The story of Jesus and the apostles healing the sick is a familiar one in the New Testament. Time and again, the gospels describe Jesus curing all kinds of illnesses and disabilities. However, one case that often raises questions is that of Jesus’ refusal to heal a disabled child named Little James, as described in the Gospel of Mark.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Jesus likely did not heal Little James because it was not part of God’s plan for that child at that time, and Jesus always submitted to the Father’s will.
In this article, we will take a deeper look at the story of Little James, examining the context and potential reasons why Jesus did not physically heal him. We will consider how this account fits into the broader theology of healing and suffering expressed in the Bible.
Though we may not fully understand God’s mysterious ways, exploring this question can give us insight into how Jesus related to and cared for the disabled and suffering, even when he did not take away their affliction.
The Story of Little James in Context
The Account in Mark’s Gospel
The story of little James is found in the Gospel of Mark chapter 9, verses 14-29. Here we read that a man brought his son, possessed by an evil spirit, to Jesus’ disciples to be healed. However, the disciples were unable to drive out the spirit.
Jesus later rebuked the evil spirit and healed the boy, after a dramatic confrontation where the spirit convulsed the child severely.
James’ Physical Condition
Based on the account, James seemed to have suffered from severe epilepsy, seizures, and some type of possession or oppression by an evil spirit that caused him to be mute at times and convulse violently. He had apparently dealt with this from childhood.
His condition was dire enough that his father sought out Jesus’ disciples for healing, showing the suffering he endured was persistent and long-lasting.
The Disciples’ Rebuke of the Parents
When the disciples were unable to heal little James, Jesus rebuked them for their lack of faith. But before Jesus arrived, Mark 9:22-24 describes a conversation between Jesus and the father that gives insight into how the disciples treated him.
When the father cries “have mercy on us and help us,” Jesus responds, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” This implies that the disciples had rebuked the parents for their lack of faith and refused to keep trying to heal the boy because of it.
Jesus corrected this merciless attitude in the disciples.
Theological Explanations for Jesus’ Inaction
Jesus Only Did the Father’s Will
According to the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly emphasized that He came to do the will of God the Father, not His own (John 5:30). This divine will guided all of Jesus’ actions during His earthly ministry. Perhaps healing the boy named James was not part of God’s specific plan at that time, despite the heartbreak it caused.
Suffering Can Have Spiritual Purpose
Though emotionally difficult, many Christians believe suffering can serve a redemptive purpose. God may allow trials in this fallen age to build character, inspire compassion, or draw people to rely more fully on Him.
James’ illness could have been an opportunity for his family and community to pray earnestly, care for each other, and develop faith in God’s ultimate healing in eternity.
Jesus Showed Compassion Despite Not Healing
The Gospels frequently highlight Jesus’ empathy for those suffering. When James was brought to Him, Jesus likely treated the boy and his loved ones with great tenderness, despite not healing the child’s sickness. We are called to emulate Christ’s compassion in all situations.
Though we may not understand why some prayers go unanswered now, we can trust God’s grace is sufficient.
Jesus’ Approach to Disability and Suffering
How Jesus Treated People with Disabilities
Jesus had great compassion for those suffering from physical and mental disabilities. There are numerous examples in the Gospels of Jesus healing the blind, the lame, the deaf, the mute, and those struggling with mental illness (Matthew 4:23-24).
He did not see their disabilities as something to be ashamed of or hidden away. Rather, He drew close to them, touched them, and restored their dignity along with their bodies. Jesus treated those with disabilities as equally deserving of God’s love and grace.
One example is when Jesus healed a man unable to walk for 38 years (John 5:1-9). Can you imagine being immobile for almost four decades? But Jesus saw this man’s need, asked him, “Do you want to get well?” and then commanded Him, “Get up, take your mat and walk.” Instantly the man was healed!
And through this miracle many people “were amazed and glorified God” (v. 20). Jesus brought attention to those normally ignored and gave hope to the hopeless.
The Problem of Unexplained Suffering
Yet at times Jesus did not heal. He allowed his dear friend Lazarus to die, along with the grief of his sisters Mary and Martha (John 11:1-44). He did not answer Paul’s prayer to have the “thorn in his flesh” removed (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
And as evidenced in the article title, He did not heal a boy named Little James for unstated reasons.
This seeming inconsistency has troubled believers for ages. Why does a supposedly loving God allow intense pain and disability? There are no easy answers here. But we do know that Jesus is not detached from human suffering.
Hebrews 4:15 reminds us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” Jesus experienced intense affliction during His earthly life and literally took on our infirmities at the cross (Isaiah 53:4-5). He understands suffering in an intimate way.
Finding Meaning in Affliction
While difficult, suffering can produce positive spiritual outcomes if we respond rightly. Romans 5:3-5 tells us that trials develop perseverance, character and hope within us. James says they make us mature and complete (James 1:2-4).
Paul’s unanswered prayer taught him that God’s grace was sufficient for him despite his limitation (2 Cor. 12:9). While Jesus didn’t heal everyone in the Gospels, He did heal and raise some to demonstrate God’s compassion and His future plan to eradicate suffering forever (Rev. 21:4).
Additionally, Joni Eareckson Tada, who became quadriplegic after an accident at 17, says her wheelchair has become a “pulpit” from which she proclaims the Gospel around the world. Disability focused ministries like Joni and Friends provide practical support to special needs families globally.
So good can emerge even from painful affliction. While the “why” behind suffering remains wrapped in mystery, we cling to God’s promises to eventually make all things right.
Lessons for Us Today
Accepting God’s Unfathomable Will
Little James’ disability and untimely death serve as difficult reminders that we do not always understand God’s ways. As Isaiah 55:8-9 states, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” While we may question why God allowed James’ suffering, we must trust that God is sovereign and His plan is perfect, even when it seems confusing or painful to us.
This requires humility and faith on our part. Let us follow Jesus’ example of trusting the Father’s will, even through His own unjust suffering (Luke 22:42).
Extending Compassion to the Disabled
The reactions of Jesus’ disciples and others to James’ disability illustrate the stigma and exclusion often faced by people with disabilities, both in biblical times and today. Jesus’ compassion provides a model for how we should treat and value all people, regardless of physical or mental challenges.
Organizations like the Christian Institute on Disability encourage churches to make accommodations for special needs and build communities where those with disabilities are fully included. As God’s people, we must see each person as made in His image and worthy of love, patience, and support (Colossians 3:12-14).
The Priority of Spiritual Healing
While Jesus healed and ministered to physical ailments, His ultimate concern was spiritual healing and salvation. He declared His purpose as, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
Every physical healing Jesus performed pointed to His power over sin and death. The greatest miracle He offers is forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who believe in Him (John 3:16). As we pray for loved ones facing illness, disabilities, or tragedy, we can find hope in Christ’s power to redeem suffering and make all things new in His timing (Revelation 21:5).
The story of Jesus’ encounter with the disabled child Little James is puzzling and even troubling. We may never fully understand why Jesus did not heal him. However, exploring the event in its context provides insight into how Jesus ministered in the face of unanswered prayer and unhealed affliction.
Though Little James’ physical body was not restored, we can find meaning in how Jesus treated him with love and valued his soul. When we face our own unresolved sufferings, we can take courage knowing that God has purposes we cannot see, and the most vital healing is an eternal one.