Recently a homeless man came to our church office asking for prayers.
From another city, the man had traveled to get treatment at a reputable cancer hospital. He had taken the bus, was staying at shelter, and had looked up our church on the internet.
I’ll call the man Joe.
Joe had many questions for me about our church, if we believed in healing, because he’d been prayed for and did not receive healing. Were we one more church, was I one more minister he hoped could pray healing from his terminal cancer?
I asked Joe if he was hungry, and he said they don’t have coffee at the shelter and could he have some coffee? We drank coffee, and since it was lunchtime, I asked Joe if he would like to have a bowl of soup with me. We ate our soup and continued talking.
Joe said he lost his faith in God in mid-life, but now at 60 years old, he has turned his face back to God. When he went back to a church in his hometown, some of the church members said they would help him get a suit and tie, since that was the dress code. But Joe had deeper questions than about dress codes. As he told me this, Joe’s blue eyes were penetrating, his mind seemed very clear, his heart open. Joe’s concern went much deeper than clothes, food, and even more deeply than getting healed.
“I struggle with blaming God for my cancer. I blame God for not healing me,” Joe said.
We read some Scriptures together about God’s love and power to heal. Joe had a Bible in his bag and looked up the Scriptures and we read aloud to each other. I’ve learned through experience not to assume someone on the streets or different from me or similar to me is a person of faith or not a person of faith until I express my own and allow them to talk as well.
So, I gently moved into relating what the Scriptures said to Joe’s request for prayer and his confession of blaming God for his cancer. I said, “Jesus didn’t heal everyone he encountered. He seemed to step over some people on his way to heal a crippled man.”
Then we closed our Bibles and before we prayed together I asked Joe a question.
“Joe, I believe God can heal you, but before I pray I want to ask you something,” I said.
Joe shifted in his chair, leaned in to what I was about to ask him.
“Have you considered forgiving Jesus for not healing you?”
Joe’s eyes filled with tears as if I’d slapped him across the face.
“I have never thought of that.”
“Jesus doesn’t heal everyone, even when he was on earth. It’s very disappointing when we don’t get what we want from God. I know it sounds unusual, but would you consider forgiving Jesus for stepping over you on the way to healing someone else?” I said.
Joe said, “Yes, I’ll pray about that and consider forgiving Jesus for not healing me.”
We talked further about how Joe could love and minister to others right where he was on the streets, in shelters, on busses, at the day jobs he was working. He didn’t have to wait on God to heal him or do exactly what he wanted God to do in order to love and serve God.
I gave Joe a contact for seeking housing in his hometown, we got some safety pins, and fixed a ripped strap on his bag, and Joe was off to the city bus to return to the shelter.
Joe said, “I’m really glad I came.”
“I’m glad you did, too,” I said.
One could dispute my wording, “Forgive Jesus.” Does Jesus need forgiven for anything? Forgiveness, however, can be much broader than simply forgiving sins. Forgiveness can be releasing something you hold in your heart to be true about someone who has hurt you, withheld healing or support from you.
The person who cuts us off in traffic, most of the time by accident, hasn’t committed a sin, but becoming angry, stressed, even hateful toward another human being for such a petty thing is not good for anyone. Can you forgive a person you don’t even know who hasn’t really sinned but nearly crashed into you or caused you harm? Yes, we could speak of forgiveness that way.
Could you forgive a boss for overlooking you again for a promotion? We could speak of forgiveness that way. Could you forgive God for not giving you all you desire, even if it seems to be basic health? Yes, I believe the word forgiveness can be used in this way and the emotion and release of forgiveness can be practiced this way.
There have been times I’ve had to talk to God and forgive God for seeming to place me in the position I am in—career, ministry, family situations that I may otherwise want out of. If we can blame God, can’t we also release that blame and even give God the same deep idea of forgiveness he so graciously has offered us?
If there’s one thing you could do after reading this article, my request is that you say a prayer for Joe and for the thousands like him who blame God and who need to make peace with God, even to forgive God for not healing them.
Please comment: Can you forgive Jesus? The question can be answered philosophically, yes, but it’s also intended experientially for you to answer for yourself.
Header image by Bara Cross. March 6, 2015. Retrieved from stocksnap.io.
Greg Taylor is preaching minister for The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Greg is author of several books including “Lay Down Your Guns: One Doctor’s Battle for Hope and Healing in Honduras” and “High Places: A Novel,” and has co-authored several books including “Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John,” the forthcoming release from Leafwood Publishers.