David Garland on Desperation & Faith


Yesterday I came across that stunning quote by the late Mike Yaconelli. Today, during some more preparation, I came across this quote by David Garland in the NIV Application Commentary on Mark’s Gospel (5:21-43):

“Faith is impelled by desperation that Jesus is sufficient to meet whatever need one has. The ruler and the woman did not take their plight stoically but desperately sought Jesus. The woman refused to grin and bear it. One student of this text draws a strange conclusion: She applauds that Jesus broke through purity barriers and social barriers but comments that Jesus should have accepted ‘the woman as she was, even if she was bleeding. If that had happened, I would call it a true miracle.’ One wonders how the woman in the account would have reacted to this comment…She was physically ill and needed healing. She forces her way to Jesus, confident that he will provide a cure for her disease. She serves as a model for people who are shy, ashamed, or afraid to come boldly to Jesus for healing. Desperation drives one to him. Martin Luther once remarked that his insight into God’s grace came to him while was ‘on the toilet’ (auff diser cloaca). George points out that the phrase was a common metaphor for being in a state of utter helplessness and dependence on God.

“Where else are we more vulnerable, more easily embarrassed…? Yet is it precisely in a state of such vulnerability-when we are reduced to humility, when, like beggars, we can only cast ourselves on the mercy of another-that the yearning for grace is answered in the assurance of God’s inescapable nearness.’ (Tim George, Theology of the Reformers), 105 (as quoted by Garland in situ)

“Evil, sickness, and the death of little children continue to exist in our world. Not every touch heals, and those with faith still hear the dreaded word from the doctor, ‘your little girl is dead.’…If God intervened in every situation, we would never have to exercise faith…The little girl is spared from death for now but has not been given a total reprieve. The woman has been healed of now, but she will face new ailments as she grows older. Faith, however, is able to hold on in the face of death, knowing that God has conquered death in the resurrection of Christ.”-(David Garland, 228-229)

I wonder why it is that I keep coming across quotes like this this week? What is it about our desperation that is so remarkable? What is it about our desperation that causes us to seek out Jesus like the man and woman in Mark 5? Here’s Mark’s account:

“When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet 23and pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?” Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40But they laughed at him. 

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” ). 42Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

I love this story. Leon Morris concludes, “Jesus speaks of ‘your faith’; it is important that the woman understand that she had not been cured by magic…her cure had been the result of a mighty power in Jesus, but it came to her because of her faith, not because of magic in [her] touch.”

Faith. Desperation. What a wonderful couple.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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