For a while now I’ve had eczema outbreaks on my hands. It started in earnest after my daughter developed diabetes in the middle of spring 2020 Covid lockdowns. Which followed a decade of a pretty intense ministry lifestyle on my part. Apparently an auto-immune disease like eczema can develop in response to massive stress or experiencing trauma. These things don’t get fully dealt with and can come out in the body. Makes sense, given the season and background.
The eczema itself hasn’t been terrible, but along with some other small health things that won’t go away it has been a regular and sobering reminder of my own brokenness. A chance to lament with a deathbed line from M’Cheyne, that God gave me a message and a horse (a body). I have preached the message – and I have been killing the horse. My eczema reminds me that I am a limited creature, with a limited body and mind. When I push beyond the good boundaries baked into my created nature, things tend to break. And they might stay broken for a long time.
As such, eczema keeps me humble. It reminds me of the importance of living at a God-honoring pace. It itches and breaks open in seasons of increased stress. When it does, it reminds me of the ways my pride has contributed to that load of stress. God uses it as a kind reminder of hard truths that I am prone to ignore.
However, tonight I heard of a very different spiritual use of eczema. *Alan came for the first time to our discipleship meeting tonight in order to share his testimony with the other believing local men. He had shown up out of nowhere a couple weeks ago, professing faith and desiring baptism. Normally we’d be pretty skeptical, waiting for the tell-tale question about baptism certificates that indicates a young man is looking to “convert” in order to craft a religious persecution case for the UN. But Alan’s story was very different. After years of studying different religions, he had immersed himself in a study of Christianity during those same lockdowns of 2020. After many months and thousands of hours of study, he seems to have been born again, in isolation, this past January. And right around that time, God healed him of his severe eczema.
Alan had struggled all his life with terrible eczema on his arms, in spite of trying countless treatments. The dryness of our local climate, the severity of the sun, and the extent of his outbreaks meant arms bandaged up arms and plenty of limitations. Alan is also brilliant, training to be a doctor, with the mind of a young scholar. So a lack of research was not the problem.
But in the mysteries of God’s providence, right as Alan came under conviction that the gospel is true, his eczema completely disappeared. He is convinced it was a miracle of God’s healing power, one which emphasized God’s love and care for him personally. I am prone to believe him.
Just a couple weeks ago I was encouraging some new personnel as they shared about a friend who seems painfully close to faith, but who just won’t yet take the plunge. “I don’t understand. She sees and mentally agrees with the gospel when we study together, but she’s just not quite believing it yet,” my colleague said, shaking her head. I shared with her that this phase is not uncommon at all among our local friends. They come to the place where they know the gospel is true in their minds. But they often get stuck there, seeming unable or unwilling to fully believe it for a season. Those that make it through this season often do so because of a demonstration of spiritual power and/or presence.
I’m not talking about anything too crazy here. But to not notice this trend in the work here one would have to be willfully blind. The majority of our Muslim Central Asian friends who follow Jesus experience something like a dream, a healing, or a powerful indication of God’s care for them as one of their final steps towards believing (Yes, even those being led to faith by us Baptists). This event often confirms for them experientially the truths they’ve been seeing in God’s word. It’s so commonplace – especially dreams – that those who don’t experience one sometimes wonder if they’ve done something wrong. We of course assure them that they haven’t.
The salvation of an individual has been the same since the beginning – counted righteous by faith in God’s promises. Confirmation of the truth of the gospel or the new birth may vary considerably, and we are unwise if we get overly-narrow and demand the optional confirmatory workings of the Spirit look the same every time. No, keep it simple and biblical. A credible gospel profession with the mouth. A life that, even if only in seed-form, evidences the transforming power of the Spirit. After that, the Spirit is free to show off if and how He wants to. And yes, He tends to do so differently in fear/power and honor/shame cultures than he does in the cognitive West. If in doubt, please consult some classic missionary biographies. Or some of our local church members. Or 1st Corinthians chapter one. Greeks seek wisdom. Jews seek a sign. The Spirit saves both and demonstrates the gospel to be the true power and true wisdom of God.
If God indeed miraculously healed Alan’s eczema, what might be the point of that particular healing? If we study the ways the Holy Spirit has tended to work here, it would likely have to do with the category of confirmation and assurance. Yes, you are about to go against your entire society and follow Jesus, but this is not just some philosophy, this is actually and powerfully true. Yes, your body may be broken someday by persecution, but resurrection is coming – and here is a little preview of death working in reverse. Take courage. Yes, your relatives might call you an unclean infidel, but you have found the source of true cleansing. Everything that Jesus touches becomes clean.
For another reason I am very thankful for this experience that Alan has had. He is very intellectually-wired and has already consumed thousands of hours of YouTube apologetics. There is great danger that his heady faith will misfire if not grounded in experience, affection, and a messy local church. Brilliant minds like his can be shaken by subtle or powerful anti-gospel arguments and they can fall into a continual search for truth, one which never ultimately lands anywhere. But what about the eczema? What scholarly argument could convince him that that never happened, that the timing was purely coincidental? It may serve as a safeguard in the future when his faith is shaken, as experiences of God’s faithful kindness serve to stabilize so many of us when we begin to doubt.
If Alan is right, and this was a healing, then how very fitting it is. That Jesus might make someone clean from a skin disease as a metaphor for what he is doing to their very nature.
Regardless, Jesus has truly reached out and touched this young man’s unclean soul. And once again, Jesus did not become unclean. Instead, Alan is now truly and forever healed and whole.
And us? We are making plans for a baptism.
*names changed for security