What happens when we hurt each other?
An incident yesterday showed me what happens when Christians hurt each other, sadly an all-too-common occurrence: that God himself is wounded. This is the conclusion of what appears to be a throw-away line of the apostle Paul as he writes his circular letter to the Ephesians: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30) The Message translation is more direct: “Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart.” The apostle was frequently hurt – not just by hostile authorities or callous opponents. He could handle that. What did get passed his defences was the actions of his fellow disciples, even those whom he had led to faith in the first place. The Christians at Corinth had a particular penchant to wound him. “For I wrote to you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.” (2 Corinthians 2:3). This is a man who has “opened wide his heart” to them, knowing full well that he is going to get a kicking. He is clearly very hurt. I’m always fascinated by projects in astronomy, even if I have little understanding of what is happening. That includes an article on today’s BBC news website on the nattily-named Zwicky Transient Facility, a new instrument able to scan large swathes of the sky swiftly for anything new and unusual. I must buy one. And it’s looking for gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space-time generated by violent events. For your information, every second a supernova goes off somewhere in the universe. The knack is knowing where to look – and now, thanks to the ZTF, we know precisely where. Yet another demonstration of this wonderful creation, so much vaster and complex that our minds can grasp. And this is the work of God, the very same God whom we upset when we upset each other. Our cruel words and actions set off a gravitational wave which extends into the very heart of God himself. The apostle Paul knows of this dynamic of hurt: ‘If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent – not to put it too severely.” (2 Corinthians 2:5). This pain spreads like a wave through the body of Christ to hurt even God himself. This has to be the measure of how God is committed to his people, a measure of his love and involvement: our wounded creator. You may have seen another article appearing earlier this week, again on the BBC news website: “Stop trying to 'heal' me.” Written by Damon Rose who lost his sight as a teenager, he tells how “From time to time, without warning or encouragement, I get approached in the street by Christians who tell me they want to pray for me to get my sight back.” I recall a member of the church where I served my first curacy. Confined to a wheelchair, she feared healing services. This was during the first wave of the charismatic renewal in the 1960’s when Christians began to find the confidence to pray for remarkable healings. Except despite being prayed for by a who’s who of pentecostal pioneers, my friend remained in her wheelchair. She remained in her wheelchair for the simple reason that she could not stand, not because of her lack of faith or disobedience or some unconfessed sin, all reasons suggested to her by insensitive Christians. She felt an embarrassment; she was spoiling their parade. She was deeply hurt. The BBC article goes through all this and how various Christians, like my friend, have come to interpret their disability. The conclusion features Zoe Hemming, a vicar in Shropshire and herself often confined to a wheelchair by chronic pain. "I can't believe it took me this long to realise it," she says, "but when Jesus rose from the dead, his risen body still had scars." “It was profound for me to realise that the most powerful symbol of the disabled body in the Christian story is his." One central truth of the Gospel message is that “the hands that flung stars into space” are pierced, pierced by nails of human cruelty. So when Paul writes to the Ephesians he is simply reiterating this powerful and humbling truth – that you and I have the capacity to hurt, to grieve, the God of this amazing creation. And that has to be the most amazing truth of all. So what do we do? We do what God does: forgive. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Of course, forgiveness is not easy. Just look at the cross. As pastor Thomas Dexter Jakes explains: “Here is the amazing thing about Easter; the Resurrection Sunday for Christians is this, that Christ in the dying moments on the cross gives us the greatest illustration of forgiveness possible.” So how does Paul end his teaching on how Christians hurt each other? “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32).