Faith, Love, and Woundedness
In Thornton Wilder’s short play, The Angel That Troubled the Waters, a physician comes to a magical pool guarded by an angel. After watching others enter into the pool and be healed, the physician approaches the water to be healed of a terrible unnamed burden. But the angel prevents him:
ANGEL: Draw back, Physician, this moment is not for you.
PHYSICIAN: Angelic visitor, I pray thee, listen to my prayer.
THE ANGEL: Healing is not for you.
THE PHYSICIAN: Oh, in such an hour was I born, and doubly fearful to me is the flaw of my heart. Must I drag my shame, prince and singer, all my days more bowed than my neighbor?
THE ANGEL (Stands a moment in silence): Without your wound where would your power be? It is your very remorse that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In love’s service only wounded soldiers can serve. Draw back.
Recently, I thought of the angel’s words, when a dear friend of mine shared with me that though she was nearly fifty years old, she was still struggling with the feelings of fear and rejection that she experienced in her childhood. Early on in life, she was the victim of both physical and emotional abuse, and a couple of weeks ago an unpleasant exchange with a co-worker once again aggravated wounds that have never really healed.
My dear friend sent me an email that asked, “why am I the way I am?” Similar questions would be, “why doesn’t God choose to fully heal our wounds? Can’t he do that if he wants? Isn’t Jesus called the Great Physician?”
My answer, in part, is that I don’t really know why God often chooses to extend only partial healing in this life. I do know that the ache of lingering wounds reminds us of our weakness, and Saint Paul is clear that God’s grace is sufficient for us, for “[his] power is made perfect in weakness…when we are weak, then we are strong” (1 Corinthians 12).
I also know, and this is what I told my friend—we’ll call her J—that I can see in her life the beauty that has grown out of her wounds. Of all the people I have known, she is one of the sweetest and most compassionate. Though she also suffers from Fibromyalgia, which is physically debilitating, she loves to work out in her yard, and she has an amazing talent for landscaping. She can transform a featureless lawn into a flowerful paradise. Though she is in constant pain, she still possesses a gift for beauty.
This seems to be a consistent phenomenon in the history of God’s people. The greatest, most faith-filled saints often struggled with the most excruciating pain and sorrow. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon suffered from intense depression and a debilitating case of gout. The poet and hymn writer William Cowper lived his entire life in a melancholy bordering on mental illness. And, C.S. Lewis, from whose pen sprang forth Mere Christianity and the wonder of Narnia, met Joy Davidman, the love of his life, when he was fifty-four. Eight years later, he lost her to cancer.
Why would God choose to inflict such hardship on those who had dedicated their lives to him? Why would the blood of Jesus heal their sins, but not take away their sorrows? Well, Charles Spurgeon ended up being considered “the Prince of Preachers.” His preaching was known for its fire and compassion, led hundreds of thousands of people to Christ, and strengthened the Church both in England and abroad. Throughout the years, the words of William Cowper’s hymns and poems have been sung and repeated by millions of believers as they lifted their voices to worship God. And Lewis went on to write A Grief Observed, a mournful but powerful reflection on his experience of death and loss, which has brought comfort and healing to countless others.
So, if you experience pain and suffering, or an ache in your soul or body that simply will not go away, remember the angel’s words to the physician. It seems he was right: in love’s service, only wounded soldier’s can serve.
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