Worship Service, March 14, 2021 “Finding Healing Through the Hurt”
Join Holy Trinity church members and Pastor Erik
on March 14, 2021 via YouTube
The message “Finding Healing Through the Hurt” by Pastor Erik can be heard during HTLC Virtual Worship Service.
Finding Healing Through the Hurt John 3:14-21
“Going on a bear hunt” was a song I learned as a child at some of the summer camps I attended. The song begins with “I’m going on a bear hunt. I’m not afraid.” Then there is a refrain that occurs each time there is an obstacle on the hunt. There’s a river and you sing, “Can’t go over it, can’t go under it. Gotta go through it.” Then there’s a dense forest. ‘Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Gotta go through it.” And so on and so on. It’s a fun song to sing with lots of motions, but the lesson you might say it teaches is that sometimes you can’t avoid obstacles or struggles. Instead, in order to get to your goal you have to face such obstacles, you gotta go through them, even if it is difficult.
There are not any bears in our Scripture readings today, but there are lots of snakes. In the story from the book of Numbers, we heard the Israelites are out in the wilderness. They have been freed from slavery in Egypt, however, now they are facing the difficulties of the desert. It is hard to find food and water and even when God does bring them manna it doesn’t seem like enough and it doesn’t taste very good. The people begin to complain about how miserable it is. They even say at one point they wish they were back in Egypt where at least they got a couple meals a day.
All the complaining gets to God, and in anger God sends poisonous snakes to bite the people. Many of them actually die. They realize perhaps they have been complaining too much and they ask God to forgive their sin. God then gives them a tool through which they can be healed. Moses is told to make an image of a snake and put it up on a pole. Whenever someone gets bitten, they can look up at the snake and then be saved.
Usually when I have read this story I have liked to see it as another example in the Biblical narrative of how the love of God overcomes the wrath of God. I like to focus on the fact that even as God is upset, God still relents and shows the people mercy.
Other times when I have read this story, though, it has occurred to me that God provides a rather odd way for the people to be healed. If they are bitten they have to look at a bronze snake. They have to look at the image of the very thing that is causing them the pain in the first place. Why couldn’t God have done something else to heal them? Why couldn’t they have rubbed a special ointment on the bite? Why couldn’t the image they looked at be more inspiring like an eagle or more cute and comforting like a rabbit? Or why couldn’t have God just sent the snakes away? Why did the people have to face again the image that was the source of their struggle?
Perhaps God wanted the people to confront the source of their pain to acknowledge that it was their sinful behavior that led to this tragic situation. It could have been that looking at the bronze serpent meant that the people could not deny that something was wrong. There were snakes in the camp and if they were going to find new life, they would have to lift up their eyes to the way God had put before them. Maybe it was the ancient writer’s way of saying that sometimes when a difficulty comes, you can’t always avoid it. You can’t just go over it or just go around it, you gotta go through it. In order to get through the pain, you may have to face the source of that pain. In order to find healing, you might have to go through the hurt.
We know this is true in physical sickness and medical treatments. The first step in diagnosis is admitting something is wrong. Once that diagnosis is faced and accepted, then treatments can occur that get to the core of the problem. Before there can be complete recovery, however, a person might have to go through more difficulty. There may be a surgery that is needed that might even involve making an incision or cutting open part of the body. Then there is a recovery process that may be painful. But there’s no avoiding it if the patient wants to really get better. There is no going around it or going over it. You have to go through it.
While this true in our physical lives, it is also true when it comes to our emotional and spiritual lives as well. Emotion Consultant Jessica Moore helps people transform harmful emotional patterns and learn more effective ways for working with them. According to Moore, very few of us know how to properly confront our feelings and could benefit immensely if we’d only surrender to those feelings instead of avoiding them. Instead, when we end up with emotional problems, most treatments focus on getting rid of what we are feeling, as if the emotions themselves are the problem.
Most of what we are taught about emotions perpetuates the myth that just about every emotion other than happiness and joy is negative and should be avoided. Far from moving us toward emotional intelligence, these attitudes about negative emotions set us up for serious psychological dysfunction. Not only do we end up struggling with ourselves to feel something other than what we authentically feel, but we end up repressing emotions that are vital to our ability to function in the world. For instance, people who have internalized the message that anger is bad usually have a very difficult time setting healthy boundaries.
