Pain is a universal experience. Every single person is inflicted with it in some way during their lifetime. Individually, we experience physical pain, emotional pain, and social/economic pain.
Because we are a community of connected individuals, we also experience collective pain. We see this pain in the news headlines and experience it directly in our own cities and neighborhoods: social injustice, hate crimes, political drama, and derogatory commentary.
Over the last year or so, I’ve been exploring pain and healing in my own body and spirit. This exploration brought to mind the phrase, “stiff-necked people,” that occurs at various points in scripture. God uses that phrase when the people he’s addressing resist His leadership, making choices that cause painful consequences. More on that later.
What causes painful inflammation?
Physical inflammation can come from one of the following:
- Lack of use. When we don’t use our bodies, they start to deteriorate and become “stuck” in one position. We lose flexibility and range of motion. Have you ever sat too long in one position? It becomes hard to move because your body is stiff and doesn’t want to change positions.
- Incorrect use. Poor alignment and over exertion take a toll on our bodies. We can experience strain, fatigue and fractures. Think of the times we strain our bodies: lifting something that is too heavy, running without stretching, failing to get sufficient rest.
- Lack of nutrients. When you consume too much that is unhealthy, you don’t get the nourishment you need. This too can cause inflammation. Some foods are linked to cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
- Disease. We can experience deeper biological trauma when disease starts destroying our structure or function. Disease has a more permanent effect. It can often be managed, but in many cases, cannot be reversed.
Ironically, spiritual and social inflammation have similar roots.
- Lack of use. When we don’t exercise our spiritual gifts, we become complacent. The law of inertia takes over…bodies at rest, remain at rest. Think of Jonah, who was called to preach salvation to the city of Nineveh. He was spiritually rigid and resistant. He did not want to do God’s will. He thought his wishes were more important than God’s.
- Incorrect use. When we use our spiritual gifts to our own gain, it can cause internal conflict and pain. We are no longer aligned with the will of God, so our journey becomes hard. Think of the Israelites who were too self-focused to enter the promised land when they first arrived. This resulted in a long and exhausting 40-year journey through a desert, knowing that most of them would never see or occupy the promised land.
- Lack of nutrients. When we don’t nourish our relationship with God, there is a void in our lives. We often fill that void with unhealthy substitutes in an effort to feel happy and whole. Think of Judas, who walked so closely with Jesus. Even he was drawn away, accepting 30 pieces of silver as a substitute for God’s love.
- Disease. Deeper trauma can occur when we repeatedly walk away from God instead of drawing nearer to him. Think of the stiff-necked Israelites who repeatedly turned their back on God to go their own way…even though they were warned…even though they had historical examples of the trauma this causes. They allowed disobedience and rebellion to become part of their biological makeup.
- Lack of use. When a community fails to show compassion for others, those who are hurting, homeless, or outcast, our hearts become hard. We become desensitized to the suffering of others. We focus on “me” instead of “we.” We are blind to the social inflammation around us.
- Incorrect use. Societal leaders all too often use their influence to manipulate and control instead of unite and transform. This lack of compassion causes social pain and frustration that eventually erupts in destructive ways. We are no longer aligned with one another in productive ways.
- Lack of nutrients. When society shifts their focus away from God, or rejects him completely, the foundation starts to crumble. The moral backbone becomes flimsy and weak. When there is no God in the mix, behavioral standards become too individualized. The only thing that matters is what’s “right for me.”
- Disease. During the last year we’ve seen what happens when social inflammation is left to fester. Violence erupts. When suffering people need to hear a voice of compassion, but receive instead ridicule and ambivalence, they lose control and their “fight” instinct rages deep within them.
What is the Good News?
Jesus! Jesus IS the Good News. He came to heal this broken world, to soothe our inflammation.
While he walked with his disciples
- he healed physical ailments – he made the blind see; he told the lame to walk; he restored the sick; he raised the dead.
- he healed spiritual ailments – he cast out demons; he forgave sins; he nourished his followers with living water and the bread of life.
- he healed social ailments – he confronted the Pharisees and Sadducees; he defended the persecuted; he embraced the outcasts.
As I’ve sought healing for myself, I have been confronted with the self-inflicted nature of much of my pain. I am sometimes one of those “stiff-necked” people that God references. I am thankful for a Savior that redirects and restores. Through Jesus, I have hope of wholeness – in my body, in my spirit, and in my community.
“I am the Lord who heals you.” Exodus 15:26