Healing: More than Curing
Modern western medicine strives for a cure. It targets the cause of the disease (pathogenic microbes, malignant cells, defective genes etc.) with specific treatments that are often aggressive and destructive to the body. It's all about controlling the disease, using powerful medical technologies to manage and eradicate the cause of disease. Modern technological medicine operates from a reductionistic/mechanistic understanding of living organisms, that tends to view the body as a collection of discrete parts, rather than as a fully integrated whole that is greater then the sum of it's parts. A whole person of body, emotions, mind and soul who lives in the supportive context of social/spiritual relationships that are essential for wholeness and health.
In modern, conventional medicine the pathogen or tumor is the focus of concern for highly skilled medical technologists (i.e. physicians). The intent is to eradicate the cause of a particular disease by utilizing an array of intrusive, high tech treatments to achieve the ultimate goal of a cure. Management of the disease to effect a cure is the operative principal of conventional medicine.
The language of modern, allopathic, technological medicine reveals an underlying paradigm of conflict
i.e. "the War on Cancer." In fact, two of the primary treatment modalities for cancer used by modern, conventional medicine: chemotherapy and radiation, have their origins in weapons technology. Chemotherapy, which is an array of highly toxic chemicals derived from Word War I mustard gas; and radiation therapy which was an out growth of the "atoms for peace" programs--an attempt to put a benevolent facade on atomic weapons technology.
As in military conflict, the innocent often suffer from collateral damage inflicted by powerful treatment modalities. A case in point is the use of highly toxic chemicals/drugs (chemotherapy), and high energy electromagnetic radiation, in an attempt to cause malignancies to regress and possibly recede into remission. Unfortunately, in the course of subjecting the body to these anti-cancer "heavy weapons" the overall health and well being of the patient is compromised as healthy cells are killed or damaged along with the cancer cells. Some of the most aggressive forms of conventional anti-cancer therapies come perilously close to killing the patient; reminiscent of the rational used during the Vietnam war to justify the napalming of an innocent village: "destroying a village to save it." This collateral damage to the overall health of the person makes such therapies fundamentally incompatible with healing.
Like the innocent victims in a war, the central character--the patient--often becomes a passive bystander in this process, becoming more or less the "stage" or "battlefield" on which the great struggle between physician and disease is played out. An example of this would be a case of a young woman with metatastic breast cancer, where an aggressive oncologist may recommend an autologous bone marrow transplant in combination with a lethal dose of chemotherapy and radiation. After being subjected to this treatment the patient is given a combination of "rescue" therapies that include replacing the bone marrow destroyed by radiation with a store harvested from the patient in advance of the therapy. This is an approach where the "cure" can be worse than the disease.
Not only is the patient subjected to extremely harsh therapies, but more often then not they are marginalized in the decision making process, because they feel incompetent to actively engage in a highly technical process that is dominated by experts and specialists. This causes the patient to feel powerless in the face of an apparently overwhelming disease, and that sense of loss of control is exacerbated by being processed through an impersonal health care system. Because medical experts see it primarily as a problem of combating a disease, rather then facilitating the healing of a person who happens to be ill, the general welfare of the person with the disease tends to take a back seat. The net result is the patient suffers loss of quality of life, and decline in overall physical, emotional and psychological well being, all of which are essential to the healing process.
"Your Faith has made you Whole (healed you)"
In the accounts of Jesus' healing of individuals suffering from a diverse array of diseases, deformities and afflictions it is quite astonishing that he repeatedly tells those individuals that it was their faith that made them whole or healed them. Jesus made it clear that the individual experienced healing because of their active participation in the healing process. Jesus did not impose healing on them, and he could not effect their healing without their participation by way of faith.
What exactly was Jesus referring to when he said, "your faith has made you whole." Was he saying that they were healed by the power of positive thinking or mind over matter? Was it a matter of their strength of conviction? No, these people who experienced the healing presence of Jesus were by and large individuals who had been beaten down by life in a compassion less world. They were the oppressed and depressed who no longer could delude themselves into believing that they could lift themselves up by their boot straps.
The conventional wisdom of the scribes and Pharisees told them that their afflictions were the direct result of God's action against them for their sins. God was sovereign and in control, and He rewarded the righteous with blessings and the sinners (unclean) were punished with afflictions and misfortune (see John 9 and Jesus' emphatic refutation of such false notions). Since their disease was a sign of God's disapproval they were marginalized or even ostracized from the community, adding insult to injury. In such circumstances it is incredibly hard not to give into a fatalistic despair and simply hope for the respite of death. Nor is this fatalism a peculiar world view that existed only in the distant past in some remote corner of the world. It is present even in our contemporary, progressive, technologically sophisticated society. It is found in expressions of cynicism and nihilism such as: " Nothing can be done about it." "You can't change the world." "You must be practical and realistic." "There is no hope." ...and ad nauseam. Those coming from a religious perspective might attribute a person's illness to a direct action of god: "It is god's will." "It is part of god's plan." "The sickness is a test or chastisement from god." All of these sentiments arise from a false image of God that is directly contradicted by God's definitive self-disclosure in Jesus of Nazareth.
