Friday, 25 April 2014

Living Liberation Through Healing

'Freedom' by Lina Ostapovich

I was contacted with the unique opportunity to participate in a group blog effort on the topic of liberation for the upcoming Wild Goose Festival. Each blogger in the MennoNerds network received a list of topics related to the larger theme of liberation. I have chosen to blog about “liberation through healing”.

What do we mean by liberation? 
I was not provided a working definition, so let’s first sort out some terms before we move forward. Our trusty friend Google pulled up the following definition for us:

There are also some of us, like myself, that immediately thought, “Oh Liberation Theology.” (You know who you are!) So let’s bring everyone up to speed on what liberation theology is. 

“Liberation Theology grew out of a Conference of Latin American Roman Catholic Bishops meeting in Medellin, Columbia, in 1968, liberation theology is rooted in the idea that Christian salvation must include and be based upon social, political and economic liberation. It seeks to develop a Christian faith from the perspective of the poor and the oppressed. Peruvian theologian Gustavo Guitiérrez, who published, A Theology of Liberation in 1971, is generally seen as a foundational thinker of the movement.” [1]

There you have it. When we talk about liberation we are talking about releasing captives from bondage and oppression. We are talking about Salvation in the broadest sense of the term. 

Liberation theology is a necessary correction to a soteriology that is reduced to “how to get saved”rather about the whole salvific journey of Christian life— and consequently, whatever habitual disciplines or practices we might identify as helpful towards fostering our progression along this saving journey. If we only view salvation through a judicial lens- that is primarily about becoming free from condemnation- we will miss the wider use of the term by the writers of Scripture. Salvation also pertains to the liberation and the healing of humanity. As Green suggests,“the most common usage of these terms in the Greco-Roman world is medical. ‘To save’ was ‘to heal.’”[2]

What do we mean by healing? 

Again, I was not provided with any working definition, so I am going to turn again to our trusty friend Google pulled up the following definition for us. I went with the root word here:

Healing is the repairing of wounds, sicknesses’ and injuries. Our wounds and ailments may come from many places. We may have been born with a sickness.We may have acquired a sickness or wounds later in life. Our wounds may be the physical pain we carry in our bodies. Wounds can also be a deep emotional pain that we carry our souls. The pains and wounds of this life come in many forms. No one can escape this life without experiencing suffering and pain. No one is immune. We all have our need of liberation from wounds. 

Sickness is not limited to the personal realm. Sickness, if we see it as bigger than physical ailment, is pervasive on all levels of the human condition. Our societal, political, and economic systems are just as susceptible to the suffering of the human condition. Our structures and systems can perpetuate the suffering and pain in this world. Broken people can perpetuate brokenness. Hurt people, hurt people. 

Whole families can be held captive by the anguish of cycles of sickness. I know of families where grandpa was an alcoholic, dad was an alcoholic and the kids are entering into the whirlpool of addiction. Can they fight against the strong current of  addiction and swim to safety? Some do. Some don’t.

Churches can be sick, wounded, and injured. It is perhaps appropriate that the Apostle Paul compares the Church (ekklessia) to a body with many parts. (1 Cor 12) There are parts of the Body of Christ that are wounded, sick and injured. Right now, there are Churches all around the world in desperate need of healing. I have seen churches struggle with past wounds inflicted by a nasty split. I have seen churches suffer the marks of abusive leaders who caused deep heartache in members of the Body. I have seen churches endure ‘Corporate Cancer’- a deadly condition in which diseased cells divide and grow uncontrollably, forming malignant tumours. Churches that have suffered ‘Corporate Cancer’ might be missing a body part that had to be removed in order to save the body. I find it heartbreaking when I see a local Church missing a lung or a kidney from a long battle with ‘Corporate Cancer’. 

I have seen entire cities in need of healing: socially, politically and economically. There is a city just ten miles down the road from the bustling market town where I live and work. It’s a town where Second and Third generations of families live close to the poverty line and require on-going government assistance. It’s a community that has more police and more crime per capita than cities and towns in its surrounding area. When you go to this community you will see boarded up businesses, libraries, and homes. No one speaks well of this city. “What good could come from this city”, some might say. I don’t know why this city has this reputation. I do not pretend to understand why a city a mere ten miles away is so different, so lacking, and in such desperate need of healing, restoration, and resurrection.

