This is What Healing Looks Like

Sunday, August 30, 2020

When I first started my PhD program, I knew it would wreck me.

I just didn't know that it would wreck me spiritually.

This past year, I've been analyzing several different passages from the book of Amos as part of my research. I expected to learn quite a few things related to my research, but I didn't really expect for this passage at the end of Amos to speak to me as deeply as it did. In fact, a particular phrase in Amos 9:14  had me crying as I wrote an exegetical analysis about it:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the one who ploughs will catch up with the one who reaps and the one who treads grapes with the one sowing seeds. The mountains will drip with sweet wine and all the heights will flow. I will turn the turning of my people Israel."
Amos 9:13-14 (my translation)

You see, in my research I realized that most translations do a pretty poor job at translating this passage. Most, such as the NIV, translate it so that it refers to the Israelites' return from exile ("I will bring my people Israel back from exile.") The Hebrew, however, literally says, "I will turn the turning."

It sounds awkward translated into English, but this phrase indicates much more than a return from a foreign land. In fact, it doesn't just refer to an end of exile; it refers to a complete reversal of exile. While it can indicate a return to the land, it refers more broadly to a return to a previous state of well-being. 

This ‘turning’ refers to all of the restorative processes mentioned in Amos 9:11-15, including rebuilding the cities, the flourishing of the land, and the return of the exiles. All of the destruction, all of the pain that the Israelites suffered, would ultimately be reversed. 

And this "turning," this reversal, would not simply be a return to the way things were before exile. No, this "turning" would undo all of their pain and usher God's people into an even better state of flourishing than they had ever previously experienced.

I imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites to receive this message while in exile. These words would have been so contrary to what they were presently experiencing. The exile was their major turning point. They had two reference points: before-exile and in-exile. To them, it looked like there was no hope - they had reached the point of no return. Imagine the tension of these words. Imagine the two realities the Israelites were challenged to straddle:

They knew Yahweh was faithful, but they felt abandoned by him.

They knew Yahweh was good, but he allowed bad things to happen to them.

They knew Yahweh was sovereign, but the wicked were now in charge.

And yet, I can deeply resonate with this tension. It's the same kind of tension I currently live in.

A few years ago, I served in ministry at a church that spiritually and emotionally abused its staff members. It was traumatic. But the most traumatizing day was actually the day I resigned. I told my colleagues that I was choosing to go because "my values were incompatible with the values that are placed on the staff," and immediately afterward I was brought into a meeting that began with a pastor yelling at me to "get out" because I was no longer welcome at the church. The four pastors proceeded to interrogate me for names of other staff members who also disagreed with the values. They blamed me for things that were not true. They accused me of being toxic, of being the problem that needed to be eliminated. They gaslighted my experiences. They told me that I was unfit for ministry, that God hadn’t truly called me there, that there was no place for someone like me in the Church.

As much as I would like to say that I've healed and moved on, that one meeting has stuck with me. The words that were said to me have remained an anxious undercurrent that sometimes resurfaces. In fact, sometimes I think of my life as being divided into "before-meeting" and "after-meeting" categories. My life "turned" that day, and further ministry experiences after leaving that position have only seemed to confirm that my voice is not welcome in the Church.

And just like the Israelites, I read these words in Amos and straddle two realities:

I know God has given me a voice to speak truth, yet I feel scared and inadequate.

I know God calls me his own, yet the Church has repeatedly told me I don't belong.

I know God redeems, yet I still have so much brokenness and hurt inside.

Each of these statements holds two truths; it's not that one's true and the other is false. They seem contradictory, but they are both true at the same time. They highlight this tension between already and not-quite-yet realities.

But maybe this is what healing looks like: believing one truth is truer, and choosing to place my trust in only the truest of truths.

And that is why I believe that even though I have been deeply hurt and feel like a shell of the Christina that I used to be, I believe Jesus can "turn the turning." I believe Jesus can undo all the wrongs that have been done against me. I believe Jesus can bring shalom back into my life. I believe Jesus can bring me to a place where I flourish in new ways previously unavailable to my "before-meeting" days.

And Jesus can do the same with your hurts, too. God knows the depth of your pain and willingly enters into it with you. God is, to borrow from a theologian-friend, a "wounded liberator" who is even now - yes, right now - redeeming the wrongs that others have committed against you.

God can usher in a new reality of flourishing that extends beyond Eden to a recreated cosmos.

The days are coming.

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