If you can get used to the speed-bumps every couple miles, the Paraguayan highways are really a beautiful place to drive. Open fields, palm trees, and cows crossing the highway make for an enjoyable time. I’m enjoying the scenery with a doctor and two youth from my church as we return from a medical day trip in the Paraguayan countryside. I turn to the doctor in the passenger seat and ask, “How was your day today?” “Difficult” he replies, “There was one lady I couldn’t help. Nothing could be done.”
The lady he referred to had a leg that looked like…well, an elephant leg. It had become so swollen that I can only describe it by comparing it to that of an elephant or perhaps even a tree trunk. It had been that way for years, and was causing this elderly woman significant pain. My heart went out to this poor woman when I saw her. It’s in times like this when you ask yourself “why?”
This question of “why” is the most asked question on planet earth. “Why did my crops die while my neighbor’s flourished?” “Why did my loved one die, and why now?” Today, the question being asked is “Why is this lady’s leg like this?” When answering why, people always hinge their reasoning on the particular way they believe life really is – which isn’t always the same as our view of reality.
One lady at the medical outreach explained the “why” to me. “Oh, what happened was the lady had an infection in her leg but rubbed pig grease on it. She shouldn’t have done that since an infection is hot and the pig grease is also hot. That’s why her leg is like this. She put hot on top of hot.”
In Paraguay, this is how life is believed to be – things intrinsically hot or cold, and you have to be careful to maintain harmony between those things. While Jen and I are still far from experts in understanding this belief, we see it time and time again. This belief influenced not only the believed cause but also the needed remedy. “What she needs to do is get a toad and rub it all over her leg. Since the toad is cold, it’ll absorb the heat from the leg. The toad will wander off and die, and her leg will get better.”
I’m not a herpetologist and haven’t a clue whether or not this folk remedy has any truth to it. Could it be? People here say it works. But this is very different from our beliefs isn’t it? Typically we would say that this is a disease that randomly happens to 1 out of ___ people, and is treated by scientifically proven medicine. That sounds reasonable doesn’t it?
Even though that is how we would typically address this situation, this answer is based on a skewed view of reality. God has been convicting me lately of my own worldview. People from the west – myself included – are often influenced by an evolutionistic worldview. With this view of reality all things happen by random chance, the fittest survive, and our world is conquered through science. But I don’t believe that is a Biblical response.
I think back on when God led the Israelites to the undrinkable waterhole. Boy did those people ever complain and doubt the goodness of God in that situation. “Why would this God led us here to die of thirst? What a tricky and fickle God!” But that wasn’t the case at all. Instructing Moses to throw a stick into the water, God made the water drinkable for them so that their need was met.
Was it the stick that healed the water? After all, some plants – like crushed moringa seeds – do have natural water cleansing properties. But God allowed no credit for Moses or the branch. Rather, He took all the credit for the clean water by saying, “I am Jehovah-Rapha, the God that heals you.”
Our society has taught us that the Bible and science are mutually exclusive. The Bible is our guide for anything spiritual or moral. Science explains our daily lives. We are so quick to relegate God to a small box of spiritual and after-death realities. God is distant, life is governed by natural laws and random chance, though God can occasionally intervene with what we call miracles.
But is that really the God of the Bible? It’s so different from how Paul described God in Athens: “…He is actually not far from each of us.” Our God is our healer. He is relational. He actually became a man and lived 30+ years in our shoes. He intercedes on our behalf constantly. Colossians 1:17 tells us that all things are “held together in Him.” Literally if it wasn’t for God holding the universe together, it would fly out of control. A distant uninvolved God? I think not.
As missionaries, we can be so quick to respond with science. As this lady shared with me the relationship between hot and cold, and pig grease and a toad-rub, I could have very quickly shared an evolutionistic scientific answer. But we, as ambassadors of Christ, must be quick to offer a Biblical perspective.
Her leg’s condition is the result of living in a fallen world. It wasn’t God’s intention for humanity to suffer. Man sinned, and sickness entered the world. But even still God is at work. For Christians, Romans 8 says that God allows things to make us more like Christ. For unbelievers, Acts 17 says that God allows things so that man will seek God. And whether or not toads and medicine have any effect, ultimately God is our healer. It is who He is.
The lady with her the swollen leg did ultimately hear the gospel that day. One of the ladies from our church prayed with her and gave her a Bible. She went back home in the same physical condition. But her relationship with God now has a better opportunity to grow as the result.
Pray for us to always be ready with a Biblical response.