Please bear with me as I describe a minor medical matter of mine. I know there’s nothing like an old guy talking about his health to chase readers away. But it leads to an interesting insight.
Recently I had a “seborrheic keratosis” removed from my forehead. No, it is not as serious as it sounds. As my family doctor reassuringly told me, “It’s not cancerous. You’re just old.” The growth was a raised sunspot, and as it enlarged and became a source of comments, I decided to have a dermatologist take care of it.
However, what fascinated me – and here’s the insight – were the instructions my doctor gave me in caring for the wound created by its removal. She said that it was an old wives’ tale that wounds heal best when exposed to air and dried out. Rather, they should be kept moist until they heal. Her Mediterranean accent made me think she brought some wisdom from that part of the world into her occupation.
To that end, each day I clean the wound with vinegar-water, keeping it moist with a cotton ball wet with this mixture for five minutes, then apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly and cover it with a Band-aid. Though prone to scarring, it’s been amazing to observe the skin slowly growing back with little scabbing (and made me shudder a few times thinking of how as a child my wounds were treated with that burning, neon-orange alcohol called Merthiolate that actually had mercury in it!).
This daily process made me think of how the treatment of wounds are described in the Bible. In telling his parable, Jesus said of the good Samaritan caring for the man on the side of the road that he “went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine” (Luke 10:34). Similarly, the Lord describes redeeming Israel metaphorically as caring for them as an abandoned baby, adding, “I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil” (Ezek. 16:9). Jeremiah mourned “the wound of the daughter of my people,” then raised that proverbial question “Is there no balm in Gilead?” regarding the need for a healing, soothing medicine (Jer. 8:21-22). Wounds are healed best by applying a moist salve.
John Chrysostom, the fourth century preacher, described the spiritual battle in which the church is engaged warlike terms. He then said if we could see what sin does to a soul we would see “such disastrous wounds that the whole of that description of warfare which I just now detailed to you, you would think to be mere child’s sport and pastime rather than war.” He went on to say, “For when the soul receives a wound, and falls, it does not lie as a lifeless body, but it is thenceforth tormented, being gnawed by an evil conscience.” In the church, it can be easy to run roughshod over people, not aware of the buried damage and guilt brought on them by their own sin and that of others. The only balm that can reach deeply enough to heal such soul wounds is that of the Holy Spirit. Yet do we live with enough awareness to seek his healing presence and power? Certainly Christ, the Anointed One, expects us to do so (see Isaiah 61:1-3).
The imagery above of healing spiritual wounds with oil or balm reminds us of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Just as I daily apply vinegar-water and oil to my head for its healing, so we daily need the Spirit’s work applied to us to regenerate, to cleanse, and to heal. Every day, we need his presence to “anoint us with the oil” of forgiveness of our sins and to heal us with his peace (Ps. 23:5). We should beseech God that his would bring conflicts to an end so we can dwell in brotherly unity that’s like “precious oil running down on the head” (Ps. 133:2). We should humble ourselves before him, learning to pray as the psalmist for correction in this manner: “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it” (Ps. 141:5).
Recently a Christian nurse told me how powerful touch is in caring for patients. As patients sense the hands of the caregiver on their bodies, they are calmed, reassured, ministered to, and even aided in their healing by the touch. Similarly, when God’s Spirit is present, he knows exactly how to touch a wounded soul and bring forth the needed healing.
We just need to follow the Great Physician’s instructions and daily depend upon his life-giving Spirit in life and ministry.