Stephen Seamands, Wounds That Heal
Stephen Seamands is professor of Christian doctrine at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He received his PhD from Drew University in 1983.
Dr. Seamands explores how we allow Jesus to help us in the process of healing and truly forgiving and forgetting, even redeeming our hurt.
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Michael Morrison: Steve, you’ve written a book, Wounds That Heal. As you describe it, this book is written more for ordinary Christians. Everybody’s been wounded in some way or another, and this book can touch them, and is written in a way for them. Maybe you could start by talking about the title Wounds That Heal. You’re saying that my wound is eventually going to heal?
Stephen Seamands: Yeah, the possibility is there. It’s important to emphasis the subtitle of that book, which is Bringing our Hurts to the Cross, because I wanted to show how the cross answers the need for human sufferers and wounds to be healed, as well as a place where human sinners can come to get their sins forgiven. Often, when we talk about the cross of Christ, we focus on how it addresses the problem of human sin, and that is, of course, the primary New Testament keynote – Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures – but we’re not just sinners; we’re sufferers.
MM: That people have sinned against us?
SS: Yes, we have sinned, but we also have been sinned against. The cross actually addresses both needs. What I was trying to show was how the cross profoundly speaks to us as sufferers as well as sinners. Because, even though we’re both, the sufferer and the sinner have a little different need. That is what I was trying to focus on, and to suggest that there is healing power in the cross of Christ for our wounds. That’s right out of Isaiah 53, “By his stripes we are healed.” By his wounds we are healed.
MM: His wounds help heal our wounds?
MM: How do we, as the subtitle says, “bring our hurts?” Our hurts aren’t a thing we can pick up to bring there. As a metaphor, how do we do this?
SS: It’s important, first of all, for us to own the hurt and the pain, and to recognize, yes, I’ve been hurt. I’ve been sinned against. Sometimes it’s hard for people to do that. Sometimes they want to let someone else off the hook, you might say.
MM: We say, “Oh, it was nothing.”
SS: “It was nothing,” or, “They didn’t really mean that,” or, “Maybe I deserved that.” Consequently, sometimes it takes a while for a person to admit, “I’ve been sinned against. I’ve been hurt.” That’s really a preliminary step. Then, I think it’s important in bringing our hurts to the cross to begin to think about the cross in terms of how Jesus, himself, was hurt, how Jesus, himself, suffered on the cross. The different ways in which he suffered.
For example, maybe I’ve experienced a lot of shame in my life. Maybe somebody shamed me, or said things to me that put me down, and I experienced a lot of shame. To understand that Jesus was shamed. We tend to think of the excruciating physical pain that he went through on the cross, but in the ancient world, it was the shame of crucifixion that was actually the thing that was most dreaded.
MM: Because this flogging wasn’t private, the process wasn’t private.
SS: Exactly, it’s done publicly out there, and this person is put out, hung up there, you might say, and their family, and their village, their town, all of those would be implicated in that. It was a way to shame that person. Often they left the person up there after they died, and the wild animals would come and pick the flesh off their bones. It was awful. The writer of the book of Hebrew says, “For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross despising the shame.
To know, and to think about Jesus: he was lonely. He was betrayed. He was forsaken. He even felt God-forsaken. All the ways in which he suffered, I think it helps as you think about your hurts, you know, put them in the context of his hurt.
MM: He’s been there; he’s felt that.
SS: He’s experienced that. That helps us to reframe our suffering and our anguish in the light of his. I think that’s maybe a second step, is to stand before him, and look at him, see what he suffered. Then, often there are things that to bring our hurts to the cross, Jesus on the cross forgives. He says, “Father, forgive them.” I think that’s a kind of a model, and I would say that probably the greatest barrier that keeps people from receiving healing from God, is un-forgiveness. We are going to probably need to say that to someone, “I forgive you for what you did to me.”
MM: That’s the hardest thing to do.
SS: Exactly. I like to explain it like this: in order to let Jesus touch his wounds to our wounds, we’ve got to be willing to forgive that person, or give Jesus permission to begin that process of forgiving. Lord Jesus, I don’t think I’m willing to forgive them, I’m hurt so much, but I give you permission to begin to do that work in me.
