The God Who Has Scars
So the scars are the final sign of Jesus’ true identity in the Gospel of John, and Thomas’ reaction to them is what we are intended to understand: the resurrected Jesus is the final, completely perfected human image of our Lord and our God. What this means is astounding – it isn’t just the resurrected Jesus that has scars, it is God himself who bears the scars of the cross, and those scars are how we identify the real God and distinguish him from all the frauds.
Let’s take a moment for that to sink in. The God that we worship is a God who has scars, and if he has scars now, it means he has always had those scars. God wasn’t somehow different after Jesus’ crucifixion than he was before the crucifixion. The suffering and death of Jesus to make a way for our sins to be forgiven wasn’t God’s plan B. Jesus is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth. The death and resurrection of Jesus is built into the very fabric of all of creation. From the beginning, the Word of God, which is God, was destined to appear in human history as Jesus the son of Mary at the moment that he did, to suffer under Pontius Pilate, to be crucified, to die, to be buried, and to be raised again on the third day. And the effects of his atoning work exploded forward and backward through all of human history to become the basis for God’s forgiveness long before our ancestors knew anything other than a mere foreshadowing of Jesus in the Torah and Prophets. This means that Jesus was always destined to have those scars. And if Jesus, the express image of the invisible God, the fullness of the Godhead expressed in bodily form, bears scars in his resurrected body that he was destined to acquire from the foundation of the world, then in a sense we have to say that the eternal God bears eternal scars.
But what does that even mean? God cannot die, can he? Obviously not. God is spirit. At the same time, however, we have to be careful about making hard distinctions between Jesus’ physicality and God as spirit. When we start trying to keep Jesus as human hermetically sealed away from Jesus as God, we get a strangely bifurcated Jesus, a Jesus who has two halves to his being that never come into contact with one another. While God as God cannot die, in a way that we cannot fully understand he experienced death in Jesus’ physicality. He was fully involved in that physicality without being defined within it. The point is that while it is true that God cannot die, he certainly did suffer the death of Jesus, and the scars that we see on the hands and side of the resurrected Jesus are not simply scars of the resurrected human Jesus, but scars of the eternal God.
The God we worship is a God who bears scars, a God who understands suffering because he has experienced suffering, and he understands what it means to overcome suffering. Sometimes we try to offer our brothers and sisters comfort or advice when we may not have any idea what it is like to go through what they are going through. Comfort or advice offered in ignorance, while well meaning, often misses the mark, and at the worst it can cause further harm. This is why the most effective comfort we can give comes out of our own experience of having suffered something comparable if not identical. If God were a God who had created humanity without any idea what it would be like to be human and then started making demands of us and started punishing us for not meeting those demands, it would be very difficult to consider such a God to be a just or loving God. But the scars of the resurrected Jesus show us that we do not worship a God who cannot sympathize with our pain, our weakness, our humanness. There is nothing we can experience that he has not also, in some sense, experienced. Have you been abused? So has he. Have you been rejected? So has he. Have you fallen from grace. Amazingly, so has he on our behalf, because remember the words of Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?”
Because of that, whatever need you have, however life has tried to destroy you, the scars of the resurrected Jesus show us that our God knows exactly the kind of comfort and healing that you need. Whatever your scars are, don’t let the enemy convince you that they make you somehow unreachable or unusable. God understands what you’ve been through, and he has the scars to prove it. He is willing and able to forgive anything that needs to be forgiven, and he has the scars to prove it. He wants to take you in, scars and all, and turn your scars into signs that point to the redemptive glory of God. He has the power to do just that, and he has the scars to prove it.