By Michael E. Brooks
“While he was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house who said, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not be afraid; only believe’ . . . When he came in, he said to them, ‘Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping'” (Mark 5:35-36, 39).
I arrived at the village of Tikabhairab in Katmandu valley one morning, with several Nepali co-workers, to receive the news that an elderly member of the congregation had just died. Sympathy was extended and the brothers began helping the family make arrangements for her body to be brought from the hospital to her home, and then for burial.
Later that morning I asked one of them how the arrangements were proceeding and he replied, “Oh, we received more news. She is not dead; she revived after the doctor had pronounced her gone.”
It happens more often than we may think. Not just in death or near death situations, but often with illnesses. One is diagnosed with cancer, but later learns the diagnosis was wrong. Or, as also happens too frequently, one is sent home with assurance that there is nothing major wrong with them, but later discovers serious illness that might have been treated with earlier discovery.
The mourners at the home of the ruler of the synagogue were both right and wrong. The man’s daughter was dead. Her illness had taken her life. But her death was not permanent. “The resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) was on his way to see her even as they spoke. All was not as it seemed, and that continues to be true in our lives as well.
Many incorrect diagnoses are made in matters other than physical illness or death. Perhaps nowhere is this more common than in spiritual affairs.
Consider the disciples judgment in John 9:1-5. There was a man who was blind from birth. The apostles asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus response was that they were mistaken in their diagnosis. His condition was not the result of sin.
Job’s friends made exactly the same assumption. Job suffered terribly; therefore his sin must be of equal magnitude. Their view of justice demanded this conclusion. But their primary presumptions were in error. God’s justice is more complex than they believed and his purpose may require methods beyond our comprehension.
Many, if not most, erroneous diagnoses result from incomplete information. A doctor treats patients on the basis of what he sees, which is often not the complete picture. This is the reason for Jesus’ warning against judging (Matthew 7:1). Only God sees and knows all. Only God can judge perfectly. We humans must always remember the imperfection and incompleteness of our knowledge, not to mention the impurity of our motives.
Some of the most serious mistakes are made in the pronouncement of condemnation. We observe a person’s weakness and sin and determine there is no hope for reaching him with the gospel, therefore we do not even try. Another wrongs us and we cut them off as permanently separated from our fellowship. Neither situation may be beyond hope.
With God “all things are possible” (Mark 9:23). It is often our willingness to forgive and to be an agent of God’s mercy that is at question, not the power of God to save nor the ability of a sinner to repent.
In the case of the woman in Tikabhairab, no permanent harm was done. She revived well before any burial could have taken place. But that is not always the case. Some misdiagnoses have permanent tragic results. None is more tragic than when someone is condemned unjustly, or when opportunity is refused to one who might respond in faith.
By Michael E. Brooks