“I will offer you a simple litmus test to determine whether a person has healthy or unhealthy religion. What do they do with their pain—even their daily little disappointments? Do they transform their pain or do they transmit it?
We all have pain—it’s the human situation, we all carry it in a big black bag behind us and it gets heavier as we get older: by betrayals, rejections, disappointments, and wounds that are inflicted along the way. If we do not find some way to transform our pain, I can tell you with 100% certitude we will transmit it to those around us.
At the end of life, and probably early in life, too, the question is, ‘What do I do with this disappointment, with this absurdity, with this sadness?'” — Richard Rohr
If we don’t see how Jesus came to transform our pain, and thereby our relations with each other, and not just our relationship with God, then we have missed a big part of what he was doing. Even the cross is about more than going to heaven when we die; it’s also about dealing with the hell that’s here.
Well, now that I’ve really outed myself as a person who believes that God’s mission is in no small part about healing, I want to clarify a few things and connect this thinking with some other, larger themes that are common for me.
First, I think the best way to understand healing or any of the spiritual gifts, is as a subset of love in action from an all powerful God and creator. As the New Testament makes abundantly clear, love is primary. Healing is merely a particular form of grace, or love, from a God who has the power to do it towards a world that needs it. It’s really not complicated. Have you ever loved someone that was suffering? So has God. He still does. The difference, of course, is that God has more power to do something about it (not a particularly bold claim to make about God, right?). Even people outside of the Church think that healing is a natural (expected?) thing for anyone named “God” to do. What really trips them, and us, up isn’t that God heals, it’s all the occasions that he doesn’t heal but supposedly could, without being asked, if he’s so loving, powerful and aware. That’s honestly, though, a topic for its own post. The point for now is that if we ascribe both love and power to God (the anchor of Christian theology?), then saying that he heals people is easier than adding 2 and 2.
Perhaps more importantly, seeing healing as a subset of God’s love & ability puts it in its proper context, both relative to love and relative to all the other expressions of love. And as a few folks rightly pointed out in the discussion at Jesus Creed, healing the physical body shouldn’t be our only or even primary focus. There’s all kinds of “healing” and love is bigger than healing. Amen. Christ-shaped love should be our highest goal. And such love will inevitably lead us to work for the good of others and cooperate with God in all (literally all) sorts of life-building, life affirming and healing ways–absolutely not limited in any way, shape or form to physical healing, or to nonretaliation to evil people, or to generosity to friend and foe, or to preaching the good news, or to hospitality to strangers, etc., etc. We tend to like some of these expressions more than others; some are riskier, physically, socially or financially than others. They tend to be avoided for those reasons. But if Jesus-shaped love is our goal, if he’s the one showing and telling us what God’s mission of love is and what shape that will take, if it’s his mission which we enter as his apprentices, how many of the expressions and forms I mentioned do we leave out, and if so, on what basis? If it is Jesus’ mission we’re joining, if “discipleship” means anything, we need to seriously think about and pray about and discuss the expressions of love and mission which were particularly central to Jesus’ own life and that of his apprentices. How prominently does healing, of all kinds, fit within the mission of God as revealed by Jesus?
In downtown West Palm Beach, everybody’s saved. The community is full of Christians, just not ‘little Christs.’ I wish this story wasn’t epidemic, but it is. Just as Julie Clawson has described, the Jesus to admire, even adore, (but not listen to or follow) is still quite popular, thanks to some very selective reading of Jesus by the people who teach and represent him.
Here’s the guts of a story I told to our highschool bible study a while back, based mostly on 1st John, though several teachings of Jesus say the same thing:
“You guys know I have two daughters, Ruby who is 4, and Brooke who’s 1. Now, imagine for a second that I had to go do some things and leave them here with you guys. Now, when I come back, let’s say it comes out that yall have been mean to one or both of them–teasing them, picking on them. If you tell me then and there how much you love me, will I believe you? (I pause to let them answer, “No.”) Of course, any fool would know you don’t care for me. If you had loved me at all, you would have been kind to my daughters, or at least not been mean to them.
