In his book, Jesus & the Victory of God, N.T. Wright has an insightful section on miracles. He says that the point of Jesus’ miracles isn’t to do something impressive to convince people that Jesus is right; the miracles weren’t “showy magic,” an attempt to win the crowds, or even “proof” that Jesus was divine. These were not the primary purpose of his miracles. Instead, Wright says, Jesus’ miraculous power served to bring to the natural world what it needed to be more truly what it had been created to be. The healings of Jesus, he says, offer the gift of shalom – not just physical healing, but a place in the restored kingdom of God.
Psychiatrist Curt Thompson says something similar, from a different angle. In his book, Anatomy of the Soul, he demonstrates how the love & care we receive – especially from our parents when we are children – literally shapes our brain to be open to the presence of God. Healthy parents who are a faithful presence in their children’s lives when they face the bumps & bruises of life literally prepare their children to experience God’s presence when bigger things in life go south – like a marriage, or a career, and eventually, one’s health and impending death. In other words, receiving care prepares us to experience God’s healing presence, whatever we face.
At its core, this is what a family is for: to be a healthy place of preparation for, and a place of healing from, life’s hurts. Sadly, some of us didn’t (don’t) have that in our biological families – but all of us should find that in a sound & strong church family. Church must be a place of healing and wholeness – in a word, shalom. Church is a place where single people come and find family & acceptance, regardless of marital prospects or desires. Church has got to be a place where people come to find healing in community after they’ve explored all the ways the world has encouraged them to express yourself and find your own path. Because where does such a path take them? Away from community and away from shalom. The Church is the place where people must be able to come after they’ve walked their own path, and found it to be a dead end.
Perhaps this is the response the Church ought to be offering what NPR is touting as the #1 song of 2020. Deemed a song of sexual liberation, it is instead a description of passion and expression completely ripped free from healthy community and the safety of a committed relationship. What the world deems freedom and equality of desire sadly becomes just one more way our desires and passions can lead us down the path of isolation, brokenness, and emptiness.
Instead of railing against the ways of the world, we as the Church have the opportunity to show another way. Not of judgment, anger, or hypocrisy – but love. In a world desperate for love, and willing to look for it in all manner of places – we can show the true healing power of sacrificial & welcoming love. When we are included in a healthy family of God, we experience healing through the healthy relationships we find there. As we stand together, walking with each other through whatever comes, we do find healing; we do find a new experience of shalom (wholeness, well-being, acceptance, grace). This is our primary healing. And while it may not mean that the cancer goes away, or the marriage is saved – we find a welcoming healing in the warm embrace of God, and God’s family.
So, even if you look back on a difficult life filled with difficult relationships – or if you look at your parenting and see things you wish you had done differently – there is hope. By finding healthy, life-giving relationships, God can literally do a healing work in your life as you allow others to embrace you with new patterns of grace. And in your own parenting, you can notice patterns you have learned that have shaped how you parent – and becoming aware, you can make steps in the direction of new patterns and new actions. Even if your kids are grown, you can start by simply acknowledging to them your own imperfections – and, where appropriate, recognizing specific ways you were not the parent you could have been. In other words, it’s never too late to experience healing – or offer it – through the honesty of our own shortcomings, and the discipline of finding new ways to model love and faithful connection.
For, ultimately, it’s not just “the world” that needs healing; we all do. We all have hurt in our lives; we all face emotional & physical pain; we all, one day, will die. For healing to be real, it has to come in the midst of all of that. And just as the old adage is true – Hurt people hurt people – so is its opposite: People who are being healed help bring healing to others. For healing is a journey – something we both receive and offer.
Even as we share in that healing, we also must be very honest, with ourselves and with others, that healing in this life is incomplete. The cancer in remission sometimes returns. The broken marriage sometimes does not get mended. The returning prodigal still struggles with old habits. The new job doesn’t completely replace the lost one. The healed relationship still has hurts. And Lazarus eventually returns to the tomb a 2nd time – and remains there.
So, healing in this life is never complete. But someday, it will be. If the Bible is true about anything, it must be true about this – that Jesus’ victory over sin and shame and pain and death will one day be complete. For the Bible to be ultimately true – for God to be ultimately victorious – then the victory won by Jesus must one day be complete. And one day, the Bible tells us, it will be. One day, ultimate & total healing will come. Shalom will have its day; and its day will never end. In the the meantime, we receive it where it comes. We offer it to each other, as we are able. And all of it – every little piece of healing we experience in this life – is a glimpse of the total healing that one day, mercifully, will come – fully & forever.