Several years ago my daughter broke her arm. And as our family went through the process of ER’s and x-rays we realized that the break was severe and warranted surgery. A close friend was also a trusted surgeon and he offered to perform the surgery. No one can tell parents that arm surgery on a four-year-old is less severe than a heart bypass or the extraction of a cancerous brain tumor and so we waited in enormous anxiety wondering if our daughter would emerge rebuilt and whole or misshapen and lacking. We were then hugely relieved when our friend the surgeon arrived in the waiting room, still in his scrubs, to inform us that all had gone well.
He had just left the room and we had all exhaled, when a nurse rushed in frantically seeking, “Sophie’s mom.” Something had gone wrong and Shelby and I rushed through the halls to the recovery area. Sophie, it turns out, had awoken to see faces all around her silhouetted against bright lights. A foreign looking tube attached to a needle was in her arm. Her four-year-old mind, raised in the security of daily hugs and parental encouragement, could not handle the insecurity of the scene she was faced with in the recovery room. She promptly grabbed the person nearest her, a nurse, and attacked. She screamed, cried, hit, and scratched until the nurses who had promised to watch her for one hour of post-op recovery decided in under 15 minutes that their only choice was to find Sophie’s parents.
And so Shelby and I arrived to find our wild-eyed daughter in full attack mode causing wide-spread panic in the recovery area. I grabbed her and folded her in my arms whispering the same words which had soothed her after nightmares and in bouts with flu bugs. Our friend the surgeon, hearing of the drama his small patient was causing stopped in. And there we sat, the one who harmed her masked with those things all surgeons wear over their mouths and me her father, the symbol of all things comforting. Sophie had a choice to make: trust in the fact that all this discomfort and hurt was brought upon her in love and concern or as she had first feared upon waking up, that she was assailed by dangerous villains with whom her father was now conversing. She nestled in closer to my chest and peace was attained.
I sometimes think that becoming a follower of Jesus is like this; we all wake up, broken and yet uncertain of what has gone wrong. The pain of our injury is seemingly made worse by the person trying to repair us. We almost literally awake realizing that before us is a great Being, masked and holding a sharp instrument. We fear torture and in our pain we react, pulling away from the One trying to heal us. We cry out wishing for anesthesia, just wishing the pain could be removed. But our Wise God stands over us, holding us down, and forcing painful surgery rather than offering anesthesia. He has the solution to our most profound problem and yet this solution, like surgery, is painful and feels like added pain rather than restored health. We question why God can’t be an anesthetist rather than a surgeon. Why can’t comfort feel comforting? Why must peace first take the form of pain?
Many of us are lulled into thinking God is merely an oasis in the dessert, a quiet in the storm. We see Him as the Jesus who healed hundreds and called the little children to Himself. And these images are real and Scripturally based. Our God is a healer—when Jesus came to earth, the single most recognizable sign of his God-ness, his Divinity, was his ability to restore lives.
And yet if we look deeper, He also cut like a spiritual surgeon, denying James and John their greatest ambition when they wanted the second and third rankings behind Christ on the leadership pole. He literally referred to Peter as Satan when Peter tempted Him with a version of the Gospel that required no suffering. He boldly proclaimed that to follow Him may mean to lose family and loved ones. He preached that anyone following Him should “count the cost” for it was sure to be great. He denied Himself a home, a wife, a family, and asked that his followers be willing to do the same. Jesus is no weak-kneed healer who has merely offered to help us get through the difficulties of life. He was and is a healer whose cutting work on lives costs hugely and involves pain, yet in the end brings the greatest of gain. At any point, the Son of God seemed ready to cut through the egotism of soon-to-be servant leaders who wished to exalt themselves. He was willing to courageously deny Peter’s mistaken Gospel of peace which required no pain at all. And He promised his disciples that, in gaining heaven, they would lose what they had previously valued most. Jesus was willing to cut with scathing honesty and fearsome words in a willingness to develop his followers into the people they had been created to be. The disciple Peter, after years of reflection on what it had meant to walk with Christ, during his earthly ministry wrote:
“…now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
The great preacher Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “It is doubtful that God can use any man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” Is it possible that we who have an aversion to doctors, accidentally have an aversion to health? In wishing that we had no pain we would avoid our Healer who wishes to make us whole again through the very pain we wish we could avoid.
So in other words, the mission of God is to heal, and it always has been. But the process of healing may be more and different than we wish it to be. Yet it is exactly as our God, who absolutely loves us, designed it.
So armed with this understanding of God, that He is naturally a surgeon—naturally a “wounder” and a “healer” all at the same time let me ask asimple question. What difference does this truth make? What can we expect of God?
We can expect a relentless pursuit of our best. God will cut, comfort, deny, and give as each situation dictates restoring us to what He has created us to be. There will be no stopping or hesitating for love stops being love when it merely covers up short-comings rather than forgiving and correcting them. The prophet Jeremiah was commissioned: “To uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Our God is a God who will stop at nothing in his pursuit of us, and that pursuit is focused on the goal of creating the best us, the people He originally created us to be. He uproots and tears down the things in our lives that are in the way. His destroying hurts us and his overthrowing takes away the very things in which our security resides. And yet in the end, God re-builds and God re-plants. As spring comes after winter, true healing does follow pain. And yet it is always God’s place to create both spring and winter—as Job said, should we accept good from God and not bad? It is the very things we think of as “bad” which God uses most to change us, to re-form us into the people He has called us to be. Philippians 1:6 reads, “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” We may have never known that completing it requires so much of us.
And so we all wake up, broken and yet uncertain of what has gone wrong. And like my daughter we sit with our healing Surgeon silhouetted against the bright lights. We have a decision to make. We have been raised in a world where people trusted to heal have often times wounded us. Criminals and surgeons may both where masks and it is difficult to sit in a place where we have been hurt before. We can trust that this God, kind in his intentions and loving in his work, will restore us to the best versions of ourselves. The process may be painful and the recovery difficult, yet our God promises to never leave us nor forsake us. Or, we can settle for the lesser god whom we all like to sometimes imagine—the weak god whose task is so much lesser than the true role of our Creator. Where our God would restore this god merely covers up. Where our God cuts away the evil, this god merely promises a few words of comfort. Where our God requires forgiveness, this god merely allows us to exist with roots of bitterness cruelly twisting our insides. The true comfort is found in God’s promise of transformation—the promise of a Divine Surgeon, not an Anesthetist.