There is a great paradox at the heart of healing in the Christian tradition: Jesus is the source of healing, its beginning and its end, and there is nothing more we can add to his work. His easy yoke and light burden is the balm of Gilead, giving rest to our souls.
And being healed by him is full-time work.
He fully intends, unapologetically, to gobble up our every waking thought and even our daydreams, our every action and even our rest, all of our money and every last shred of our identity and security and to co-opt it for the sake of our healing.
The paradox in it all became apparent to me in a comment I received from a pastor regarding the influence of John Wesley in what I teach and write. I do not think it was intended as a compliment, and yet I think John Wesley would have approved. The pastor wrote:
[W]ith the Wesleys there was always more to do and always one more obstacle to overcome and I felt that philosophy in the material presented. This can add to the burden we already carry rather than lighten the load.
Always more to do. It’s a true statement. It is, in fact, the very first complaint that Peter made to Jesus about discipleship, in Luke 5 (NIV):
5 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[a] the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything…
To the busy, Jesus’ commands hardly seem like rest. They really do appear like so much “more to do” when the much more obvious desire would be to rest as Jesus does all the work. After all, if healing is all of him and none of me, then healing ought to begin with that old prescription, “What you need is some time off.”
Yet Jesus’ repeated command, consistent with that of the prophets before him, is not Rest! but Repent!
As I look out the window here in Seoul, morning rush hour is just beginning. I can easily see several hundred people, nearly all of whom are in hurried motion in that Korean way that few other nationalities can emulate. But whether in Seoul or in Sioux Falls, the common denominator is that we humans are always in motion. Jesus’ diagnosis as the Great Physician is not that our sin can be overcome by our just stopping long enough to stand still but rather by our purposefully moving in a different direction–namely, the direction he is moving. And the observation of physics is germane: Much easier to change the direction of a moving object than one at rest.
And that is why healing really does always involve “more to do” for the one being healed. Entering into God’s rest and taking up Jesus’ yoke does not mean setting out a “gone fishin'” sign while Jesus casts the net. Jesus does not free us from activity but rather from futility–from work that produces thistles and thorns while simultaneously (and astonishingly) leading us deeper into sin and further away from God.
In fact, so sorry is our state as human beings that we have even mastered the art of turning our rest and recreation into heavy lifting on behalf of sin and death. Viewer discretion advised, but Leonard Nimoy makes the point too perfectly not to note it: Rest will not heal you. That old saying about idle hands being the devil’s tools may be old, but it is validated daily in every culture around the world and I’ve done my fair share of validating it as well. Worth noting that even the Sabbath is divine designed to retrain our concept of rest. Sabbath rest comes less naturally to us than we might imagine when we skip it freely and easily because we are “too busy.”
No one got lazier or noticeably more relaxed hanging out with Jesus. Not even Martin Luther, who famously found that salvation was by grace, not works. As he himself would have noted in Ephesians 2:8-10, God does not replace human works with rest but with divine works, freed from the contamination of sin and made fruitful by the indwelling and wisdom of the Holy Spirit:
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
This is not to glorify work as work, but it is to make sure that we do not glorify rest as rest either. Just ask Peter’s mother-in-law: she was in bed (with a fever) when Jesus healed her just in time to make dinner for everyone. But remember Mary and Martha: sometimes it’s time to stop making dinner and to sit at the master’s feet. But there are a dearth of healing stories where the result of healing is that everyone heads off to Cabo.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Cabo, of course, but on the whole it is worth remembering that we are saved to be Eden’s co-gardeners, not merely its tourists. I spoke at a small church recently in Korea where we had to wait to start the service until the rancher family that formed the church’s main membership could complete milking the cows. Cows need to be milked, and that is not as a result of the fall. That is as a result of life. The curse of the fall is not work. The rest of redemption is not recreation. Works of Mercy are not hobbies in which we dabble. They are means of grace, the fundamental reshaping of how we get our new job done. When done as Jesus commands, this work provides a matchless window into the character of the God for whom there yet remains more to do, for he and for us. His work always accomplishes the purpose he intends, and his every movement is rich with purpose.
Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I” (Jn. 5:17, NLT).