A Place of Hope and Healing (Part 2)
Additional Reflections on the Church as Hospital
In Part One, I introduced the concept of the Church as a hospital and argued that the church should be a place of healing and hope. In this article, I want to further explore the metaphor of the Church as hospital by looking at what hospitals and churches are.
Places of Care
First, hospitals are places of care. Hospitals are places where you get taken care of, where your needs are met, and where doctors and nurses are genuinely interested in how you are feeling and what can be done to make you feel better. So also, the Church should be a place of care. Consider what James says:
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (James 5.14-15)
Now, James is not saying every time you pray, you get what you want; rather, he is instructing the church to care for those who are sick and in need. The Church should rally around those who need help. Notice also that it is not the Church that heals someone: only the Lord will raise him up. As Christians, we are called to bring care; only God provides the cure. The Church is meant to be a place of care.
I have been part of several churches that do this really well. When someone has needs, the Church steps up through prayer and through actions. For example, our family has recently been on the receiving end of this care. While I was out with my recent heart issue, we received all sorts of meals, love, and care from our church family. We knew we were not going through our tough time by ourselves. We knew our church family was in our corner praying for us and helping us.
This is the kind of church that the Church was meant to be: a place where people care for one another. A place where people can receive the support they need through whatever is going on in their life. Because it’s by caring for one another that the Church becomes a place of healing; it’s by loving one another that we reveal Jesus.
Places of Restoration
Second, hospitals are places of restoration. Perhaps the purpose of hospitals is to heal that which is sick, to fix that which is broken, to make right that which is wrong. In their best moments, hospitals are places of restoration and recovery, places where people are supported through the often long and difficult process of becoming well. Again, the Church has a similar calling.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ says Galatians 6.2. Note that this does not say fix one another’s burdens or heal one another’s problems. It says bear, as in carry what is wrong with one another, as in be okay with the imperfections of other people. This bearing reveals another important lesson: not all healing takes place immediately. In fact, serious sickness and injury takes weeks, months, or years to recover from.
If you have cancer, it takes more than one doctor’s appointment to get you well again. If you want to lose weight, you have to go to the gym more than once. If your marriage is crumbling, it takes more than a couple of conversations to make things right. If your life is in shambles, it requires more than coming to church once to heal you. Too often, we expect healing to take place immediately, as if a band-aid can fix a problem that requires major surgery. Restoration takes time; true healing takes time.
When Hayley and I bought our little bungalow in St. Louis, we knew it would be a fixer upper. There was a lot of potential in our house—but there was a lot that needed to be fixed. And slowly but surely over the past six years, room by room, month-by-month, project-by-project, we have made (sometimes slow) progress on our restoration. Rooms have been demoed, additions built, walls moved, paint applied, roofs re-shingled, lawns repaired. It has taken a long time and a lot of work. And while there is still more to do, we are finally seeing the end come into view. We have been bearing with our ongoing construction projects for years—but we know that in the end, the finished project will be well worth the wait!
Is your church somewhere you can wait for and work toward restoration? Are you taking the time necessary to restore people to health, to help them fix what is broken? The Church was meant to be a place of restoration and recovery—are we helping people along that path? Are you helping people find restoration and recovery? Who is it in your life who needs your patience and support as they recover from what ails them? How can you help your brothers and sisters bear their burdens?
Places of Emotion
Third, hospitals are places of emotion. Walk into any hospital and watch the people around you: they are filled with all kinds of feelings. Happiness, joy, excitement, anticipation, fear, sadness, worry, and grief; people celebrating birth and miraculous recovery sit next to those who mourn sickness and death. Likewise, the Church is a place of many emotions.
In Romans 12.15, the Apostle Paul instructs the Church to rejoice with those who rejoice [and] weep with those who weep. Celebration and sadness are both part of the human experience—and they should both be part of life in the Church. As Ecclesiastes 3.1 says, for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. Good things and bad things happen in hospitals—and in the Church. It is entirely appropriate for us to respond to these things emotionally.
Some of the happiest times in my life have taken place in hospitals; and some of the saddest times too. The births of my kids were amazing, life-changing, and joy-filled—I was so happy to meet them! But my grandpa also passed away in a hospital while I stood beside his bed and cried. Joy and sadness, together in the same place. Churches are similar. In church we baptize people, dedicate children to God, hear people’s stories about coming to Jesus, and see people get married—but we also announce bad news and hold funerals. Joy and sadness, together in the same place.
In the Church, we must walk alongside people as they experience emotions—both the good and the bad. It is okay to be sad; it is okay to cry when something terrible happens. Even Jesus cried when his friend Lazarus died. You do not need to hide your feelings—and you do not need to paper over what other people are feeling. Let people be sad. Because more often than not, we need someone to sit beside us and listen to us—we do not need someone to try and explain our emotions away. When someone in your church family is rejoicing, rejoice with them; when someone is weeping, weep with them. Because when the Church is a place of real emotions, it becomes a place of real healing.
Places of Hope
Finally, hospitals are places of hope. Amidst the fearful uncertainty of an undiagnosed illness or pain of serious injury, hospitals are often dispensers of hope. Hope that there is a treatment for what is wrong. Hope that, despite all that has happened, things can get back to normal. Hope that the world is not ending after a tragedy. Churches should also be hopeful places. Romans frames it this way:
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5.3-5)
Hope often follows unhopeful things. Bad things happen, our illness fails to improve, the enemy seems to be winning. Yet, we persist in hope—in faithful expectation that everything will work out in the end. And the beautiful thing about Christian hope—the beautiful thing about the hope of the Church—is that we do not just have temporal hope. Yes, we are hopeful that God’s kingdom will come on earth, even as it is in heaven. We are hopeful that God can make the miraculous happen even here and now, even amidst all the uncertainty that 2021 brings. Because the hope of the Church is an eternal hope.
You see, hope in Jesus is also about the future. It is confident expectation that God will finish the story that He is writing—the story where, because of Jesus’ life, and death, and resurrection, one day, sin, sickness, and death will be no more. It is hope that someday, there will not be any more pandemic, that there will not be any more cancer, autoimmune diseases, school shootings, anxiety, depression, or death. And it is the hope that, even if sickness and death sometimes seem to win in our earthly hospitals, followers of Jesus can cling to the hope of eternity found in the hospital of the Church.
True Healing and Hope
In his book A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken recounts the story of the beautiful, illness filled life that he and his wife shared. Vanauken was a friend and contemporary of C.S. Lewis. And in one of my favorite passages in any book, Vanauken tearfully bids farewell to Lewis by shouting “goodbye!” In response, Lewis yells back to him, “Christians never say goodbye.” And that is true—Christians never say goodbye. For those who follow Jesus, the worst we can ever really say to one another is “see you later.” Because someday, we will see one another again. Someday, we will be healed from the illnesses and ailments that make up this life. Someday, we will all take hold of the true healing that comes not from magic or modern medicine, but through the blood of Jesus the Christ.
It is this Jesus-filled hope that makes the Church a place of healing. It is by clinging to Jesus amidst whatever happens in life that we can withstand the sickness of our fallen world. The Church was meant to be a place of healing—because of Jesus, the Church can be a place of healing—one that points us toward the true, lasting, eternal health of life with Jesus forever.