MM: I like what you said, “As a process.” Something we recognize the need for, it just doesn’t happen right away.
SS: Right. Forgiveness starts with the will, primarily. You make a choice, and sometimes you only have about 20 percent of your will. You say, “Jesus, take my 20 percent and add your will to mine. There’s a process where little-by-little. I think that’s a key element. Sometimes we’ve got to ask ourselves, “Have I kind of put a wall around myself? I got hurt and I decided, ‘Never again,’ and so I’m using a wall to protect myself.” Sometimes, in order to experience his wounds touching your wounds you’ve got to give Jesus permission to tear down that wall, to dismantle that wall. That’s become sort of your shield.
MM: Then it feels risky.
SS: Yeah, it feels risky to let that down. Sometimes people have lived with a wound so long that it’s become cozy. Their victim-hood has become their identity. It’s become comfortable. They don’t know what they would do without it even though it’s destructive and painful.
MM: Part of their life.
SS: Yes, and so those are all questions, that as I work with people in helping them bring their hurts to the cross, I have to help them work through it. We’re trying to get rid of the things that are keeping Jesus from touching his wounds to their wounds. Then, to actually invite him to do that.
MM: Sometimes when people sin against us and we are hurt, we still need to have some kind of boundary.
SS: Right, but it’s distinct from a wall.
MM: There’s still a boundary there.
SS: Healthy boundaries are important in relationships. Sometimes, after we’ve been hurt especially, we need a time when we pull away. Like a dog that’s gotten hurt in a fight – retreat and lick your wounds for a while. There’s a legitimate time and a place for that. Sometimes in ministry (I’m speaking of myself), I’ve had this “I’ll just be a good soldier” mentality too often, and I fail to take the time to pull back and realize, “I’ve been really hurt and I need to own that and bring that to the Lord, and not just try to keep going on like nothing happened.”
MM: Which some wounded soldiers would try to do.
SS: Exactly. We tend to do that. We don’t like to admit that we’ve been hurt. We don’t like to admit we’re weak. So there’s a legitimate time for a good kind of boundary setting. Maybe part of the reason I got hurt in the first place was because I didn’t set good boundaries. I’ve got to learn sometimes to boundary myself from certain kinds of people, certain kinds of situations. That’s a part of becoming a healthy person.
MM: Thank you. There are some abusive relationships, not just marriages can be abusive, but congregational settings can also be abusive, but forgiveness doesn’t mean perpetuating that.
SS: Right, certainly not. How does a battered wife forgive? Does that mean that she allows herself, “Now I’ve forgiven this person who battered me, do I turn around and let them continue to do that?” No, you don’t perpetuate that. You forgive for the past, but it may mean standing up to that person and being really firm for the first time in that relationship.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you become a perpetual punching bag, or that you don’t sometimes demand that justice be done in a situation. If someone swindled you out of a lot of money, maybe your business partner took advantage of your trust and so forth, I don’t think that taking that person to court is incompatible with forgiveness. Some people would think, “Oh, how could you do that?” You’re not taking them to court to try to get revenge, but you do have a legitimate right to justice. You would still need to forgive them for what they did, but it might be appropriate to take them to court where if someone did something to break the law that hurt one of your children, for example, to see the state punish that person for that, that’s not incompatible with forgiveness.
MM: In many cases, maybe all, maybe that is the best thing for that person.
MM: That they do experience some justice, right?…
SS: You’re holding them accountable. Sometimes I’ve seen abusive people use forgiveness as a bludgeon.
MM: Oh, “You’re supposed to forgive me.”
SS: “I did that to you. You’re supposed to forgive me now.”
MM: “If you were a real Christian.”
SS: Yes. That becomes a form of manipulation and power. That’s where you need a person who stands up and says, “No.” Sometimes a person has a hard time doing that. People who are in abusive relationships, that’s become their way …
MM: Over, perhaps, years.
MM: A pattern.
SS: They may need some help. Someone else to come alongside them to help them walk through standing up to someone.
