He Still Rolls Away Stones: A Dad’s Struggle with His Son’s Illness

As I write this, it’s been a little over a year since my son Isaiah first began experiencing unusual medical symptoms resulting from an auto-immune/neurological disorder. His condition is acutely on my mind and heart today as my wife and I are feeling the need to pull him out of his current school to pursue an educational pathway that can accommodate his medical appointments, spells of nausea, and perpetual headaches.

I have gone through a litany of emotions this past year: grief, anger, deep hurt, hope, disappointment, and long stretches of withdrawal from almost every friend group.

The prolonged illness of a child will challenge a person’s theology on a daily basis.

During this winter of my despair and disappointments, I have come back to the comforts of God’s Word and His promises over and over again. For several days now I have found myself camped out in John 11. Jesus’ interaction with Lazarus’ situation and the hope in this text have been a balm to my soul. Here are some truths I’ve gleaned as I’ve read, pondered, struggled, and prayed.

Sometimes the people Jesus loves get sick. On my first day in this chapter, this was as far as I could get before I broke down in tears. Even though Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, Jesus still allowed Lazarus to become sick (verses 1,3). I can’t fully articulate why this passage moved me so much. Something I have to hold onto frequently is the truth that Jesus loves my son more than I do, that he isn’t forgotten. I have to speak truth against the lies that tell me otherwise. Yet I must also recognize that even in this love, Jesus allowed Lazarus — and now allows Isaiah — to linger in illness.

Sometimes we feel our messages to God are being ignored. After hearing the plea of Mary and Martha, Jesus waited two days before starting His journey to Bethany to see Lazarus (verse 6). He had something bigger planned than any of his disciples ever could have comprehended with the limitations of human thought this side of eternity.

As we wait and pray … and pray and wait, there are times when it feels like our prayers fall flat. In my darker moments, I wonder if God hears my pleas. However, other Scriptures testify that our prayers are a memorial offering before God and a fragrant offering that He receives. Even as I write this, I need these truths to trickle down 18 inches from my head to my heart. I have to be constantly reminded that my thoughts aren’t always God’s thoughts. Nor are my ways His ways.

Jesus’ “delay” in healing isn’t from a lack of compassion. A few nights ago I went to bed angry at God. I woke up still angry at Him. I know that anger is often a secondary emotional response to a deeper, greater hurt. I came to realize that my anger stemmed from grief at the loss of my son’s health and the loss of what I wanted this season of ministry at Pioneer Bible Translators to be for my wife and me. I found myself echoing Martha’s sentiment in verse 21: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother [my son] would not have died [be so sick]. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

There have been many, many moments this year when I have wondered why Jesus hasn’t asked the Father to heal my son. On my worst days, I have to fight off the lies that He doesn’t care or that there is something He is waiting for me to do before He will help.

Today, however, I find rest in what Jesus said earlier in the text: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory” (verse 4). I also come back to the words in verse 33: “He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”

We serve a God of compassion. Even though Jesus knew the greater purposes He wanted to accomplish through Lazarus’ situation and how it would all end in victory, He wept. He had compassion. He was there with Mary and Martha. He understood when one sister ran to Him and the other withdrew. He had deep understanding when His disciples were perplexed by His movements.

We serve a God of compassion. Jesus wept.

Of all the stories in the Bible, this one continues to remind me that God isn’t an armchair general far off in the sky. He didn’t create the world and then walk away indifferently, leaving it to spin out of control. No. He is a God who put on skin. He wept. He held those who were grieving. He suffered. He, too, experienced death.

He did it all to see God’s glory so that we, too, might experience His resurrection.

So, where does that leave us? I truly want to see God’s glory. I believe in the power of the resurrection. I really do. In the same breath, I also want to see my son play baseball again. I want to see him come home frustrated by a lousy day of pre-algebra or excited because his team won in P.E. I want to hear about his awkward encounters with girls at school and his dumb interactions with friends.

For now, that isn’t the path we get to walk. Today, we sit, plead, watch, and hope.

Jesus said, “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (verses 25-26).

Today, I choose to trust Him.

Nathan wrote these words in the spring of 2023. Since then God has brought some improvement in Isaiah’s health. The Davenports continue to pray for the day when Isaiah’s health is fully restored.

Scripture quotations are from the New International Version. Copyright 1984 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission.
Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash.

Nathan Davenport
Nathan Davenport serves as Pioneer Bible Translators’ Director of Recruitment, leading a team that is raising up the next generation of missionaries who will disciple unreached people groups through the ministry of Bible translation. He and his wife Lindsay have three children.
See All Posts by Nathan Davenport

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