Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Theology of "Tough"

"Trust God…get over it…pull yourself together.” The theology of "tough" is pervasive in many churches today, where people with deep soul wounds are told to say a prayer, trust God, and stop being so selfish.

In Hurt People Hurt People, Sandra Wilson paints a frightening picture of the reality of our brokenness:
Like a little girl who drags herself to the dinner table after being hit by a car, managing to crack a smile on her bloody face, despite her bruised and broken limbs.
If this girl’s parents did nothing, they’d undoubtedly be charged with child neglect…even abuse.

But when the wounds are invisible and the dislocated joints and bloody gashes are in the soul…not the skin…Christians often resort to the theology of “tough.”

“After all," many churches seem to communicate, “Jesus came to serve…we’re called to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him, not sit around and dwell on the past.” In their quest to be used by God, I am afraid many people (myself included!) have failed to realize the long-term impact of the brokenness in our lives on our ability to picture the whole Gospel to a hurting world. After all, if we ourselves haven’t experienced the healing power of the Gospel in the deepest places of our hearts, what do we have to offer non-believers except abstract theology…and religious rituals?

There is a certain pride that comes with being “tough”…with not letting things get to you. Wilson (2001) writes: “Many of us tend to deny the full extent of the damage done to us by excusing, minimizing, or discounting the hurt, as though whatever happened—no matter how horrendous—couldn’t have been all that bad since we survived” (p. 199). Sure, minimizing is a way to cope. But hiding is not the same as healing. And denial is not the same as sanctification. Being tough is not the same as being whole.

When I consider the ministry of Jesus, it seems no coincidence that he drew sick, broken, and hurting people like a magnet. And he often rebuked the “religious” people as living in prideful denial of their true needs. Perhaps denying or minimizing our needs isn’t holiness, like we think…maybe it’s little more than prideful independence re-packaged as self-made religion.

The Gospels present story after story of broken, battered, used-up people. Think Mary Magdalene. The prodigal son. The woman caught in adultery. Cripples. Demon possessed. The blind. The woman with an issue of blood. Not exactly “tough” people. All of the people that Jesus healed seemed to have one thing in common…and it was nout being "tough." It was brokenness. Humility. Desperation.

Maybe it’s time we saw the theology of “tough” for the lie it really is, and honestly appraised the soul wounds we carry. After all, untended pain doesn’t go away. It just goes deeper. It festers.

Jesus did not suffer the anguish of the cross so we could drag ourselves along, wincing with the pain of every step on our dislocated joints and holding up our bloody, festering wounds as evidence of our “great faith.” As future counselors and people-helpers, it important that we remember the true mission of Jesus, which is also our mission:
“to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners…” (Is. 61:1)

1 comment:

  1. Outstanding post! I concur with you. Our pain does not go away just by being tough and pretending to be a martyr. We must humbly seek the Lord to heal our wounds. Then we can reflect what our Great Counselor did for us onto others.


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