The Healing of Our Wounds

 

Welcome to lecture six in our course Dynamics of Christian Spirituality – A Theology of Prayer and the Christian Life. Our topic in this sixth lecture is the healing of our wounds and our key verse is Exodus 15:26 which reads—I am the Lord who heals you. Let’s pray. Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in your sight and nourishing to our needy souls. Be the healer in our lives and in the lives of those we touch. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.

In this course we have been focusing on the essential dynamics or the most important dimensions of authentic Christian spirituality. We have been looking for themes that run through all the various kinds and varieties of genuine Christian spiritualities and we have discovered that there are three that stand out around which we can organize most of what the Bible has to say on this topic. The first of those is the relational dynamic and we looked at how there is a dynamic of Christian spirituality that helps us connect with God vertically and to connect with others and to live in harmony with nature horizontally. That is the relational dynamic and we considered that in lectures three and four. But, there is also a transformation dynamic; it is a matter of Christ in us, and you may recall that we had observed that we were created originally holy and whole, healthy, but our sin has damaged us. The good news is that by his Spirit though, Christ is purifying and healing our souls. In the last lecture we looked at the first side of the transformational dynamic which we called the renewal of holiness and now in this lecture, lecture six, we consider the healing transformation, the healing of our wounds.

I think back to my first day ever in the Borneo Jungle and I had been looking forward to the adventure for a long time. Two Christian tribal leaders, John and Nelson, agreed to be my guides on what was a demanding trek, well, it was demanding for me anyway, to the famous Niah Caves outside of Miri. The jungle was like a sauna under the canopy of towering green growth and before long I was totally wet, soaked right through with my own perspiration. Even the dollar bills in my wallet were sopping wet. We saw amazing ironwood trees with huge, naturally buttressed trunks that challenged the sharpest chainsaws. Along the way we passed through a village with a double longhouse that was home for about eighty families and on the edge of this town under a little roof of stained corrugated metal was a tiny shrine to the invisible spirits. It was a clear indication that this particular community was still animist. Further down the trail a bird flew across our path and that got my tribal friends talking about the old days. Back then, they said, a humming bird crossing in front of you was always an evil omen. The spirits were telling you to turn back or risk death, and so back in the day your journey, regardless of how urgent it was, had to be cancelled. Likewise, if one of these little birds flew past your longhouse window in the morning just before you got out of bed, you dared not go out that day and you had to stay indoors at home. No one had the courage to defy these fearsome taboos. It struck me as so twisted, that such a delicate and wondrous little bird should have become in the superstitious minds of the people a symbol of terror. But in the 1930’s the Gospel came to the alcohol ravaged headhunters of this region and after the interlude of the Japanese occupation in the early 1940’s it flourished here in this remote part of Malaysia. The tribal people, Ibans and others, were drawn in great numbers to the message of Christ’s superior power over all the fearful and foreboding supernatural forces in their world. Today the grandchildren of those first converts drive around in Isuzu Troopers, they attend beautiful churches and they work, in many cases, in the highest professions. But I try to imagine what it must have been like for that first Christian believer, dressed in the simple loincloth, to be out on a trail like ours and having a humming bird fly by. It must have required enormous courage and with his heart, no doubt pounding, to take that very first, never-before-happened step ahead along the path. But in doing so he was wrenching himself, and the many others he inspired, free from the old thinking of fear in taking that step forward rather than back, he began to experience divine healing from long-terrorized mind and soul.

In the previous lesson we began our consideration of the transformational dynamic of Christian spirituality by studying the renewal of holiness. This is crucial. But God’s intentions for us are not limited to sanctification. His saving plan is to change us into persons who are both holy and whole. This lecture continues to explore spiritual transformation by focusing on the movement of the Spirit toward the healing of our wounds.

