I must have walked past the bishop’s office at least 10 times that night. To my 15-year-old brain, it felt more like 100, but I kept walking by even though Mutual had been done for a while. Trying to look nonchalant, I walked toward the lobby one more time to see if the bishop’s door was open, just like I had the week before and the week before that. It hadn’t been open any of those other weeks, but tonight might be different. Palms sweating, stomach aching, and head hanging low, I slinked one more time through the church building.
The door was open.
“James? Is that you? Come on in.” The warmth of my bishop’s voice struck me, as did his smile.
I hesitated. I had tried so many things to fix the problem myself, but the pain of my poor choices was overwhelming. I just wanted the hurt to go away. I was so disappointed in myself, and I knew God was disappointed in me too. I should have been better, stronger, and wiser. I was a member of Christ’s church. I went to my meetings on Sunday. I was a Boy Scout. I had knowledge, and I knew that should make me better than the average sinner. But I wasn’t. And that hurt—a lot.
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Wholeness at Bethesda
The man at the pool of Bethesda found himself in a similar situation to mine at the bishop’s office. Previous to waiting at the edge of Bethesda, he had probably tried any number of things to find relief from his pain. Finally, however, he hit on the miracle of Bethesda’s healing waters, which were believed to free the suffering from pain; his healing would be achieved through one spiritual event.
It was then that the man met Jesus Christ. The scriptural account tells us, “When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?” (John 5:6). The man, not knowing who Jesus was or what He really had to offer, responded, “Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me” (John 5:7). He thought that Christ was offering to help him complete his limited plan for pain relief, but Christ had more to give.
Can you imagine the man’s surprise at Christ’s response? Rather than talking to him about how to get in the pool or just walking away, the Savior responded with a very simple command. I imagine that Christ slowly looked over the man, taking in every part of his condition, then looked him in the eyes and said the words that wouldn’t just give the man relief but would also change his life in the most profound way: “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk” (John 5:8).
How often do we look to Christ only to see our plans instead of His? How often do we try to tell Him what to do simply because we don’t really understand who He is?
The man at the pool needed to change his situation entirely. He needed the Son of God to change what had already happened to him and what was going to happen to him in the future. He needed Christ to help him change his very soul. He needed what only the Atonement could provide.
The man at the pool of Bethesda needed more than a dip in the water to be made whole, just like we need more than a single confession to truly change our hearts and our life.
Wholeness in Us
Christ, through His infinite Atonement, offers each of us the same deal: to rise and walk away completely healed. His Atonement means that we can experience more than just pain relief from the spiritual wounds of life. We can be completely healed and made whole from our pains at their root cause so that we don’t have to deal with fear and spiritual damage. But this requires more of us than a one-time dramatic event of repentance.
Each of us, with our sins and regrets and anxieties, is waiting at our own figurative pool of Bethesda. We initially come seeking pain relief. We want the pain of our past sins and regrets wiped away. We want to know that our futures will be less painful than our pasts because Jesus Christ will fix us. But Christ wants to do more than just fix us. He doesn’t just want to relieve our pain (although He definitely does do that and is always willing to do so). He wants us not only to feel better, but also to rise, take up our beds, and walk with Him to a newness of life (Romans 6:4). Christ asks us if we are simply seeking pain relief or if we want to be truly healed and made whole.
The True Meaning of Wholeness
“Wilt thou be made whole?” is one of Christ’s most heart-piercing questions. It is both straightforward and enigmatic. Of course all of us want to be made whole, but what does that mean?
This is a question I often ask myself as I examine my life. My pondering has led me to realize that this question has far-reaching implications. Not only does it ask us about what we want right now but it also begs other questions such as, who do we really want to be? What are we willing to do to get there? Or even more accurately, what are we willing to change to get there?
There have been times in my life where I sought out the Lord for just His pain relief, not understanding the offer or the process to become whole. Sitting there with my Bishop in his office at age 15, I had defined joy as the absence of pain and righteousness as the absence of sin. I wasn’t particularly interested in wholeness. I didn’t even know what that meant. I wanted pain relief. I wanted comfort and happiness again and to not have to work too hard for it. Later in life, in my deeper-thinking moments, I thought of repentance as making me more complete, as having a better life—one with experiences that made me wise.
But none of my definitions ever came close to the glory of our Savior’s.
Christ defines wholeness as so much more. He tells us it is an abundance of life. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Wholeness for Him means abundance. Not to have just enough but to have more than enough. Wholeness through Him means He can heal us, cleanse us, give us hope, and actually fill in the emptiness that so often plagues us during our mortal lives. He mends the spiritual micro-fractures that come from living as fallen people in a fallen world. Through Him we can see ourselves as more than the sum of our near misses and forgiven sins. He allows us to both love our potential selves of the future and forgive the mistaken self of the past—and most importantly, to be at peace with our flawed actual self of the present moment.
Do you see the difference between the abundant Atonement that Christ is offering us and the pain relief-only version so many of us use? Without even realizing it, we have put a limit on God’s grace, letting it extend to past regrets only and not our daily lives. This is a smaller version of Christ’s love, and so much less than He means for us to have.
Think about it this way: When we fully access Christ’s Atonement, we not only feel relief from the pain of our past regrets and sins and our worries about the future, but we also feel happiness on an eternal scale in the present. We don’t just want relief from our fears and sadness so we can avoid further pain; we want to be completed by Christ so we can feel supernal peace and joy today.
We can do more than just wait at the edge of the gospel and hope for pain relief. We can be made whole.