Outrage. Perhaps no other word better captures the spirit of our times, the wildfire in society that keeps roaring back with more and more fuel. It can deplete all our energy for quieter work, draw us away from the still small voice of God, and seem impossible to overcome. It spreads from social conflict to interpersonal relationships, disrupting community in the home, church, and workplace. How can pastors help their congregations reimagine a way forward, one that hammers their swords into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4, nlt) and leads to lasting unity?
Eugene Peterson translates those Isaiah verses further by stating, “He will show us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made (The Message).” The way we’re made. Yes—we are designed to heal, not to fester in our wounds. We are meant to be made whole through Christ and his church. One way God shows us how he works is in the way he created our physical selves. Our bodies have simple yet elegant systems in place to promote restoration and recovery, rather than rupture and limitation, when we are wounded. Can we live the way we’re made by following the example of the body, made in the image of God? Might this be particularly appropriate for Christian community as we are called the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27, nlt)?
Stages of physical wound healing
In Designed to Heal, we encounter the persistent, orderly stages of physical wound healing. Clotting, inflammation, new growth, and return to function—even if through scarring—are portrayed through poignant patient stories illustrating each phase of healing. Chapters reflect how a particular aspect of physical healing can be a model for relational healing.
Inflammation, it turns out, is a necessary and helpful process.
After clotting comes to the rescue, inflammatory cells get to work cleaning up the wound site. Just the right amount of pressure is applied by their work to prevent further damage. They identify debris that doesn’t belong and swallow it up. But then they get out of the way so new growth can begin. If the inflammatory stage goes awry and those cells don’t get a clear signal to stop their work, good tissue gets hurt. Healing stops.
In fact, chronic inflammation is a major cause of death and disability.
It leads to destruction far beyond the original wound margins. Ulcers are literally sinkholes of inappropriate inflammatory processes. Muscle wasting, numbness, amputation, and even death are byproducts of abnormal inflammatory responses. What started as a measured response to a personal injury becomes worse than the injury itself.
Likewise, our chronic outrage leads to destruction. This kind of sustained anger actually shortens our lives, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. It reduces our attention span and literally narrows our peripheral vision. We become numb to the concerns of those with whom we disagree and cut off from those we challenge. It is the death of relationships.
There is hope for a different way.
Healthy inflammation in the body moves from a period of heat and pressure to a platform ready for new growth. A diverse array of members—enzymes, blood cells, fibers—get to work. Many are outsiders, only there when a wound needs repair. So, too, we can modify our inflammation, not overwhelming the process of moving forward but allowing our anger to bring forward restoration. For that, we need to step aside and allow diverse members to join us in the work of reconciliation.
We were designed to heal—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. May it be so.
Jennie A. McLaurin is a writer and physician with degrees in medicine, public health, and theology. Her book, Designed to Heal: What the Body Shows Us about Healing Wounds, Repairing Relationships, and Restoring Community (coauthored with Cymbeline T. Culiat), releases in August 2021.