There is a strange passage in scripture that has always bugged me and continues to haunt me. It is found in Isaiah 53:5. The New English Bible puts it this way: “…but he was pierced for our transgressions, tortured for our iniquities; the chastisement he bore is health for us and by his scourging we are healed.” The words seem to support the false illusion we humans have that another person can give us wholeness. It suggests that someone can take away our wounds, and by wounds I mean our hurts, our brokenness, our pain, our loneliness, our fears, and our suffering. I’m convinced that no person can do that for another. I cannot take away your loneliness, or mend your brokenness; nor can you take away mine. To be alive is to suffer. To live is to be broken. All of us are wounded and I can’t take your’s away and you can’t take mine away.
The Christian Church has taken the Isaiah passage and turned it into a doctrine called the “vicarious atonement,” or “substitutionary atonement,” which is simply the idea that Jesus died “for us.” He was pierced, tortured, and chastised for our sakes—“instead of us.” Why is it, then, that we are still suffering? Still broken in spirit? Still wounded? If Jesus took it on for us, why are we still in the state we’re in? And if Jesus “died for us” why do we still die? Is it all a hoax? Is it simply a way for us to continue to live with our false illusion that someone can take our hurt and pain from us?
Before you label me a heretic consider this. Could it be that Jesus was wounded to help us accept our own woundedness? Could it be that Jesus was broken to help us accept our own brokenness? Could it be that Jesus died to help us accept our own dying? Could it be that what Jesus did with his wounds, we are to do with our own?
Thorton Wilder in one of his three-minute plays tells of a man who stood one day by the pool of Bethesda waiting for the water to be troubled that he might be made whole again. To him the angel came and said, “Stand back. Healing is not for you. Without your wound, where would your power be that sends your low voice trembling into the hearts of men? We ourselves, the very angels of God in heaven, cannot persuade the wretched and the blundering children of earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In love’s service only wounded soldiers will do.” And so, as once more he turned aside, still with his wound, another who had been lame came swiftly from the pool and seeing him stopped short and said, his face clouding over as if suddenly remembering some ancient sorrow, “Come home with me, I pray you. My son is lost in dark thoughts. I cannot understand him. Only you have ever lifted his mood. And my daughter, since her child died, sits in the shadow and will not listen to us. Come with me just an hour.”
Is that what Jesus’ wounds were for? Is that why we are wounded, too? I think so.