I want to say something about the chief source of our wounds, which are basically three; our own sinful behaviors, the sinful behaviors of others and the realities of a fallen and dangerous world. Let me unpack those three now. Sin, whether our own or someone else’s, is never good for us; it always ends up causing pain and suffering and its negative impact on our emotional lives can be huge. It tends to weaken us and diminish our ability, lessen our ability, to do the right thing in difficult circumstances. It takes a toll on our sense of identity and robs us of the best experiences in life. Our wounding comes mainly from these three sources, as I said, our own sinful behaviors, the sinful behaviors of others and the realities of a fallen world. No one needs reminding that we regularly hurt ourselves through our own bad, selfish, impulsive, rebellious decisions. Oh, we pay dearly for these choices. Advertisers in the marketplace today often suggest that sinning is, well, cool or fun, but this may be the ultimate lie. For in the end the Bible warns sinning turns bitter and leads to death, you can read this in Proverbs chapter 5 and in Romans chapter 6. Onlookers may feel sympathetic about the horrible mess that we have got ourselves into and certainly God cares about our plight, this does not change the fact that we are still to blame. Yet we carry other wounds that were not self-inflicted. We have all been hurt by the sinful, insensitive or clumsy behaviors of other people. Individuals and groups have wounded me in ways I did not deserve. And likewise there are innocent people who have been victims of my sinful behaviors and these kinds of scenarios continue all the time. And finally there are those wounds we acquire simply because we live in a fallen and dangerous world. Tsunami waves batter shorelines, earthquakes rock different parts of the planet, thousands of innocent people are killed and injured as a result. These natural disasters, products of a world that is not right, are not invented or sent by human beings. And the same explanation accounts for those who suffer from genetic defects, diseases and the like. Now naming these three sources of our wounds is important because it underscores the important truth, that those who suffer are only sometimes personally responsible for their wounded condition. One of the cruelest things of all is to blame an innocent victim for their own suffering. Now such cruel reasoning was followed by the disciples of Jesus as they walked past a man suffering from blindness one day, a kind of blindness that he had been born with. Now, “Who sinned?”, the disciples asked Jesus. Was it this man or his parents that he was born blind? We can see that according to their view of things, according to their world view, there were only two possible explanations; it had to be the one or the other. They assumed that, well something like karma, they assumed that a karma like law of personal responsibility fully accounted for any and every tragedy that came up. But thankfully Jesus set the record straight. Perhaps you are wondering if I should have listed a fourth source of wounding namely the devil and his demons. After all the Scriptures describe the devil as an enemy who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour; those are the words of 1 Peter 5:8. I do not deny the existence of this prowling enemy, nor do I minimize his negative influence on humanity, but I also want to pay attention to the Apostle Paul’s command that we are not to give the devil any kind of foothold in our lives, Ephesians 4:27. This language of foothold suggests that the devil most often prefers to exploit the existing three variables we have just presented. Effective healing of humanities wounds, therefore, can not minimize or skip over these direct causes of human suffering; our sinful behaviors, the sinful behaviors of others and the dilemmas of living in a fallen world.

