A speaker I once heard said, “I believe the healing that God wants for this generation is emotional.”
It was not difficult to spot the wound driving his words. Three generations of compounded familial and sexual sin have left our society in critical condition. With each passing month, more and more people come of age who will never figure out who they are, or how to operate in this world, and whose brokenness will inevitably wound others – an ever-expanding cascade of infection. It certainly looks like our world could use a sickbed.
But some corners of Christendom depict healing, or any attention to self, as unholy. It’s a spiritual-sounding thing to do on the surface, since Christ preaches loss of self. They dismiss what they see as a self-focus problem and conclude the battle isn’t worth fighting. Don’t look for affirmation. Don’t look for healing. None of this makes God the center.
I struggled with this for a long time, for I have known wounding. What does Jesus mean by “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me?”
We know he meant surrender. Holiness. Following his Word. Mustering all the faculties that comprise “you” and retasking them to worship.
But did he mean that certain faculties – pain and emptiness – don’t exist, that they’re mere figments or projections, or inappropriate subjects of attention?
Again, it certainly sounds spiritual.
But not if Scripture says otherwise.
Here’s my case. It’s interesting to observe that if a human was heard uttering the phrase “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”, he might get shot down by this very application of selflessness. We could make a day of rest sound self-focused in any circumstance. If he argued that it was needed, that we’re no good to God worn out, we could simply reply that it’s not about him. “The harvest is nigh. Work on the seventh day. It’s about God!” And immediately he’d feel shamed out of any response.
If a human was spotted seeking words of affirmation from God, we could easily label it an egocentric pursuit. “God’s not here to make you feel good about yourself,” we’d thunder from the pulpit. And immediately he’d feel shamed out of any response.
I have actually seen people attacked for merely looking forward to heaven’s termination of all tears and suffering. They were told that they should “instead” be anticipating the full revelation of God. “Focus on his glory!” they were told, as if they can’t do both. And immediately…you get the picture.
Yet all of these treasures proceed directly from the mouth of Christ (Mark 2:27, John 1:47, Daniel 10:11) or within earshot of his throne (Rev. 21:3-4). That’s authoritative Scripture, which God saw fit to inspire.
So at what point is God having words put in his mouth here?
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)
Guys, I’m not Earth’s smartest person. But if Scripture shows God offering aspirin, I’m probably not going to go around campaigning the evil of aspirin. If it reveals God prescribing physical therapy, I’m unlikely to go on television and dismiss physical therapy as a category. And if it depicts God recommending heart surgery, you won’t catch me trying to talk folks out of it. I’d instead suggest just doing what he says. (And if your denominational flavor emphasizes the dread of God’s wrath as part and parcel of his greatness and glory, I’d politely suggest that arguing with God’s prescriptions might be hazardous to your health. This is not scruffy-faced Dr. Bob down at the corner clinic we’re talking about.)
It’s possible to define self-focus so rigidly and extremely that one loses any reference point. Teachers of Scripture teach self-denial in one podcast, then (rightly) trusting God for our daily bread the next. Why not instead pretend we have no stomach? Isn’t it holier to label hunger as a failure to revel in God? Some have claimed that historically, and not just for themselves. Do you see where I’m going with this? Let this idea drift in the wrong direction for long enough and it starts to reek of Eastern mysticism – the “emptying” of ourselves. No, God is not against food. Scripture’s definitions of self-denial are a little more flexible than that. A few personal callings aside, you can eat. (Just honor God with what you eat.)
We know God calls us to die to ourselves. That’s got to be in here somehow.
So how do we escape this maddening paradox?
Well, nobody would argue if I say “embrace Scripture”. But let’s do it fully. Surrender to it. No bathwater theology, no throwing out things because idiots dirty it. Allow the Word to lead us, to reveal God doing whatever he fully well feels like, flexing and classifying things over our own instinctive and experiential definitions, without regard to how we (or our defining teachers and traditions) have seen things distorted by idiots. That kind of objectivity is tough. Yet I’d argue that it’s necessary to fully glorify God. If we were to deny every abuseable idea, we’d have to start with grace itself.
Go back to Psalm 147. It belongs to a stanza that opens with a praise call. It’s sandwiched between displays of his power, justice, and creativity. God is worshiped for all these different facets. It’s placed in the context of repatriating the exiles – a highly emotionally traumatic event. And it’s repeated in Isaiah 61:1 and Jeremiah 30:17, even as God acknowledges that he himself inflicts some of our wounds.
God does care about us. And that reveals his perfect nature. It leads to his glory.
I’m still firmly Baptist in my persuasions, so let me hasten to add that emotional healing goes hand-in-hand with holiness in our lives, not without. Our woundedness is no more an excuse to sin than grace is. We can obey while broken; we can praise from the hospital bed.
Also, healing comes solely and exclusively through Scripture’s provisions, not our own or the world’s. I also agree that the ultimate purpose of mankind’s healing is God’s fame and exaltation – not us walking out of the ER and not praising anybody.
And, honestly, I do think there are many days when it’s holy to just set ourselves aside for a while and do things for others’ gain, whether we benefit or not. As we heal, we do it more, and better. That’s where this is going.
But the point is, Scripture denies neither injury nor debilitation. It is sin to steal antibiotics; it is not sin to be sick in the first place. The holiness in healing lies not in denying the problem, but in accepting God’s solutions. God’s Word reveals that he cares very much about our hearts, that he acknowledges its tangible impact in the here and now, and that he has solutions. He’s not asking you to pretend there’s no wound, or to just shut out the pain. He’s offering to heal.
And then rush out and tell others about what Jesus did for you.
I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!