In the midst of a world oppressed by fatalism--seeing god as a domineering, cosmic potentate, which is expressed through a "survival of the fittest," "life is tough" mentality--the One who is self-emptying love has come to where we are. To the place of our pain, loss, need and despair. The compassionate and humane God has acted decisively to answer the cries of all those victimized and oppressed by a world subject to entropy (decay) and death. He does not come as a controlling or manipulating, all powerful deity. Instead, He comes to us as a humble, unpretentious man: Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus, (the Hebrew Yeshua, which means YHWH saves) who did not recoil from the sick and deformed, who overcame the natural instinct of self-preservation by opening himself completely to the pain of others; who reached out and touched the untouchables; thereby restoring their human dignity, which had been beaten out of them by their afflictions and the inhumanity of a compassionless society. In His unprecedented response to downtrodden, suffering, victims, Jesus embodied a vision of God that was unequivocally good: YHWH motivated by His deep, visceral compassion for His suffering people was breaking into history to act decisively to deliver them from all that oppressed and dehumanized them. He was coming in unconditional grace (generosity and kindness) to give them the authentic (eonian) life of God. Life no longer would be a "living death," just existing and going through the motions, struggling for daily survival.
The presence of Jesus among the people acted as a catalyst for the faith (change of perception) of those who had lost hope and fatalistically accepted their lot in life: the poor, the sick, the outcasts, the 'unclean' (sinners). In Jesus, they saw and experienced the presence of God in a way never before possible. Any ambiguity about the true nature of God and His disposition towards His beloved, suffering creation is forever dispelled by the full expression of God's faithfulness in the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, we see that God is never the aloof, all powerful deity. Never the cosmic potentate working from a grand plan that calls for inflicting pain and harm on others in order to achieve an ultimate goal--no matter how good or noble it may be. He is never the manipulator who uses people as a means to a greater end, rather the "end" for God is the welfare of those He has created, especially those who are suffering most acutely. The God who is obsessively other-centered in His orientation will bear any burden and endure any cost to Himself to be faithful to His love for His beloved other--us and the entire creation.
The faithfulness of God concretely manifested in Jesus acted as a contagion that 'infected' those around him, to such an extent that it healed them. Not just medically cured them, but healed them in the sense of making them whole persons by restoring them into the community of their fellow Jews. A person who was one of the "unclean"-- either because of disease, lifestyle or deformity--was ostracized from the Jewish community. But Jesus unconditionally accepted these outsiders and literally touched the 'untouchables,' which was a scandalous and shocking thing to do. And in that touch he conveyed to these scriptually ignorant, lonely, rejected people that God was with them in their suffering and was acting to take their pain from them, and in return, give them authentic life--His life.
Donald Spoto, in his The Hidden Jesus, powerfully describes the unprecedented nature of Jesus' relationship to the sick: "Now the words of Isaiah were incarnated in action, and the Gospels are unanimous in summarizing and outlining, by category and location, Jesus' extraordinary deeds. He saw the sick, the lame, those paralyzed and deranged and, in a shocking gesture unknown in the Old Testament and in later rabbinic literature, Jesus reached out and touched them. Walking through the endless tide of human misery, pain and confusion, of appalling physical ailment and emotional suffering, Jesus was more than adequate for all the misery. He found nothing repellent, no one repugnant. In and through him (and he became gradually aware of it), God embraced the world as never before.
The gesture of touch, in this regard, had everything to do with human intimacy. The tubercular, the leprous (a designation that included sufferers from all kinds of skin diseases), the blind and the lame (whether deformed from birth, illness or accident)--such people, it was commonly believed in the time of Jesus, were sinners, suffering for transgressions and consigned to separation from God. The contagion of many diseases' was often taken as a sign of that. Pariahs, they were shunned in public and unwelcome everywhere except among those more unfortunate.
Those facially disfigured and those suffering from severe psychological illness (often, perhaps, designated in the Gospels as possession by demons) were especially to be avoided and were excluded from synagogue and community. Unlike the rabbis of his time, however, Jesus did not avoid them. Moved to pity (he touched them, to bring them under his protection. This, of course, was a major departure from Jewish custom. In human experience, Jesus knew, illness isolates people from one an- other; lonely and frightened, the sick and suffering highlight the tendency of every human society to mark the acceptable from the unacceptable, the polite from the embarrassing, insider from the outsider.
But here was Jesus, a healthy young man, stopping when he saw suffering--drawing close to outcasts living in darkness, frailty and pain, comforting them with perhaps the first touch of another in so long that they almost forgotten the feeling. But their astonishment at his compassion was followed by an even stronger reaction--awe, shock, consternation. The sick were healed."
A Remarkable Verb
First-century physicians in the Mediterranean world took a philosophical approach to sickness. They objectively analyzed the behavior of sick people and their symptoms and complaints, and developed theories to explain sickness. What they would never do is touch, handle, cut or in anyway physically minister to the sick. Instead, slaves were used for this purpose. Should the sick person die, the slave was killed--not the physician. More specifically, in the ancient Jewish society that Jesus lived in, those who were sick or deformed were considered to be ritually unclean and effectively untouchable. Direct personal contact with such persons was to be avoided.
