Following Jesus in Suffering
The same is true of our scars when we follow Jesus, because God has a different perspective on our emotional scars. Consider this text from 2 Corinthians 1:3-5:
(3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, (4) who comforts us in every one of our afflictions so that we might be able to comfort those enduring every affliction with the comfort wherewith we were comforted by God. (5) For just as the sufferings of Christ abound unto us, so also through Christ our comfort abounds to others.
The point is simply this: in Christ the sufferings we endure and the scars they leave behind have a purpose. Our scars are the stories of God’s redemption and healing in our lives, and they are stories that need to be told to a lost and hurting world. Those who are suffering loss need to hear from the ones scarred by loss that God can bind up the brokenhearted. Those who have suffered abuse need to hear from the ones scarred by abuse that God can give you a turban of joy in place of the ashes of sorrow. People who have fallen from grace need to hear from the ones scarred by their fall from grace that God can lift us up and make us oaks of righteousness, priests and servants of our God. We are comforted by God in every single one of our afflictions specifically so that we can comfort others with the exact same comfort we ourselves have received, so that we can be the agents of God’s redeeming and healing love. That is actually precisely how God redeems our sufferings. That’s what it means for God to redeem our sufferings, to take what the enemy meant for evil and turn it around for good, for the saving of souls.
So often we are tempted think that following Jesus is mostly about knowing him in his resurrection and in his power. The enemy, I think, is more than happy for us to think that this is what it means to follow Jesus. But the fact is that if we truly want to know Jesus, as Paul tells us in Philippians, we cannot simply know him in his resurrection, but we must also know him in his sufferings, because without the sufferings, the resurrection is meaningless. You cannot heal what isn’t broken. You cannot resurrect what isn’t dead. In order to rise from the grave, Jesus first had to be placed in the grave.
Our scars, then, which are the simultaneous proof both of suffering and of healing, are integral to our Christian walk. Moreover, just like Jesus’ scars were what identified Jesus to Thomas, what convinced Thomas that he was looking at the real deal, so also our scars are the marks that prove we belong to Christ.
In Galatians 6:17, Paul says, “From henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” The context in Galatians is circumcision, and what Paul is saying is that he bears marks in his body that identify him as a participant in the covenant of Christ far more effectively than circumcision could. What are these marks he is talking about? The fact that he says that he bears those marks in his soma, his “body”, means, I think, that he is talking about physical scars: the marks left from being beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked – from his sufferings in Christ. But there is a bigger principle lying underneath this talk of physical scars, and I suspect that if Paul were pressed, he would readily extend his meaning to include emotional scars, as well. The point, though, is this: our scars, physical or emotional, mark us as belonging to Jesus, as having followed him both in his resurrection and in his sufferings, far more effectively than any mark we might make on ourselves willingly, such as circumcision. It isn’t your clothes or your hair or whether you wear this or that on your body that marks you as a follower of Christ. It is your scars that provide the incontrovertible evidence that you belong to God in Christ.
So hear me on this: your scars don’t separate you from Jesus. They make you like him, because he himself bears scars in his own body. Your scars are not irreparable blights on God’s pristine image in which he once created you. They are part of his image and likeness in which you are being created. Your scars do not surprise or shock God. God knew everything he was getting into when he made you, and he knew there would be things he would need to heal and redeem. Your scars do not shame God. They glorify him, because only God can take what we and the enemy mean for evil and mean it for good. You are not a second rate Christian because of your scars. Your scars are the sign that you are a new creation in Christ, just like Jesus’ scars were a sign to Thomas of the truth of his resurrection.