This is all to say that before we can talk about living liberation through healing, we need to understand that we need healing in far greater ways than we realize. We can sometimes reduce our need of healing to the individual in need of emotional or physical healing and forget to address the systemic wounds, sicknesses’ and injuries. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sums this up beautifully in an apt illustration from the Parable of the Good Samaritan:

“We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but one day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed.  True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar.  It comes to see that a system that produces beggars needs to be repaved.  We are called to be the Good Samaritan, but after you lift so many people out of the ditch you start to ask, maybe the whole road to Jericho needs to be repaved.”

Okay, let’s move forward....

I believe that to live liberation through healing is to embody a Jesus-centered, Spirit-empowered lifestyle. God is the author of our healing and liberation. True healing and liberation must be Christ-centered and yoked to the inauguration of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. True liberation through healing, views Jesus as the pinnacle of all examples to follow- the exemplar of the new creation. Jesus came to liberate us- to release captives from bondage and oppression. Jesus came to heal us- to repair our wounds, sicknesses’ and injuries. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. (1 John 3:8b) We could say that liberation and healing are in many ways the same thing. Both actions seek to release captives, and return us to a state of peace. You might even say that liberation is the end goal and healing is the means. Certainly, Jesus demonstrates this to us. Derek Flood comments: 

“When we look at the ministry of Jesus, we see that the majority of his actions are not focused on calling people to repentance, but rather on ministering to the sick, disabled, and mentally ill, all of which have a direct connection to poverty. In the time of Jesus, illness was seen as God’s curse, and as a result people with chronic illness and disability were often ostracized from love and social support. This marginalization understandably led to a spiral of destructive behaviour: substance abuse, prostitution, theft, and so on. So we can see that sin (understood as bad behaviour) and physical sickness are deeply intertwined.

Once we realize this, the fourfold ministry of Jesus—healing the sick, freeing the demonically oppressed, forgiving the sinner, and caring for the poor—can be seen as addressing the full scope of human brokenness. All of these are part of his salvation work which was not only focused on dealing with moral problems, but dealt with the full person: physically, mentally, spiritually/ethically, and socially.

This fourfold ministry of Jesus all together made up the gospel as Jesus understood and lived it. Each was an integral part of the mission he had come to do. Jesus had not come only to forgive sin, but to liberate us from everything that could separate us from God and life, whether that meant crushing illness, dehumanizing poverty, or spirals of destructive behaviour. This is a gospel that addresses us on both an individual and social level, and that takes on the estrangement resulting from suffering and injustice, just as it does the alienation of guilt and shame.” [3]

So how do we live liberation through healing?

This might sound a bit cliché. (I am okay with that. -and please don't think that I have a complete answer here) 

Be a person of faith. 

I am not talking about feeling psychological certitude, or trying your best to conjure up enough faith points in order to see healing and liberation.  

I am talking about a covenant trust. I am talking about a faith that is embodied. It's a faith that will act in accordance with the covenant. It is through this kind of faith that we participate in bringing God's future eschatological reality into the present. 

I am talking about a faith that simply and profoundly trusts; in all things; and through all things. This means trusting Jesus as the Good Physician, who will have the ultimate final word over the power of sin, death, and the grave. 

This means trusting God in the absence of our healing; in the absence of our liberation. We may not see liberation in this life. We may not see healing in this life.  It can be painful to have faith that trusts beyond circumstances, beyond status quos, and beyond ourselves. Will we still trust when our faith is not our sight? Do we dare to believe and hope for the day when God will set things right? I submit that this is the tension of the now and the not yet of the Kingdom of God. 

So may you embody a life of New Creation that speaks of a new world in Christ. 

May you invite The Healer to breathe on you.

And may you live a life of Healing and Liberation.

Thanks for reading!

The Wild Goose Festival is a gathering at the intersection of justice, spirituality, music and the arts. Happening June 26-29 outside of Asheville in Hot Springs, NC. You can get more information and tickets here:

Works Cited

1.“Liberation theology”, Pocket Dictionary of Church History, Feldmeth, Nathan (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1999) 90. 
2. Green, Salvation, 35–36.
3. Flood, Derek. Healing the Gospel (Eugene: Cascade books, 2012) 63. (e-version)

Opening artwork: "Freedom" by Lina Ostapovich

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