But now a word about the shape of our wounds and I am going to offer just a small sample that includes bondages, fears, self-loathing or self-hatred and an inability to forgive. You may think that is a rather strange list but I am going to work with it now. The wounds we acquire in the course of simply living our lives have many forms. It is painful just to think about them. They include traumatic memories, living with a disability, genetic disorders, mental illness, the dark cloud of depression, psychological fragility, damaged emotions, diseases, chronic pain, life regrets, confused sexual identity and an uncertain sense of self to name just a few. The scope of all this pain is staggering. There are so many ways in which we are not well. Following are just some easily recognized samples from a very long list. We start with bondages. When we deliberately choose to engage in sinful acts, we may be startled to discover that our sins are addictive and we cannot break free from such behavioral patterns even when we try. We become slaves to things that we have actually grown to hate; addiction to drugs is just one example of this, but its also can be true of pornography, gambling, lying and all sorts of other unhealthy behaviors that we gradually get hooked on. Then there are our fears; wounds inflicted upon us, especially during our childhoods or by those closest to us, leave lasting psychological scars and if they are serious enough they leave us with deep-seated fears that affect in very serious ways, our ability to function well in life, especially in relationships. They can mean that we will act irrationally, unreasonably in certain circumstances, because we are unable to overcome the powerful impulses that are coming from our subconscious. These things can make us anxious and unsettled, never quite feeling at peace, always kind of agitated and worked up and unsettled inside. Sometimes they keep us from taking the risks of opening ourselves up to love and be loved and as a consequence we remain profoundly lonely and incomplete, alone in the world. In addition to bondages, to fears, there is self-loathing, another common kind of wound. There is a price to be paid for willfully and deliberately sinning and going against the inner voice of our conscience. For this built-in monitor, this conscience of ours can afterward, after we have done something, it can condemn us, reminding us that what we did was wrong and shameful. Romans 2:15 says the conscience does exactly this and when it does it can contribute to strong feelings of shame and self-loathing or self-disgust, self-hatred, so that we actually grow to hate ourselves. Our self-esteem plunges down and we lose the confidence to step out in adventures with God. What is even sadder is when people experience the wounds of shame and low self-esteem because others, like parents or teachers or employers or spouses, have treated them cruelly and without love. They internalize then the negative assessments of others. They come to believe that they really are worthless creatures. This can produce all kinds of reckless behavior, for after all, who cares anyway. The reckless behaviors will in the long run only intensify a hurting person’s pain, bondages, fears, self-loathing and finally an inability to forgive. Sometimes the wounding goes so deep that we cannot find it within ourselves to forgive those who have injured us. We cannot release them from what we see as an unfulfilled obligation they still have to us, so the unresolved issue festers inside us. I think it was Anne Lamott who commented in her book Traveling Mercies that an inability to forgive is like drinking rat poison to exterminate the rats on your property. That is not how you get rid of rats is it, by drinking their poison? But, you see, the victim who is unable to forgive becomes doubly injured for their inward feelings continue to damage their souls while the one who did the evil deed in the first place moves on blissfully untouched. For all these reasons and many others we are like the man in Jesus’ parable who went down to Jericho, was assaulted by thieves and left for dead, beaten and blooded on the roadside. We too need a good samaritan to come by and notice us.

Recently, I had a wonderful experience of attending the 100th anniversary, the centennial of the 1906 Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles. A friend and I drove up to the Los Angeles Convention Center where thousands of Pentecostals and Charismatic believers from around the world were honoring the roots of their movement, one that has already grown globally to over six hundred million persons. We also visited the tiny Bonnie Bray House where Pentecostal pioneer William Seymour and others had their first experience of spirit baptism accompanied by tongues. And later we visited the massive Angeles Temple founded in the 1920’s by that dramatic Foursquare gospel leader Aimee Semple McPherson. It was a great day. Among other things I was looking forward to hearing the renowned Roman Catholic Charismatic Francis MacNutt speak on and pray for divine healing. As I approached the huge auditorium the hallways became clogged with people, even though it was still some time before Francis MacNutt’s scheduled address. The auditorium, we discovered, was already so packed, indeed every square foot of floor space was already occupied. It was so bad that security guards had been called to bring order and forcibly close the doors on the outstretched arms of the excluded. Now there was ample seating in the next door sessions on theology, I noted, but it was clear that the greater heart cry of the people was for God’s healing touch. It has always been so, but nevermore than in our own day when pain is so pervasive and raw. God delivers us from the guilt of sin and as our sanctifier he progressively sanctifies us and makes us holier. But this is not the whole story. He is also our healer because he does not want us to continue to live with the wounds that sin has caused in our experiences of life. This is one of the great titles for God in the Old Testament—I am the Lord who heals you—Exodus 15:26. And we will remember how central the ministry of healing was in the earthly life of Jesus, just check out Matthew chapter 4 or Acts 10 verse 38. his healing ministry was a response of compassion to the suffering he saw and that compassion moved Jesus it says in Matthew 9:36, it moved him to do something about the pain he saw in front of him. And it is equally noteworthy that the apostles continued this healing ministry after Christ’s ascension to heaven. Healing is a powerful and pervasive biblical idea. It means that God’s salvation plan is comprehensive enough to address both the guilt and the consequences of sin in the world.

