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Monday, October 4, 2010

Broken, Wounded, and Hopeful

Broken, Wounded, and Hopeful

Jeremy B lives in Israel and has a unique opportunity to explore the roots of Christianity while living in the reality of modern Jewish society. I appreciated a recent devotional he wrote. Jeremy has given me permission to reprint it here.

Being in Israel on the Day of Atonement this year for the very first time left a deep impression on me, and caused me to give a lot of thought to the sacrificial system - especially its less appealing aspects. Watching some of the Orthodox slaughter chickens to provide some sort of atonement reminded me that salvation has always been a messy business and that looking deeply into it can be a shock for the faint of heart.

This realization came at a time of interesting findings in the final stages of writing my thesis. Indeed, the sights and sounds of sacrifices took on a new and deeper meaning in light of a discovery I made a couple of weeks ago. This all may sound rather technical, but I will do my best to make it as understandable as possible because I really feel as though I have stumbled upon something.

I was analyzing the very rare Hebrew verb root s-b-r that is usually translated as "hope" or "wait for" in English, such as in the following verse: "Lord, I have hoped for thy salvation..." (Psalm 119:166). We often find that rare words in Hebrew have corresponding companion words in Arabic that can help reveal the original meaning in the Bible. It so happens that there is a related root in Arabic that potentially adds a fascinating shade of meaning to the root s-b-r in Hebrew. The Arabic root is used in the context of looking closely at something to inspect it - particularly to dig to the deepest part of a wound to see what is below its surface. You may wonder what thoroughly inspecting a wound could have to do with waiting and hoping for salvation. There may be more to this than meets the eye...

As I began to consider the implications of this connection between the two languages, I was reminded of the well-known verses about the Messiah’s sacrifice: "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows... he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:4-5). It is clear from this passage that the Messiah was not only put to death for our sins, but also suffered prior to his crucifixion and that this included bearing the sorrows of mankind - and not only its sin in the strictest sense of the word. Ultimately, the existence of sorrow and suffering is a result of the presence of sin in the world, yet God is not content with dealing with the root of sin alone but also longs to heal mankind from the resulting wounds.

So what is the connection between this verb s-b-r and this passage in Isaiah, and what relevance does it have to our lives today? Wounds - both physical and emotional - are a part of our reality as human beings even if we prefer to ignore them. Indeed, our instinct is often to recoil at the sight of a wound - whether it is our own or someone else’s. Perhaps this is due to a feeling of helplessness in dealing with the pain and healing the wound, or it could be a self-defense mechanism we activate to avoid confronting the pain directly. Whatever the case may be, we need to be reminded that "by his stripes we are healed." This literally means that every last grief and sorrow of ours was already fully experienced by Jesus so that we might be healed.

The practical implication of this truth is the realization that there is no wound that cannot be faced head-on. If the Messiah has already suffered that same wound, and if there is healing in his pain, then we need not fear examining his sacrifice closely to learn what he has endured for each of us individually. This root s-b-r with its double meaning of hoping for salvation and closely inspecting a wound captures this thought so perfectly. As we long for deliverance, we can look deeply into his suffering without flinching - even when it reflects our own pain. In fact, it is when we see our wound laid upon him that we can find the promised healing.

It took some time for me to accept this aspect of God’s plan of salvation. Indeed, I have tended to see any issue that could not be traced to a specific, confessable sin to be somehow irrelevant to the Messiah’s sacrifice. But I am gradually coming to the realization that the same God who placed my sin on the Messiah's shoulders also wounded him so that he might carry my grief and sorrow. I am beginning to understand that part of my eager expectation for his deliverance includes looking squarely into the wounds that I have suffered and realizing that he has endured that very same pain in order to heal me. I don’t know what all I will see as I intently gaze upon his salvation, but I know that I need not flinch in looking at wounds which have already fallen squarely on his shoulders, and for which he has already provided the healing.

by Jeremy B, reprinted by permission.