Although modern practitioners of medicine certainly don't relate to the sick in such a standoffish way, their is still a scientific/clinical objectivity that is often practiced which emotionally distances the practitioner from the patient. The focus is more on the disease rather then on the person who is suffering from an illness. Instead of the ancient physican's preoccupation with the philosophical aspects of sickness, their modern counterparts are concerned with the biological and technological aspects of the cause and treatment of a particular medical condition.
This is in sharp contrast to the way Jesus related to the sick that he encountered. His response to them was the polar opposite of philosophical detachment or clinical objectivity. In fact, his reaction was so profoundly different from other so-called healers, that the writers of the gospel accounts were compelled to use a very graphic term in an attempt to convey what transpired when Jesus encountered those "untouchables" of ancient Jewish society.
In the Gospels there is a remarkable verb that is used only used in reference to Jesus himself and three closely related figures in the parables, splagchnizomai. (Mk. 1:41, Mt. 20:34, Lk.7:13, Mk.8:2). It is usually translated "to have compassion or pity", but these are only approximate translations. Splagchnizomai literally means a movement--or ripping apart--of the bowels (in the sense of the innermost parts). Karl Barth comments, "The term obviously defies adequate translation. What it means is that the suffering and sin and abandonment and peril of these men not merely went to the heart of Jesus but right into His heart, into Himself, so that their whole plight was now His own, and as such He saw and suffered it far more keenly than they did. Splagchnizomai means that He took their misery upon Himself, taking it away from them and making it His own."
Jesus' motivation for healing others was arose solely from the deep, visceral, empathy that he felt when he encountered those who were overwhelmed by sickness and rejection, and who were at the end of their rope. He didn't perform wondrous miracles through effortless acts of omnipotent power to demonstrate his deity. That would be the vainglorious act of a false god made in the image of man. No, instead, this was the glory (seeing God for who He really is) of the God who is love; an expression of kenosis (self-emptying) of God through Jesus Christ.
“Him who knew not sin he has made sin for us, that we might become God's righteousness (God's justice: tsadaq, making things right) in him.”(2 Cor. 5:21). He does not reject anything experienced by His creation—especially the suffering of His creation. The kenosis of God through Jesus Christ is God taking all of the sickness, pain and and death of His beloved creation into Himself and in return unreservedly pouring out his healing, reality transforming life--“And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power (strength, life giving energy) went out from him and healed all (Luke 6:19)--" to a broken, dying world.
Jesus did not just sympathetically identify with the pain of others, He actually, empathetically, experienced their pain and sickness as His own. Jesus did not have to ask someone "how do you feel," because he empathetically felt others. Their pain became His pain.
Our Pain is His Pain
On the cross of Jesus, God has shown us the full extent of His involvement with us and our suffering. The nature of that involvement has always been and always will be one of complete solidarity along side us in our struggles and tragedies. I think the character of Thibault, in Peter Abelard, stated this profound truth very well, 'all the time God suffers. More than we do' Thibault goes on to say that the suffering of God at Calvary is, '...only a piece of it---the piece we saw---in time. Like that.' That dark ring there, it goes up and down the whole length of the tree. But you only see where it is cut across. That is what Christ’s life was; the bit of God that we saw. And we think God is like that, because Christ was like that, kind and forgiving sins and healing people. We think God is like that forever, because it happened once with Christ. But not the pain. Not the agony at the last. We think that stopped.’
One the cross of Jesus the full glory of God is revealed. On the cross of Jesus we see God for who He really is. He is YHWH ("I shall be who I will be, or prove to be"). The One who will become anything and experience anything--even the shame and agony of a godforsaken death on a cross--to be faithful to the self-emptying love that He is. A love that is radically, obsessively and even recklessly dedicated to our welfare.
On the cross, through the self-giving/emptying rupturing of the relationship that is God--the relationship between the Father and the Son--God experiences the totality of all the pain and death of everyone and everything for all time. As long as one person, or even one atom or quanta of energy, in God's beloved creation is subject to entropy and death the pain of God will remain.
The cross by all appearances was a tree of shame and death, but in truth it is the tree of life that is the source of the resurrection (transformation) of all things. God will continue to make the pain of creation His pain, taking the pain from it and in return unreservedly pouring forth His healing, reality transforming life to the creation--all of it, no exceptions!
This fundamental truth about God is eloquently expressed in the metaphorical language of the book of Revelation: “Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Rev. 22:1)," where the throne of God is qualified by the expression, "and of the Lamb." Not a metaphor of vainglorious omnipotence or domination of others, but a metaphor describing one who gives His life to the other.
For all eternity God will give His life to the creation to sustain it and open up the unlimited potential of those created in His image. This is what God is--what love is--Godself giving unreservedly to the other, forever and ever. All the indescribable horror and pain experienced by countless billions of God’s beloved creatures is taken into Godself, healed and transformed into eoinan life (the very life of God).