The belief that negative emotions are bad can also lead to spiritual bypass instead of true healing. Robert Augustus Masters, defines spiritual bypass as the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs. Our cultural preference for numbing away our pain, both physical and emotional, has become so normalized that it has now become enshrined in the path to spirituality and enlightenment. But the truth is that we can’t resolve our emotional problems as long as we continue struggling not to feel. True healing requires truly feeling, and thus, the motto, “The only way out is through,” becomes an invaluable guide.
The movie Good Will Hunting is about a young man who works as a janitor at a university in Boston. Played by Matt Damon the character cleans the dark hallways at night where he sometimes stops to look at a chalkboard where a mathematics professor puts up problems for his students to solve. We soon learn that the janitor has an extraordinary gift for math. The professor eventually finds out who is solving his problems and invites the janitor to join his class, but the young man can’t make it in the academic world. He doesn’t think he is good enough to be with the other students. There is something holding him back.
The professor connects the young janitor with a therapist on campus named Shawn. Shawn ends up developing a relationship with the young man. Over the course of their visits, we learn that the janitor had been abused as a child. His self-destructive behavior and lack of self-worth are tied to his sense of shame and anger over what happened to him. The therapist knows the young man has to face what happened if he is going to find healing. In the climactic scene of the movie, the young man finally admits what he has been avoiding all along. His true story and feelings begin to come out. Shawn tells him that it wasn’t his fault.
The young man wants to still keep up his rough exterior. He wants to deny the depth of his emotion, but the therapist keeps saying in a comforting tone, “It’s not your fault.” Finally, the young man begins to weep and sob uncontrollably on the shoulder of the therapist. All of the years of guilt, anger, grief and shame, come flooding out. It is painful for the young man, but it also brings release. He is later able to use his gifts to study and work in physics and mathematics. The therapist knew that young man couldn’t find a way out of the darkness if he didn’t face the hurt he had experienced. He knew the only way out for the young man was through.
Jesus knew the only way out was through. He knew the only way to bring people out of the path of sin was through the suffering of the cross. The only way to get to the light of the resurrection was through the darkness of the tomb. But we sometimes forget this. Today we heard one of the most famous verses in the Bible, John 3:16. “For God so love the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” This is a wonderful passage that in many ways sums up the core of the Gospel. However, verses like this as well as others in Scripture have sometimes been used to promote the idea that negative feelings are bad. There are some Christians who would say that you shouldn’t feel sad if a loved one dies because if they are a believer they will have eternal life. They are in heaven, in a better place. Some people have even been led to feel like they weren’t true Christians if they were grieving because that meant they didn’t truly believe in heaven like John 3:16 talks about.
We can forget that before John 3:16 comes John 3:14 which says that “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” John is talking about Jesus being lifted up on the cross and he compares it to the time when Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness so the people could be saved. Just as the path of healing for the Israelites came through confronting the symbol of their hurt, the path of healing for sinners comes through facing the cross. The cross was not an easy thing to look at in the time of Jesus. It was an instrument of torture which caused its victims much suffering. It was the result of human cruelty and oppressive power. It was the result of, as John says, “People loving the darkness more than the light.”
Why did God choose the cross to lift up Jesus? Couldn’t there have been a different way? Couldn’t Jesus have been lifted up on a cloud or on a throne?
Maybe God chose the cross because before people could see the light, God had to expose the darkness around them. Before people could experience forgiveness they needed to confront the true depth of their sins. The cross reveals the evil in the world. It shows it for what it truly is. It reveals the consequence of selfishness, pride, fear, and oppression. It encompasses the depths of human experience. Jesus didn’t try to deny the pain of those around him or their difficulties. Instead he felt all the grief, anger, sadness, and abandonment of the world.
C JoyBell writes that, “In our day and age, global society has been saturated with the wrong teaching of false positivity. The denial of darkness never equates the abundance of light. The caterpillar does not become a butterfly by telling everybody it has wings. It actually buries itself in darkness and grows those wings.”
In Jesus we see that God does not avoid pain and struggle. God takes it in, acknowledges it, and then looks to transform it in the resurrection. By going through the hurt, Jesus then brings the healing—healing from a God who so loved the world.
-Pastor Erik Goehner