MM: They can take those hurts to the cross and realize that, “Okay, Jesus has been there. He’s been in abusive situations.”
MM: Then, what?
SS: There is a healing light that flows from his wounded side and his hands. As we’ve forgiven, his healing presence can come into those situations, and so that dimension of healing, I think, happens as we bring our hurts to the cross. He does touch our wounds with his wounds. The grief, and the sadness, and the pain, I think, can get absorbed into his broken body.
MM: He helps carry some of these burdens.
SS: Yes, and then, I think, finally, just as his own wounds have become radiant scars (like I like to call them), I believe he can begin to take that wound and when it begins to be healed, he begins to take it and use it for his purposes. That which Satan meant to use to destroy you becomes a channel of God’s healing grace to others so that now he’s using you in an area of ministry, for example, that relates to the very pain and the suffering that you went through. He redeems it for his glory.
MM: Just as Jesus has been through it and can help us, if we’ve been through it, then we can help someone else. But it’s not always the same specific hurt that can be generalized as the feeling of abandonment.
MM: Kind of a general one.
SS: Yes. I think suffering, in general, does sensitize us to the hurts of others regardless of what the hurt was. I think that it makes us less judgmental of others. It gives us more compassion, in general.
MM: What about when we’ve had hurts that aren’t attributable to anyone in particular? We’ve got cancer, for example. We’ve suffered in a hurricane, it came through and blew down our house, killed our son. We can’t blame anybody. Is that harder to deal with?
SS: Sometimes it is, because to forgive someone, there has to be a someone. There needs to be a something out there. Sometimes situations like that are the hardest to deal with, partly because it’s harder to focus on someone there. Although I would imagine if that had happened, I might have to talk to someone about whether they’re mad at God about that, and maybe they need to …
MM: There’s someone involved.
SS: Exactly. Maybe they need, it seems strange to say this, because we don’t think of God as hurting people, but do you need to forgive God? What I would mean by that is God sometimes allows things to happen to us that we think he should have not allowed to happen, so we’re mad at God about that, so sometimes the person we have to forgive is God. We have to stop holding anger and bitterness toward God for that. We’ve got a clinched fist. You’re upset with him. You need to bring that to him. Bring that to the cross as well.
MM: I imagine that is more difficult.
SS: Right. It is interesting, though, Scripture says that on the cross he endured the hostility of sinners. Jonathan Edwards preached that great sermon, “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God,” but I think on the cross it was God in the hands of angry sinners. I think we were there saying, “Crucify him, Crucify him.” The anger that we felt over things that happened. There is a sense in which he’s carried that.
MM: He’s been through that, too.
SS: He understands. Christ is a safe place where you can bring your anger at God, too.
MM: Our anger at him is nothing new?
MM: He’s big enough to handle it.
SS: Right. You think about going from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, and why they turned on him. Because he didn’t act like Gods were supposed to act. He didn’t do what they were wanting him to do. We have to sometimes own that, and I’m mad at you about that.
MM: He was not the kind of hero we were looking for in our particular circumstance.
MM: Even those wounds, in time, for some people they don’t heal. Maybe they don’t bring them to the cross. When we see how the cross intersects our particular hurt, then it does become transforming and healing for us.
MM: As you said, then we are able to better help others who are going through something similar. In some ways it’s like the title of your book has come around full circle there, that our wounds become wounds that heal others.
SS: Right. Yeah, we become healed helpers. What was the name of that book by Henri Nouwen…
MM: It was Wounded Healers.
SS: We become wounded healers, don’t we?
MM: Right, but we are also healed.
SS: Exactly, and that’s the amazing thing about how God works, that he takes evil and suffering and he uses it to accomplish purposes, to bring good out of it, to bring glory out of it, so Joseph can say, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” You get stunned and awed at God’s ability to work his purposes in spite of, and in the midst of. I think the challenge in our lives is to let God have our sorrows – to not waste them – to see that they can be used for his purposes. It’s not that God caused them, but if we’ll give them to God, he can redeem them.
MM: But we have to trust him.
SS: Right. The cross helps us trust him.
MM: Thanks for discussing that with us.
SS: Thank you.