I need a comrade in arms, a strong commander to take charge of my private war. And that is exactly who He is, and what He has done."As one who has suffered in ways that few of us can relate with, Joni offers a compelling picture of a Savior that can withstand any attacks that may come our way. That's the kind of Jesus that I would like to know.
(A Place of Healing is currently available on Kindle.