Healing Wounds Lightly

Which do you prefer, making people happy or making people sad? Would you rather have people like you or dislike you? Would you rather tell people things they want to hear or things they don’t?

Jeremiah had a hard job. He would preach to the people of Judah, promising things that nobody wanted to hear. As a prophet of God, this man spoke with the authority of the Lord. And the news that he delivered was not good news for most. You see, Jeremiah knew he was preaching a call to repentance to an unrepentant people. And Jeremiah knew that this unrepentant people would face the judgment of Almighty God.

What did prophets do? Often we think of prophets like fortune-tellers, but simply predicting the future was not their roles. For the most part, prophets speaking to Israel and Judah were men who reminded the nation of the law of God. A prophet would see the nation in violation of their covenant agreement with the Lord, warn that such violation leads to consequences that were clearly spelled out in the covenant, and remind the people that God promised favor to those who would turn back. Yes, the prophet might tell the people how God would fulfill his promises—e.g. which nation would come in and conquer as a judgment—but the prophet mostly applied to the people the terms of the covenant that the nation had agreed to centuries earlier.

The trouble, in Jeremiah’s day is that people were pretending to speak as prophets and promising the nation all sorts of blessings to come, even though they had no such promises from God. These preachers were giving the people feel-good messages of future prosperity without actually having a message from God to proclaim.

Jeremiah 6:13-15

13 “For from the least to the greatest of them,
everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
14 They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
when there is no peace.
15 Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
No, they were not at all ashamed;
they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,”
says the Lord.

When I read that passage, I am always caught by verse 14, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” And the reason this gets my attention is that it sounds to me like the words coming from many a pulpit today. But I know that the word of God would show us that to heal a wound lightly, to promise peace with God where no such peace can exist, that is a terrible thing to do.

Who would proclaim peace with God where there is no peace? There are several categories of folks who do this. Preachers and writers who want to be well-thought-of by the outside world will do so. These folks will strive to look more intelligent, more progressive, more nuanced than other Christians by accepting worldviews and behaviors that God actually calls sin. They will try to build their congregations by appealing to unrepentant sinners and saying to them that God now happily accepts them as they are and does not want them to change their behavioral or thought patterns.

Other false teachers will heal the wounds of God’s people lightly by preaching a prosperity that God never promised. This is more popular on the shallow end of the pool as smiling men with expensive suits, expensive cars, and expensive homes tell people that the faith is not so much about sin and righteousness as it is about God giving to their greedy hearts everything they want if they will just believe hard enough; believe hard enough and perhaps send in a donation. They gloss over issues of sin and of false doctrine to draw in people who have more of a superstition than a faith and who desperately want to be lifted out of their current condition. Some who follow these men are sweet and genuine people who are duped by a person offering them healing from a disease or protection from an oppressive regime. Others who follow these men are as greedy as the prosperity preachers, seeking earthly blessing rather than the God who would give us himself.

To find those who preach peace where there is no peace, just listen for those who preach salvation without focusing on our genuine need of a Savior because of our genuine, personal sin. Listen for a person who tries hard never to offend the sensitivities of the one in sin. Listen for a person who focuses the message on a few Scriptures out of context rather than a person who walks through the Bible to preach the sweet stuff and the hard stuff alike. Listen for a person who would hide part of Christianity to make it more marketable to outsiders.

No, I do not ever strive to be offensive on purpose. In truth, I do not like delivering bad news to anybody. But if we are going to be faithful Christians, if we are going to point people to genuine peace and not a false peace, we must be willing to preach a true gospel. And the true gospel includes the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the person and work of Christ, and the need of a person to repent and believe to find eternal life. That message will offend people who do not believe they are sinners or who simply do not desire to repent of sin.

If I went to a doctor and had a deadly disease, what should the doctor do? Imagine, by the way, that the doctor has the cure. Would it be kind of the doctor not to tell me of the disease for fear of hurting my feelings? Of course it would not. She does not have to tell me in a mean way, an arrogant way, a holier-than-thou way. She can tell me kindly, but she must tell me. If the doctor knows I am dying, she needs to let me know. She needs to offer me the cure. If I reject treatment, then the fault is my own. But it would be an evil thing for her to say to me that I am healthy and strong if I am not.

