Most of us have a tendency to become very concerned when we have a serious illness or health problem. Sometimes we even worry over minor health problems, or just the possibility that we may have a health problem. Concern is a natural human reaction that prompts us to take good care of our bodies, though the overreaction of worry is sinful and unhelpful.
Over the past several months, the world has become increasingly concerned (or worried) about Ebola—especially after the disease spread beyond the borders of a few small countries in West Africa and has begun to impact countries in Western Europe and North America. Ebola is now a major crisis in the minds of most people in the West, and enormous resources are, quite sensibly, being poured into the fight to stop it.
What does the Bible have to say about Ebola? Nothing directly, of course, but Mark 2:1-12 describes a somewhat parallel situation involving a man who had a major health problem, which he and his friends viewed as a significant crisis. This man had some sort of paralysis, and had to be carried around by four friends on a stretcher. They heard that Jesus, the great Healer, was in town; however, the house where He was teaching was so packed with people that they could not carry their friend through the crowd to Jesus. The paralytic’s friends devised an ingenious solution to the problem. They carried their friend up the stairs on the outside of the house to its flat roof. Then they opened up a hole in the roof, and used ropes to lower the man on the stretcher directly to Jesus. Jesus recognized this as an act of great faith—the paralytic had no doubts about Jesus’ ability to heal him through the power of God. On this basis, Jesus immediately pronounced the man’s sins forgiven, without healing his paralysis. It was only after Jesus’ pronouncement generated a negative reaction among some people in the crowd that Jesus healed the man of his physical disability, for the purpose of demonstrating that He has the power to forgive sins.
What is interesting about the story in Mark 2:1-12 is that when Jesus was presented with a man who had a severe physical disability, He saw the man’s real and most urgent need as spiritual, and it was the man’s spiritual need that He immediately met. Didn’t Jesus care about this man? Of course He did, which is why He pronounced his sins forgiven. The healing of the man’s physical disability seems almost like an afterthought in the story; or, at least, a matter of secondary concern. This is exactly the opposite of the way in which we naturally think, since we have a tendency to focus on the visible and tangible. The lesson for us is that man’s most basic need is spiritual, not physical. Compared to eternity in a world of glory, all the sufferings of this life are light and temporary, and really are of little consequence (2 Cor 4:17-18); conversely, feeling healthy and comfortable in this life will do nothing to ease the pain of eternal torment in hell if a person does not repent and believe the gospel (Luke 13:3-5; 16:19-31).
Why is it that great multitudes thronged Jesus to receive physical healing, but only a few came to Jesus to ask Him to forgive their sins (Luke 7:36-50)? Why is it that so many people in America today are obsessed with the health crisis caused by Ebola, but so few are concerned about the spiritual crisis in America that is causing people to live in darkness and die without Christ? Why aren’t internet billionaires pouring millions of dollars into the fight to save souls? Why isn’t the media running stories about the grave dangers of America’s departure from a historically Christian culture? Why do people go to the hospital when they are physically ill, but most do not go to church or read the Bible to seek healing for the sickness of their souls? Clearly the world’s perspective is badly skewed; most people are completely blind to their real need, which is spiritual.
Ebola is indeed a serious problem that deserves a strong response, and the deaths of thousands of people is a great tragedy. But the greater tragedy is that the world continues to be focused almost exclusively on physical issues such as health and wealth, while ignoring their infinitely more serious spiritual problem of sin and separation from God.