I have come to Pennsylvania for a conference of some 200 people who are involved in the ministries of Rachel’s Vineyard and Grief to Grace. More than 200 delegates from all over the world are here in one of the epicentres of the abuse scandal. In both these ministries we have for many years been hearing first-hand testimonies of clerical abuse which I wouldn’t even be able to put into print.
In order to try and shift the perspective slightly, I decided to talk to the conference about Jesus Christ, the Divine Physician. This ancient title for Christ first appears with Origen in the 3rd century. Many historians give as the reason for this the prevalence of cults of gods with healing powers in the ancient world. Christians, it seems, wanted to baptise this pagan culture.
Actually, the title’s real origin is in revelation. The Gospel records some 40 miracles of healing and Jesus describes himself as the physician when he says he has come to call not the virtuous but sinners. So powerful was the figure of Jesus the healer than many in the Roman world believed that Christianity was actually a church for sick people.
Christ as doctor finds poignant modern expression in TS Eliot’s Four Quartets: “The wounded surgeon plies the steel / That questions the distempered part; / Beneath the bleeding hands we feel / The sharp compassion of the healer’s art.”
In order to heal, we must first stand in a certain relation to the wounds – we have to come close. The Lord does not heal from a position of detachment and safety.
The wounded surgeon with the bleeding hands is a powerful contrast to the sterile, scrubbed genius of the operating theatre skilfully delivering healing from outside the chaos and mess of disease. What is effective is the “sharp compassion” – in other words, the best instrument of healing is the ability to suffer with others. Such an approach contrasts strongly with all that medical or psychological sciences teach about cultivating professional detachment.
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