You know, God’s grace is a kind of mending glue. Let me explain what I mean by that, with a story actually. You see, I take heart whenever I see Warren in the seminary hallways. About a decade ago he was a cocaine addict and drug dealer with a failing marriage but the Healer got to him and the old is being transformed. With his wife, he now leads a church he planted in his hometown in the desert and on the side he has a respected community ministry to drug addicts. When I go over to the Starbucks a block away from campus I often see Rick there with his newspaper, he is retired now and serves as an usher in his church on Sundays. He was a down-and-out alcoholic but he is content now to sip coffee. He cannot replace those years that have been lost but there is a tenderness in his eyes that says that he is still amazed by the Healer’s touch. And I know someone who was told she was worthless all her life and she was kicked out of her house by a raging parent who hated her. By the healing grace of God, today she is a graciously confident woman who cares deeply for others in pain. None of these people are perfect, none of these people have it all together yet, but they know something of what Eugene O’Neil meant when he said—Man is born broken, he lives by mending and the grace of God is the glue. Yes, the healing process begins the moment we enter into a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ and receive his renewing Spirit into our hearts, the touching of our pain and the recovery from our soul injuries is launched right then and there. This is the natural starting point for what the great theologian Francis Shaffer called the substantial healing of the total person. Shaffer referred to it, however, as the substantial healing, not the complete or total healing of the individual. You see, what we can experience is real and significant healing, but it is never quite complete or total on this side of eternity. That is what we mean when we say that God’s healing of believers is already, or in part, but still not yet in totality. Even though many Christians testify gratefully to God’s healing touch on their bodies, every one of us continues to age and get older and eventually each one of us will die. The effects of sin on our mortality are not completely overcome, for that we must wait for the resurrection of the body. Similarly with our psychological and emotional wounds, we look forward to the day when we will be glorified and our residual scars will all be made completely whole. this is certainly what the Apostle Paul had in mind about heaven when he described a river of life flowing from the throne of God, the river irrigates the tree of life whose leaves are, it says this, listen to this beautiful phrase from Revelation 22:2—the tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. God wants us to see us healed in every dimension of ourselves, both physically and psychologically. Throughout history Christians have desired, sometimes passionately desired, to experience the healing touch of God upon their physical problems and wounds. The Book of James, for example, encourages believers to pray for healing and when appropriate to gather the elders and be anointed with oil to symbolize our desire for the Healer’s touch, that is in James chapter 5.

One of the most famous of all Christian pilgrimage sites is Lourdes, a place in southern France. For centuries people desperate for healing have traveled to this place to experience God’s touch. Some of them have left with joy convinced that God dramatically answered their prayers while they were there; abandoned crutches and wheelchairs are physical testimonies to their experiences and sources of hope to others. Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Canada is a similar place. There the pickled heart of a devout monk, Brother Andrea, serves as an object of devotion and hope for cure. The familiar scene of abandoned medical equipment is littered all around this place too, though on a smaller scale than at Lourdes. As modern people, we walk away confused about how much, if any, of these testimonies to healing are credible and worthy of belief. We do not want to be gullible, we do not want to be sucked in by an imaginary story, but at the same time we are afraid that we could become so skeptical that we would not be able to believe anything or recognize the miraculous touch of God when it does come.