That’s exactly how Jesus talks about being kind to other people. He loves all people more than I love my girls. But what good is it to tell him how much we love him and not be kind to those people? About as worthwhile as telling me you love me and being unkind to my daughters. If your idea of ‘loving God’ doesn’t include being kind to those that he loves, which is everybody, you need to wake up now or be in for the worst kind of surprise later. Worship is kindness. Worship is kindness.”
I realize that worship of God includes things other than how we treat others, but what are the arguments from Jesus’ own teachings that he cares as much about those things as how we treat others for his sake? I don’t think they’re there.
One of the main arguments I carry in my head for giving non-violent responses to evil people is the following, and I’m curious for your thoughts:
If this is a Story that we’re in, then the plot of how good beats evil in this world must be central to it. From what I can tell from the New Testament, generous love for people who are (currently) agents of evil (even to the point of giving one’s blood or money in love) is the central strategy of God in this plot line. The promised resurrection, of course, can go a long way toward encouraging participation here, if we really believe it. Do we really want to pick up our own cross and follow this Jesus-guy, cause I think he knows what a cross entails.
Is this overstating or hitting the nail on the head, pun intended? What are the examples or teachings from the NT that show “defending oneself” is actually the Way good overcomes evil? There’s love, then there’s Jesus’ kind of love, which is what we’re called to, right? I think it’s much more than a command, it’s the strategy for the major plot-line of our time.
“No way!”, you may say, and I agree. But there are many who view them and the religions they founded as essentially the same. This bothers me, especially in light of the simple fact that Jesus taught–and more importantly lived–that the rule of God in the world (his favorite topic) wouldn’t come by physical force (neither his own nor that of his followers), but by overcoming evil with good, by turning the other cheek, by loving our enemies. Muhammed, on the other hand, taught, but more importantly lived the exact opposite. For this reason alone, it doesn’t surprise me when Muhammed’s current followers . . . well, follow him. I don’t see how it should surprise anyone, actually, and it seems to require a denial of simple logic to expect otherwise, like expecting children to do what you tell them to do instead of what you actually do yourself.
Unfortunately, I have to admit that the contrast between Mohammed’s followers and those of Christ is frequently not as stark as between the leading men themselves. This doesn’t really surprise me for the simple reason that Muhammed’s example is more appealing to follow than Christ’s–even for those who believe Christ is the Son of God. Muhammed’s overall story isn’t exactly rare, historically or currently–get passionate about the way you think things should be (based on ideas about God or nature, or something bigger than one person), gather the masses around your zealous ideas, and, using the power you’ve amassed, give your opponents the beating they deserve (then write the bestseller about your opinion on everything). How many times have we seen this story just this century? Wow, if not for the current international politics, Muhammed’s life would make a great and typically American hero movie. It’s a pattern that many have followed and continue to follow.
But that life story isn’t–at all–like Jesus’ story, nor is it what he taught. Jesus’ teaching and example are about showing mercy–even to the point of spilling one’s own blood and money, and even toward those currently smacking you in the face in the name of God or something much less. Jesus’ life and teachings are consistent and forceful on that point. Could this be any more different from Mohammed’s example? Or Donald Trump’s, for that matter? Victory over evil (even evil within one’s enemies) through self-sacrificing, physical-loss-embracing, God-trusting love? Here in America and in other places throughout history, though, we’ve frequently managed to make following Christ about something not centered on this unique focus of Christ’s life and teachings. It’s sounds like quite an accomplishment, but it’s really just a matter of supply and demand. We want to have the option of getting Jesus’ blessings without having to personally trust his ‘costly’ Way of life and love, and such a religion has been supplied. But his example and teachings remain, forever providing the Way to overcome evil in the world and the violence and death it causes. A few actually find and follow this Way, Truth, and Life. And when they do, they don’t act anything like Muhammed acted. They’re not even typical Americans. They’re little Christs, or, at least, that’s the Road they’re on.
+++ God, May we all recognize and follow your narrow Road to Life without end.+++