Thursday, December 04, 2008
We often hear today that our world is undergoing, or has undergone, a worldview shift, that is from Modernism to Postmodernism. Some wail and bemoan that Postmodernism has caused the church to forsake sound doctrine for some cream puff political correctness. But could it be that the Postmodern shift is actually forcing the People of the Cross to recover sound doctrine that was sacrificed on the altar of Modernism as we became such a "cultural church" (i.e. Modern) that we didn't even recognize biblical teaching. The "doctrine of salvation" is a fundamental example of a teaching that was gutted by Western Modernism.
Have you noticed that some of the most moving "portraits" of Jesus show him in a "healing" posture. Throughout the Gospels he is giving strength to feeble legs, making ligaments work in hands, casting out demons, opening the eyes of the blind and cleansing lepers. Jesus the Healer is a powerful portrait. Have you ever wondered what that has to do with "salvation?" To even raise the question is to ask a thoroughly Modern question that would not have even occurred to an ancient (Jew or Gentile!). In the Western, post-Enlightenment world we have driven a wedge between healing on one hand (i.e. "physical") and salvation on the other (i.e. "spiritual"). Yet in the Greco-Roman world such a cleavage would be unthinkable. Postmodernism has justly, and I will argue biblically, challenged this false teaching. The biblical narrative:
* as a whole intertwines the images of salvation and healing
* as a whole interprets the image of Yahweh the Savior as Yahweh the Healer
and the New Testament adds to this the portrait of Jesus as God's Agent
* the larger Roman world of Jesus' day conceived of salvation as healing
* as a whole sees God's people called as a community of healing and health
Biblical writers can, and do, refer to the identical redemptive act of Yahweh with the language of liberation/salvation and at another point in the language of healing. A few examples biblical texts that use the images of healing, health, deliverance as salvation are
O hope of Israel! O LORD!
All who forsake you shall be put to shame;
those who turn away from you shall be recorded in the
for they have forsaken the fountain of living water,
Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved;
for you are my praise." (Jer. 17.13-14)
"For the hurt of my people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
not been restored?" (Jer 8.21-22)
"Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits --
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your strength is renewed like the eagle's.
The LORD works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed." (Ps 103.2-6)
Here is one from that neglected prophet Zephaniah
"The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory ...
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth ..." (Zeph 3.17-20)
The images of Yahweh healing his people also reveal him as saving his people. Indeed God simply claims "I am the LORD who heals you" (Ex15.26). Sickness and disease in the Ancient Near East was not simply a matter of disease but a matter of purity and shame. Zephaniah even says God will "change their shame into praise." The concept of honor, shame, and especially purity and pollution lie behind much of the biblical language of healing and disease.
Consider the lepers. In the Hebrew Bible and the "NT" leprosy is rarely "Hansen's Disease." It is simply a number of skin disorders that render a person unclean. Leprosy is not even contagious! It was a matter of religious purity. Thus in the Bible lepers are cleansed (cf. Mt. 8.2; Lk 5.14) not "healed" as if it was simply a medical procedure.
The healing ministry of Jesus is in the Gospels part of Jesus' saving ministry. Matthew likes "blocks" of material. In chapters 8-9 there is a concentration of healing stories that follow on the heels of the Sermon on the Mount. These stories relate how Jesus makes available the presence and the power of God's reign in those who have been sick and unclean. There is a leper, a slave of a Gentile, an old woman, the demonized, a paralytic, a hated tax collector, a young girl and the blind. Interestingly as Matthew relates the restoration of "health" he also relates how they are restored as human beings within family and community. Notice the range of images used in Matthew's story of the kingdom:
* cleaning a leper allows him new access to God and to the community of God's people
* Healing a paralytic is comparable to forgiving his sins(9.2-8)
* Extending grace to unclean tax collectors and sinners illustrates the work of a
* Recovery of sight, as throughout the biblical narrative, serves as a metaphor for
the exercise of the insight of faith(9.27-31)
Indeed near the end of Matthew's block of "healing" episodes we read the actual language of "salvation" used in its biblical fullness. Unfortunately our English translations at times obscure this ... or our neo-platonic eyes betray us. Matthew connects woman's "faith" with her "salvation." The text reads
"Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassels on his shawl, for she said to herself, 'If I only touch his shawl I will be SAVED (sozo).' Jesus turned and looked at her and said, 'Take heart, daughter your faith has SAVED (sozo) you.' And immediately the woman was SAVED (sozo)." (Matt 9.20-22)
As Yahweh saves his People in the Hebrew Bible he also heals them. Thus Matthew directly connects Jesus' messianic identity to his healing/saving ministry.
"Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 'Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope" (Mt 12.15-21)
Jesus does the work of God in salvation by bringing healing to the bruised. Jesus' healing declares the presence of the kingdom of God. Those once excluded by uncleanness are now included by the healing/saving work of God through the Messiah.
The "doctrine of salvation" is so much broader, richer and deeper than what is proclaimed as the biblical doctrine in so many evangelical churches and Churches of Christ. What postmodernism has done is help us become more doctrinal rather than less. What it has done is help us shed the cultural, and unbiblical, notion that salvation is primarily or only about the afterlife. The scriptures deny such an anemic doctrine as does the history of Christian doctrine up to the Enlightenment ... or was that the "Endarkment"? Yahweh saves because he heals ... Sin vandalized his creation, it infected his very good creation, and God sort of takes that "personally!!" Thus he saves his creation ... he heals it. Jesus does what the prophets proclaimed of Yahweh.
We will return to this theme by looking at the idea of Yahweh as Liberator very soon.