In the latter part of the 1800’s there was a surge of Protestant interest in supernatural divine healing. Johann Blumhardt from Germany, Charles Cullis an American physician, A. J. Gordon the founder of what became Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Massachusetts and A. B. Simpson the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance; all these were all leaders of the so-called faith healing movement. Remarkable testimonies flowed out of this tradition. The operation of its homes for healing suggests to the credit of its early leaders that they tended to have a rather holistic understanding of healing. At the same time, the movements participants had a decided preference for supernatural healing over normal medical treatment, in part because of the ammunition that supernatural healing provided in their contests against the sneering advocates of naturalism. The healing work of Christ was inshrined in the doctrinal statements of numerous Holiness and Pentecostal groups and is regularly sought and celebrated in many of their assemblies even today. Some Christians believe that the special gifts of healing described in the New Testament, in say, 1 Corinthians 12 verses 9 and again verse 28, that these special gifts of healing are no longer an operation and therefore God no longer calls specific individuals to be healers in some special sense that not all other Christians are. Charismatic Christians disagree, they are convinced that such gifts are still in operation and they cite high-profile figures like Katherine Coolman who Time Magazine once referred to as a one-woman shrine of Lourdes. Oral Roberts is another example. Despite this difference of opinion about a continuing gift of healing both groups of Christians agree that God still heals people through the believing prayers of his people. Today, especially in regions of the world where poverty abounds and medical attention is inadequate, physical healing is one of the great blessings that believers find in their faith in Christ.

I want to tell you about a doctor, or a physician so called, in the desert and see if we can draw a constructive conclusion from it. It is an old story, many, many centuries ago. Anthony lived and prayed in the harsh Egyptian desert in the fourth century, that is the 300’s. Over the years his reputation for saintliness really grew. People traveled great distances from the comfortable cities of Rome’s empire to witness this strange other worldly man of God to ask for his wisdom and seek his healing touch. He had an enormous influence in his time. Anthony was regarded as a formidable spiritual warrior against unseen forces of evil. He was also viewed as a person with gifts of healing and great discernment. These latter qualities are evident in a story told by his ancient biographer and the architect of the Nicene Creed, Athanasius of Alexandria. On one occasion a man named Fronto traveled out to see Anthony, the desert father, in the hope that he might be healed of various physical troubles for which he had suffered a great deal. But as an evangelical writer Richard Foster interprets this story, Anthony detected early on that this new disciple’s devotion to him involved an unhealthy dependence. He saw a need for psychological wellness as well as physical health and recognized in this case they were linked, and so instead of immediately focusing on Fronto’s physical needs or moving directly to prayer and anointing with oil, Anthony offered some unexpected advice, he challenged Fronto, in so many words, to take responsibility for his own life and indicated that the man’s physical healing would depend upon obediently taking this step. “Leave,” he commanded, “and you will be healed”. Fronto’s neediness was obvious in his excessive attachment to his master and at first it was too powerful for him to overcome. He was not able to head off on his own, so he lingered, engaging in acts of service and devotion to this desert father whom he admired so much. For a while there was nothing Anthony could do. The ailing disciple had a good heart but an underdeveloped self for Fronto’s own good, though, Anthony kept trying, gently but firmly to push him back into normal life with its adult demands, otherwise the desert would only be a place of arrested development and escape. But finally as Foster summarizes the story, in desperation over his physical illness and with great sadness, Fronto turned to leave his master and as he walked away he was healed. That was the punch line. Anthony’s treatment plan was one that recognized a link between the physical and the psychological and addressed them both together. After recounting numerous other healing stories of this nature, the great bishop and theologian Athanasius concludes his biography on Anthony with these words—It was as if he were a physician given to Egypt by God.

And now a word about inner healing. Since the 1960’s in numerous industrialized nations with modern economies and higher standards of living Christians have turned their attention from prayers for physical healing to quests for emotional, or as it is often called, inner healing. This is certainly an area in which God is also vitally interested. For as the psalmist says in Psalm 147—He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Brokenheartedness may have physical manifestations but its roots are in the heart. It may be that advanced medical knowledge and more accessible healthcare systems have made purely physical healings less of a priority for believers, at least those living in richer countries. In any case the focus has shifted to those wounds that medicine cannot so easily address, the inner wounds of the soul. It is in this area that the supernatural touch of the Healer is most intensely sought. This is an area where the newer charismatic movement has gravitated to a healing focus, different from that of historic Pentecostalism. On both the Catholic and Protestant sides the charismatic movement looks for ways to address the inner wounds of the soul. One of the biggest obstacles to such inner healing is lack of self-awareness. Too often we are insufficiently in touch with our true selves, to be more than vaguely aware of what is bothering us on the inside. Sometimes it is only through periods of solitude and silence, engaging with discerning mentors and real soul friends that a new found courage and willingness to listen to those who love us are we able to discern our wounds and then set about to receive God’s healing for them.

