Steven drives to his basketball game while I sit in the seat beside him marveling at how far he’s come since he got his driver’s permit last year. He wears one of his ratty shirts with no sleeves revealing an ugly red scar on his upper right arm. Anxious to prove himself to his new high school coach, he played hard throughout his first game taking an offensive charge in the last minute. When he fell against a grate on the floor, he ripped a hole in his arm. Undaunted, he got, up shot his two free throws, and left the floor with blood streaming down the back of his arm like jelly fish tentacles.
The doctor glued the hole together with some kind of medical epoxy which he assured me would be better than stitches, but within two days the gash had peeled open and was spitting ooze through the bandage. “No worries, Mom,” Steven said. “It’ll be fine.” By the time the wound healed, he was left with a permanent red scar.
Our Scars Make us Authentic
America is a nation obsessed with perfection. We use words such as impeccably maintained, sculptured, manicured, glamorous, and well-groomed, to describe not only our bodies, but also our lawns. There’s something wonderfully real about imperfection. The 1998 Golden Globe Awards provided one of my favorite “imperfect” moments when actress Christine Lahti was in the bathroom when her name was read as an award winner. She dashed out of the bathroom in a panic, and down the aisle into television history.
It is Lahti’s “ordinary-ness” that I remember and appreciate – not her glitz and glamour. It moved her from being a distant unknowable movie star to someone with whom I could identify; someone more like me. Her imperfection made her authentic.
Jesus was ordinary. He was raised the son of an everyman; a carpenter. He was so ordinary that the people of Nazareth later condemned Jesus for teaching in their synagogue. (Matthew 13:55) They could not believe that the boy they had once seen running through their streets, was now teaching and performing miracles. He certainly couldn’t be Israel’s promised “king;” he was just like them!
As Jesus hung on the cross, he didn’t look much like a king either. His face was beaten, bloodied, and battered beyond recognition, yet he was presented to a watching world as the “King of the Jews.” His flesh torn from his back, blood running down his body into the ground, stripped, and nailed to the cross, Jesus evoked no aura of nobility or authority – quite the contrary. Those who passed by him that day, hurled insults and mocked his claim as king. Why would God choose such a battered man to be the Messiah? Who would even consider following such a “defeated” king?
Anyone who had been beaten down by the world would be drawn to Jesus. He knew pain. While his power declared his authority, his anguish connected him to all human suffering opening the door for all to draw near to him with confidence. (Hebrews 4:16)
Our Scars Identify Us
Each of my family members has a scar – the most memorable one going to our son, Philip, who was attacked by a cow dog when he was six. Philip has a scar just above his lip. We always told him he could grow a mustache to cover the scar when he got older, but Philip has never tried to hide it. All that’s left now is a tiny white line to all who see him, but to us it is a keepsake of the day his life was spared.
If any of my family members was to become lost and I had to provide a physical description to authorities searching for them, the first thing I would describe would be their scars. Yes, they may have blue eyes and brown hair, but so do millions of others. That description wouldn’t help. It is their scars that would ultimately distinguish them because they are unique.
Jesus knew that. A resurrection tops a crucifixion by far – Jesus didn’t need to return with his scars, but he did. Jesus’ disciples thought he was a ghost until he showed them his hands, feet, and side. (Luke 37-40) Thomas wouldn’t believe at all until he touched the scars for himself. (John 20:25) Why was it so hard for them to believe? No one who had ever been crucified had the scars to prove it. Jesus’ scars were a written record that the events of Good Friday really did happen. Those scars verified Jesus’ victory over death and singled him out as unique and identifiable.
Our Scars Validate God’s Work in our Past
I wish I felt as grateful for the internal scars that have disfigured my heart, but I desperately try to hide those. My greatest fear in revealing my inner scars is that others may see that I have glued the gaps together with an inferior solution leaving me vulnerable to recurring infection. By hanging onto my wounds and not allowing them to heal, I run the risk of spitting infectious ooze all over those who inadvertently bump into one of my wounded places.
The Apostle Peter loved the Lord. In fact, Peter loved Jesus so much that during the Last Supper Peter publicly proclaimed his loyalty unto death should anything happen to Jesus. (Mathew 26:33-35) Peter even proved his commitment later in the evening by drawing his sword and slicing off the ear of Malchus, who had come with the group to arrest Jesus. (John 18:10)
Jesus knew Peter loved him, but he also knew Peter would deny ever knowing him. Imagine Peter’s heartbreak after the rooster’s third call when he realized he had denied Jesus. He was devastated. From that moment on, Peter would remember his impulsive proclamation of loyalty and his utter failure to follow through on it. The wound in his heart would live forever. But Jesus. But Jesus! Jesus moved into that place of wounded-ness to help Peter turn it into a scar.
“Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Jesus asked, and asked, and asked again. (John 21:15-17 NKJV)
By the time Jesus asked the third time, Peter’s grief was laid bare. With each question came Peter’s affirmation, “Lord, you know that I love you.” Each time Peter verbalized his love for the Lord his broken heart healed a little more. Eventually, that wound became a scar, an intimate tribute of Christ’s forgiveness.
Our Scars Give Us Authority
Our scars give us authority to minister to others. We are most comforted by someone who understands grief, has encountered pain, felt the sting of betrayal, or who walks where we are walking. These fellow sufferers come alongside and do what no other can do – empathize. It is our hearts’ disfigurement which allows us to access each other’s pain to bring restoration.
Jesus was tempted in all ways as are we. Perhaps one of the greatest temptations Jesus faced happened on the cross in the midst of excruciating torture and pain. As the crowds jeered and mocked him, many taunted him to use his power to get himself down off the cross. Had Jesus opted out of God’s plan for salvation, he would have no authority to speak of endurance to us. His suffering would have no meaning; his torture, no validity. It was in the midst of obtaining his scars that he was most like us.
Every scar tells a story. The story of what happened, an omen of what could have been, and the relief of what wasn’t. Ask Steven to tell you about the scar on his arm and you will hear a blow by blow account of triumph. He won’t focus on the basketball foul, the crash into the wall, or even the doctor’s visit afterward. No, Steven will tell you that in spite of his injury, he scored the two free throws after he was hurt. His scar is a badge of honor!
Our Scars Proclaim that We Live!
We all carry scars through our lives. Each scar reveals the triumph that death has once again been cheated and life remains. Some of our scars are external – on view for the world to see. Some are so deeply etched into our hearts that we are not even aware of their presence. Regardless of their source or effect on us, each scar is a written record of the line of God’s limit, his boundary of sovereignty, his border of restriction. Our scars proclaim that we have faced death and live. Our healing provides others with hope that their lives will continue as well.
When God created the earth, he set a limit to oceans at the shoreline. (Job 38:8-11) This same God who limits the fury of the sea, can limit the fury of your pain. Yes, we are scarred, but we are scarred for life!
© Copyright, 2009 by Donna Tallman.