Christians, may we never offer false hope. May we never promise what God does not promise. May we never declare a person to be at peace with God if they are not at peace with God. May we never heal anybody’s wounds lightly.

On How You Identify

One of the beautiful things about Scripture is that it is all breathed out by God and profitable. We need to learn that everything the Bible teaches us about God is true. We also should understand that what the Bible teaches us about thinking about God and what the Bible teaches us about thinking about ourselves is also true. We learn both from the claims of the Scripture as well as from the rationale, the reasoning, of Scripture.

I began to think a bit about how the Bible’s rationale teaches us when reading Paul’s statements about the church and our unity in the body with our variety of spiritual gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:15-16 – 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

In context, Paul is presenting for us an argument to prove that every person in the body of Christ, every person in the church, is valuable and has a role to play. Some have gifts that appear more spectacular than others. Some have gifts that are more hidden. Some have greater needs for help. Other seem more self-sufficient. But we all are gifted by God to help each other and we all need each other. No member has the biblical right to think that any member of the body, including himself or herself, is worth more or less than any other member in the body.

Paul suggests to us that, even if a person thinks they do not matter to the body, they still do. A foot cannot say that, if it does not get to be a hand, it is not really part of the body. And a person not allowed to preach from the pulpit cannot say to the body that they are not genuinely a valuable part of the body. And a person who cannot sing must not think they are less valuable than the big voice sitting next to them. And the person who struggles to read and comprehend a paragraph is just as valuable as the one who devours a book a day.

All that is beautiful and in context. But there is something else that strikes me when I look at this passage. It is not Paul’s argument that catches me this time, but an understood truth in his reasoning. This reasoning is significant and biblical. When Paul speaks of the people as parts of the body, he talks about things they say about themselves. He talks about their self-identification. And notice that, in the mind of the apostle, inspired by God, the declaration of a foot or an eye has no bearing on that item’s reality. A foot cannot declare itself not a part of the body simply because it does not like its shape. An eye cannot declare itself not a part of the body simply because it does not like its function. Paul is clear in his rationale, a rationale he expects Christians through the ages to understand, that things are what they are in actual point of fact; their reality is not determined by how they choose to identify themselves. Nor is their reality determined by the opinions of others.

It might be helpful, Christians, for you to stop and consider how important it is that God would show us, in how he inspired his own Scripture to be written, that he believes that the reality of a thing or a person to be important. There is no foot to hand fluidity. There is no ear to eye flip-flopping. Paul is not saying that your foot can be a part of your body from one point of view, but from another, it is clearly not. The reasoning of the apostle tells us that truth matters.

I was born in the United States in the 1970s. I cannot be telling the truth and identify myself as a native-born Korean under the age of 25. I might be able to learn the language and enjoy the food. I might be able to grasp the culture and even enjoy hanging out with folks who are what I claim to be. I might be able to hide behind a made-up on-line presence and pretend to be what I tell people I am. But the reality is, no matter what happens, I’m still an
American in his 40s.

Do not, by the way, read this as intentionally mean-spirited. I understand that, for many people, our reality of who we are or even what we are can be difficult. Remember, I’m blind. I would prefer to be able to see. It would make several things in life far easier. I have to adapt to function. I have to let go of doing certain things I really might enjoy doing. But you know what? Were I to suddenly declare myself sighted, that would not change the fact that, were I to try to drive, I’d crash the car.

Christians are to be a people of truth. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). We do not help ourselves or others by pretending that false things are real. We do not help a foot by letting it pretend to be a hand or by letting it pretend not to be a part of the body. We do not help ourselves if we live in fantasy and refuse to acknowledge reality. For certain, the reality that we acknowledge is not necessarily acknowledged by the rest of the world. Some think we are nuts for believing in a Creator who spun the planets into space or in angels, demons, life after death, etc. But we are not claiming these are both real and unreal. We are believing in biblical truth claims. We are not pretending that they simultaneously exist and do not exist depending on one’s point of view. We are bound by truth. We do not look at blue and call it red. We do not look at light and call it dark. We do not look at life and call it not life. We do not look at people and call them something they are not. We follow the rationale we see in Paul’s direct reasoning that a thing does not become another thing by its declaration. Neither does a person.