Now we want to consider some proven means or methods for healing. We are going to cover very briefly because of the time limitations the word, meditation and prayer, counselors, community and service; all examples of proven means of healing. It is a special proof of the Spirit’s gracious presence whenever healing occurs. Dramatic moments of instantaneous healing always receive the most press coverage, but we should not be blind to the much more frequent instances of quiet, progressive renewal and healing of damaged persons. Naturally our quest for wholeness cannot ignore or avoid the need in some instances for renewed holiness and the repentance and renunciation of evil this may require of us, but our primary concern here is those wounds which repentance cannot touch. There are a number of proven means for the healing of these and the first as we have just said is the Word of God or more specifically the Word of God correctly interpreted. Within its inspired pages we can discover the truth about both God and ourselves. So much of our pain stems from a false understanding of reality. We are the victims of imagined terrors, skewed perceptions, misguided hopes, but the life of the Spirit, explained Thomas Merton once, by integrating us in the real order established by God puts us in the fullest possible contact with reality, not as we imagine it, but as it really is. There is then a kind of pastoral function to biblical truth. It renews our minds by helping us see things as they really are. For example, we are unable to get in touch with who we really are until we embrace God’s estimate of us and that estimate is presented with clarity and authority in Scripture. We are transformed, as the Apostle Paul said, by the renewing of our minds and the Bible is the chief instrument of this renewal. It is relatively easy to get our heads around the truths of Scripture, but the greater challenge is to get those truths to percolate down into the emotional center of our being where they can begin to alter the default settings of our psyches. This is where the classic disciplines of prayer, meditation and contemplation, about which more will be said in a later lesson, come in. The wisdom of historic Christian spiritual practices is something we need to draw on as we seek to internalize the truth that can otherwise float uselessly about just in our heads.

A battle is going on in Christian circles over whether the Bible alone is sufficient to meet every challenge a counselor may face. Some insist it is sufficient, while others believe we are responsible to integrate the inspired teachings of Scripture with the best findings of psychological research and proven methods of counseling. I am convinced that the latter is the only responsible way to go; all truth is God’s truth. Yes, it fills Scripture, but that truth is also found in many other places including research journals just as the gentle hands of a surgeon help cure physical illness so the discerning mind of a gifted therapist can be God’s instrument for the healing of deep human pain.

As already mentioned, many of the wounds we have received come from the hands of other human beings. These experiences have profoundly affected us, like the people in south Florida in the United States or the people of Myanmar in the Delta of the Irrawaddy bracing for another hurricane or cyclone, we tend to board up the doors and windows of our inner selves so that we will not be injured again. We are more guarded and withdrawn in our relationships, whether the victim of childhood abuse, perhaps an unfaithful marriage partner, an employer who exploits you and takes advantage of you, or perhaps you have an experience of flagrant injustice in a Christian organization. Whatever it might be we need somehow to have our trust in other people restored and the best means for reconstructing such trust is to meet people who have integrity and who show compassion and be able to participate with them in circles of authentic Christian community. This is an incredible opportunity for individual Christians and also for church fellowships. There is a promising future for churches that are able and willing to be hospitals and hospices for souls.

