What Are Scars, Actually?
This means that we need to reflect a little bit more on what scars are and what they are not. We have to distinguish between scars on the one hand and disease or disability on the other. A disease or a disability is like an injury: it is something that inhibits the proper functioning of the body or otherwise represents physicality separated from God’s original intention for humanity. Disease, disability, and injury are all a little foretaste of death. Or, in other words, death is the incurable disease, the total disability, the ultimate injury.
A scar, on the other hand, is the memory of an injury, not the injury itself. It is both the physical evidence of healing and the physical evidence that healing was needed. A scar is a story branded in our body. Has anyone ever had a conversation where you showed someone a scar and told them the story behind it? I find it really interesting that we all gravitate towards doing this. And not uncommonly there is a moral to the story. I have an oval scar on my forearm that only I can see easily. I got it when I was waiting tables. I picked up a large tray with hot plates in an unsafe way, and one of the plates slid across the tray and branded me. It could have been a lot worse. This scar is an ever present reminder of the importance of doing things safely and correctly. But the function of my left arm is in no way inhibited by this scar. It isn’t an injury – it is the memory of an injury.
My son, who was born very premature at 23 weeks gestational age, has two tiny little marks on his abdomen that are difficult to see. They mark the entry points where a highly skilled surgeon performed endoscopic surgery to mend twin hernias that Peter had been born with. Not only are they reminders of all the many medical challenges Peter faced as a premature infant, they are also evidence of the expert level of care God provided for Peter. Every doctor we see in the United States who looks for the scars is absolutely amazed at how difficult they are to spot visually, evidence that the surgeon who performed the surgery was an expert of unusual ability. Those two tiny scars in no way affect Peter today. Rather, they are the memory of an injury, a memory both of suffering and of God’s amazing grace. So rather than being a foretaste of death, as disease and injury are, scars are actually a foretaste of the resurrection.
Admittedly, some kinds of scarring can become disfiguring and even disabling. In cases such as these, I think they really fit more in the injury category than the scars category. But in most cases, our scars do not adversely affect our lives by causing us pain or inhibiting the ability of our bodies to function normally. Rather, they are the record in our bodies of the unique story that God has been telling in our lives. It is like the story of your life written in your flesh.
The fact that scars are present in the resurrected body of Jesus tells us that at least certain scars are important to God, important enough not to remove them in the resurrection. This is because scars are a vital part of God’s creative work in us. You see, sometimes we will say things like “God created you for this or that,” as if God’s creative act is something exclusively in the past – at the moment of conception, for example. But in fact God’s creation of you is something that is still happening. While it is as good as accomplished from the perspective of eternity, from our perspective as beings who live within time God’s creation of us is worked out through the course of our lives. It isn’t simply that God created you and that’s over with now, but in fact God is still creating each one of us, and part of his creative work in us involves bringing us through difficulties and sufferings, through things that leave scars. Those scars are not simply undesirable and unavoidable by-products of our sufferings. They are the story of the redemption of our sufferings and an integral part of our God-given identity.
Now it may be evident to you that I am not talking simply, or even primarily, about physical scars. We all bear the marks in our spirits of suffering. Loss, disappointment, and abuse, including that which we inflict on ourselves when we sin, all affect us in lasting ways. Sometimes the spiritual damage done by suffering takes a while to heal, and even when it does we find ourselves profoundly changed by the healing process. Rarely do we find ourselves so healed emotionally that it is as if the suffering had never happened. Suffering leaves indelible emotional scars, even when we have come to terms with the suffering and healed to whatever extent it is possible.
Often we feel that our emotional scars are blights, aspects of ourselves that need to be covered up and hidden while we pretend they don’t exist. Our enemy targets our scars because they are located in the places inside us where we are the most vulnerable. Our enemy does what he can to inhibit the healing process, and then when healing does take place he does what he can to convince us that our scars disqualify us, make us less worthy, less holy, less attractive, so to speak, both to Christians and even to God. The enemy points to our scars and tells us that we can never return to the scar-less perfection that God had intended for us from the beginning. Everything in our relationship with God from here on is just going to be second best, all because of those scars. Some who claim to be Christians, but who are really mouthpieces of the enemy, would seem to confirm the enemy’s whispers, continually reminding us of our scars and treating us poorly on account of them. So we hide our scars and hunker down waiting for the day of the resurrection when, we think, those scars will be removed.
But Jesus’ scars weren’t removed, were they? Not only were they not removed, they became a source of blessing and an integral part of Jesus’ eternal identity. Who is Jesus? He is the one who bears the scars on his hands and his side. The marks of the cross were not erased from his resurrection body because those marks represent his whole reason for existence. To erase the scars would be tantamount to erasing Jesus himself. His scars were not blights to be covered, but marks of God’s salvation to be gloried in.