All of us have scars and hurts: perhaps a physical disability, a mental limitation, a sexual violation, a major relational loss—or a combination of these and more. And even as Christians the damage may have stolen our hope and left us in a debris field of disappointment.
Yet people respond differently to disappointments. Some are crushed and continue to live as victims. Some muddle ahead but they feel like they’ve landed among the leftovers. But some see the debris field as offering raw material for a new life.
Let’s chase the latter—the rebuilding model.
Even here alternatives exist. One, for instance, is the Pollyanna approach. It calls for wishing-our-hurts-away with artificial smiles, hugs, and clichés that don’t really work in the long run. The outward pretense barely covers the pain; and real resolve never arrives.
Another option—and perhaps the most common—is to medicate our pain with short-term pleasures. God made us as affective beings—as responders. This means our emotional hurts can be buffered for a time by new emotional stirs. As we respond to new stimulants we’re briefly distracted from our deeper disappointments.
But this sort of relief is both deceptive and addictive. Deceptive because it relies on denial; and addictive because the new experiences only offer diminishing returns—more is always needed. Self-medication can be as ordinary as a devotion to comfort foods; or to a world of music; or to careless entertainments; or to busy but empty relationships—or to a combination of these and more.
Still another option is the highly regarded but fundamentally broken therapeutic option—the self-help model. It’s a close cousin to self-medication. I’m not thinking here of the interventions of professional counselors—who know how to help out in a time of crisis or who can help us navigate a chronic condition. Instead I’m thinking of those who promise relief through self-improvement schemes. The problem is their focus: it’s always on self—and that’s where our pain is still waiting for us.
Promoters of this approach may be lively television figures, writers, and even preachers who promise relief through a set of steps-to-success. Yet with the focus still on self—where our problems first started in the Garden of Eden—we miss the alternative call from the Bible.
Which brings us to a proper rebuilding approach. We need to hear Christ’s call to “take up your cross and follow me” and Paul’s call to be “crucified with Christ.” The starting point is not in a focus on self. Instead we realize that sin is rooted in self-love—2 Timothy 3:1-5 can help us here—and a new focus is needed.
So the biblical answer feels upside-down to what our common sense tells us. We’re invited to look to Christ’s death as a pathway to successful life.
Jesus, we discover, came into the world not to patch up our pain but to replace a failed model of life. Adam had once been happily dependent on God: a responsive child. But temptation came and Adam responded to an alternative option: he declared independence. He turned away from God by trying to become like God. And that’s where the pain began.
The effort to be like God was—and still is—utterly unrealistic. Adam was fully dependent on God for his every breath both before and after the fall. But his pretense of success—as he continued to “live” in the realm away from God’s life—was actually a living death. And God refuses to support Adam’s independent life. So any hope that God wants to supply him, or any among us who follow him, with success is folly.
Salvation, then, is our step back into a life of complete dependence. There, in our humility, we begin to hear the Spirit and the Scriptures urging us to trust God. He, alone, offers peace that passes understanding. He, through Christ’s death to sin, invites us into Christ’s resurrection life.
So the resolution to our having been victimized, hurt, scarred, and frightened, is to come to the God who heals and restores. He does the work in us. And he shows us that where sin once dominated us, grace is much greater. And in the comfort of the cross we begin to have more than enough comfort—enough, in fact, to begin to share our comfort with others.
So the solution to our struggles is in Christ—in Jesus who loves us—and not in self-improvement programs or in self-medications.
And, finally, in Christ’s care there are no leftovers. Instead we learn that we are his treasured companions. And growing participants in the glory he shares with his Father.