Now here is an encouraging thought and this section is entitled Wounded Healers. Healing power can be found in service to others. The self-forgetfulness that service requires can itself be liberating and the experience of making a difference in someone else’s life can prove very encouraging and helpful for someone conscious of their own brokenness and incompleteness. More will be said about such service in later sections when we come to the vocational dynamic, but here it leads very naturally to a consideration of what it means to be a wounded healer, a flawed but effective instrument of grace. But, can we really be of much use to wounded people unless all our own wounds are healed first? Henri Nouwen believes we can. In fact, he suggests, an amazing paradox is actually in operation. Our own pain and continued wounds often lend an unexpected power and effectiveness to our efforts. This is a very encouraging suggestion. When you think about it, it is actually consistent with what the Apostle Paul taught about the power of the Spirit being evident through, well, jars of clay and those who are seemingly weak in themselves. This is a repeated theme in Paul’s letter to those Corinthians who thought of themselves as strong and successful. From his own experience of an unidentified thorn in the flesh, Paul knew that God’s grace was sufficient, but also Paul knew that God’s power was, and here is the famous phrase, “made perfect in weakness”, 2 Corinthians 4 and 2 Corinthians 12. So, the good news is that our usefulness need not be postponed until we finally have everything right and we have it all together. Why, if it required that, we would never get around to ministry. Happily, God prefers to work through people who are not depending on their own competence, not depending on their own complete wellness, but rather on him working through them. You know, at this point we have come full circle back to that theme of honesty and authenticity. Wounded people are drawn to those who speak honestly about themselves, who honestly admit their limitations and do not pretend that they speak from a position of superiority, perfection and total competence, for what is needed is not perfection but a convincing testimony that there is hope of real and at least substantial healing. Perhaps our best hope lies in the promise we read in Psalm 126 verse 6, “Those who go out weeping carrying seed to sew will return with songs of joy carrying sheaves with them”. In this confidence the Spirit leads us into service assuring us that Christ, who is already in us, will also work through us.

Now some helpful guides on the topic of the healing of our wounds. The first is someone we have already mentioned, Anthony of Egypt who lived from 251 to 356 A.D. Anthony was the founder and most famous member of the early Christian ascetic movement committed to a simple life known as the desert fathers and mothers. These individuals tried to escape what they felt were the increasing compromises of comfortable legalized Christians and they sought to escape from that normal fellowship through a retreat to the Egyptian desert for contemplation, spiritual warfare and prayer. Anthony is also remembered for a remarkable physical and inner healing ministry. His radical spirituality has been immortalized in Life of Anthony, a biography written by Athanasius. A second helpful guide is Henri Nouwen who just died in 1996. Dutch born Henri Nouwen ranked among the leading voices in Christian spirituality in the late 20th Century. His career included a very important academic post at Harvard University and also he lived for a time in a community of persons with disability. His psychology training gave his spirituality a profound therapeutic sensitivity and appeal. His special gifts were an intuitive awareness of the wounds of modern people and an ability to address those wounds with a simplicity, with a depth and with a hope focused on Christ. His many influential writings include The Wounded Healer Reaching Out and the Return of the Prodigal Son.  Our final recommended helpful guide is David Benner. He is a Canadian, currently director of the Institute for Psycho Spiritual Health and who has been the leading academic in the fields of psychology and counseling and brought an informed Christian perspective to these fields. More recently his attention has become focused on the merger between psychological health, pastoral care and spiritual wellness. His works include Sacrad Companions, Healing Emotional Wounds and The Gift of Being Yourself.

Here is a summary of the chapter we are concluding now, chapter six. God’s saving plan is to change us into persons who are both holy and whole. We have continued our study of the transformational dynamic by exploring the movement of the Spirit toward wholeness. The consequences of sin, whether ours or someone else’s, it makes no difference, are painful and damaging, but God is the great physician and out of compassion for us and our suffering and by his spirit he has initiated a healing and restorative ministry in the world. It is substantial, no never complete, and it encompasses both our physical needs and our inner wounds. Pastors and Christian therapists often have important ministries in addressing this latter need. The encouraging news is that each of us can serve Christ as wounded healers of others.