Archives, Biography, Minneapolis, Pondering, Wheaton


Most of us have them. I remember receiving my first one as I split open my left knee while jumping on the thin ice of a not-yet-completely-frozen puddle in rural Minnesota. While my doctor dad stitched up his first grade daughter I simultaneously received verbal instruction on why we don’t jump on icy puddles.

I don’t know how I received the second one. I was bit by something with teeth during the night at summer camp. There was no preventative instruction accompanying the camp nurse’s actions as she helped me through the initial pain. She was as mystified as I was. And, while I can only see a shadow of the permanent damage, I have had no feeling in that part of my arm since my fifteenth summer.

Scars. Sometimes we know exactly when and how they occurred. Sometimes they are just there and we don’t know how we got them. And, of course, scars are not only physical, they are emotional, relational, or spiritual…or all of the above. We are very integrated beings. I’ve been thinking a great deal about scars these past months, no doubt because I am moving into a new season after a rather long, intense one in which I sustained a scar or two. I can’t see them with my eyes, but some of them affect me in rather overwhelming ways at times. I would love to be free of my scars.

Perhaps because of the reality of what I carry, I am more sensitive to the church’s messages about scars. Here are the extremes:“ You have scars because you are a sinner. Through the cross of Jesus, God accepts you with your scars, and when you finally get to heaven, they will all be healed.” At the other extreme is this message:  “There is no scar that God cannot heal in this life. That is why Jesus died, so that you might be free of all your scars.”

Many scars, praise God, are healed in this life. Part of the freedom of our life in Christ is the release from fears and hurts that have long held us captive. The Holy Spirit is a powerful extension of the Great Physician’s hands, and Christians around the world testify to the power of God to heal in deep, beautiful ways. Yet I long for the theology of suffering and the theology of triumph to integrate a bit. Not all scars are the result of our personal sin, though they are a result of living in a world where evil still reigns. And they are not always a result of our lack of faith or our failure to pray aright. Sometimes God still says to his people, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians12:9).

So how might we think more deeply about this achingly human reality of scars? What if the answer lies in the resurrected body of our Lord? The Spirit could have raised him with a perfect human body, unscathed by scars, unmarred by human hands. But the resurrected, ascended Jesus carries his scars—and, I think, not just for Thomas’ benefit. At the right hand of the Father sits a man with piercings in his hands, feet and side. His intercessions for us have a raw reality about them. St. Paul, our great suffering, triumphant apostle longed to “know Christ and the power of his resurrection, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible [he] may attain the resurrection of the dead.”

It’s easy to skip over the “becoming like him in his death” part. Becoming like him, however, is not wound-proof.  At times the Lord’s people are betrayed or carry the deadly effects of the envy of others. Wounds are inflicted as one is made an outcast from family or community. Even weeping with longing over those beloved but unable to receive love brings its own deep pain. Some of our brothers and sisters live in the piercing darkness of movable prisons without light, food or sufficient air. Others of us live in more subtle isolation.  But all of it is wounding that is part of taking our place in the sufferings of our Lord.

My first grade knee has firmly implanted scar tissue for a really good reason: I fell on it again before it healed. And when we sustain multiple attacks of the enemy-who-plays-by no-rules, wounds can easily become scars.

So what we are to do, we who pick up our cross and follow Jesus (not simply to drag it around, but, metaphorically, to be nailed to it from time to time?) Here’s where I am at this point in my life: First, we recognize that we may not yet know the whole story and that we may well bear more sinful responsibility than we know. To the extent that this is true, the Lord will continue to show us our hearts in his own timing, in his own way. At the same time, we quietly offer up what we believe to be battle scars to the Lord as a sacrifice of praise in this life—open to healing, but neither insistent or fixated upon it. We live our moments in dependence on the one who gives us what we need when we need it. If we limp, we limp before the Lord.

But even as we limp, our hidden discipline of patience suffering opens us up to well-springs of joy like none other. If we will walk this path, we will find our rest in the Lord’s scars as in the cleft of a mighty rock. And when we see Jesus we will be like him because we shall see him as he is (I John 3:2). To the extent that you and I carry scars sustained in the spiritual battles of our day, these, too, will be revealed as reflecting his own wounds. And with the eyes of faith, I see Jesus blessing these scars the moment before he heals them. For the scars of Jesus are beautiful…and so are those Jesus’ shaped scars in us.

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