Humanity is broken and hurting. Hear some comments from hurting people:
I’m 48 years old and my wife has just filed for divorce. I never planned for this. I never thought I would be alone and have to start all over this late in life. On top of that it may bankrupt me.
I was still in rehab, just recovering from a Gran Mall seizure brought on by spinal meningitis that could have killed me, when we learned that our daughter, contrary to everything we had taught her, had just “come out” as gay. We read the letter and sat down in front of her old bedroom door and wept broken and bitter tears.
My first husband beat me. The man I’m married to now doesn’t love me. I am fourth or fifth on his priority list. I’m so lonely and unhappy that I’m flying to the other side of the country to find a job and a new life. My life is adrift.
We only want to know one thing when we’re hurting. We aren’t interested in the weather. We don’t care about the stock market. And we sure don’t care about politics. We only want to know one thing: HOW TO BE HEALED.
Psalm 147, the second in a set of five that make up the last songs in the book, is a song about healing.
Verse two gives us the context saying, “He gathers the exiles of Israel.” That tells us that this Psalm was written to help the people of God worship after their return from exile in Babylon. They were coming back into Israel before or during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Even though it was a good thing to be going home, it was still a time of great brokenness and sadness, for two reasons.
First, the defeat and captivity had overwhelmed them in brutality and loss. Their cities and towns had been destroyed, their property given to foreigners. Many thousands had been slaughtered.
Second, they were back home in Israel but the situation was hardly better. The slow, migratory return had been one hundred years of poverty and heartbreak. Their whole spiritual, civic, and economic infrastructure was like the Jersey shore after Hurricane Sandy: a shambles.
Thankfully the song doesn’t end there. In the beautiful parallelism of Hebrew poetry we get the bigger picture, the fuller understanding of what they are celebrating.
GOD IS THE HEALER OF BROKEN HEARTS
Verses two and three give us four ways that God heals: “The Lord builds up; The Lord gathers; The Lord heals; The Lord binds up their wounds.”
First, He rebuilds what was broken down – the walls in Israel’s case. He gives them the tools and resources and leadership (under Nehemiah) to make their city secure once again, to keep out invaders, to give them stability.
How does God heal us? He helps us “rebuild our walls.” Brokenhearted people are often violated people. Some part of their personality has been violated. When we are sexually abused as children, our walls are broken down. Our world is insecure. When parents lose children, our walls are broken down. Our world feels upside down. When we’ve invested years and fortunes in a career and then lose it all overnight, our walls are broken down. Life feels less secure.
The Healer of Broken Hearts helps us rebuild our walls. He brings together the tools and the resources and the leadership we need to make our city secure again, to give us stability in a very shaky world.
Second, He gathers what was scattered. In Israel’s case it was the people, scattered about the Babylonian empire. Slowly, bit by bit and tribe by tribe, they made the pilgrimage back into the land of promise. God opened doors for them to leave. Cyrus the king issued a decree making money available; returning property; protecting travel.
How does God heal us? He gathers what was scattered. Brokenhearted people are often lonely people, disconnected from healthy relationships with others.
A sailor, serving on a huge base with tens of thousands of people, posted this on Postsecret.com, “I am so lonely, here among thousands, I could die.” We are losing more military personnel to suicide now than we are in combat .
But, a 2009 study of people suffering from post-traumatic stress found that 88.3 percent of those who participated in group therapy no longer exhibited PTS symptoms, versus just 31.3 percent of those who received minimal one-on-one interaction.*
The Healer of Broken Hearts brings his people together for strength and support and encouragement. The New Testament is full of references to this. (See Acts 2:44-46; 2 Thessalonians 1:3).
God heals us when he gathers us to his people. When we become part of the living Body of Christ, the Church, we cease to be scattered. We become connected to others who dispel our loneliness and welcome us into their lives based on our common relationship with Christ.
There’s a challenge in that for you. If you find that you tend to isolate yourself, if you keep to yourself a lot, you are missing something God has for you: healing. You may not like it at first. But it’s what you need and God has it for you in his Church.
Third, He restores broken hearts and binds up wounds. Brokenhearted people are bereft. Wounded people are withdrawn. It’s like having a leaking heart valve. Something isn’t working right and we can’t get up to the right blood pressure. We don’t have the “juice” of life in us. We are apathetic, indifferent, uninterested in life.
God heals the brokenhearted with the brokenhearted. He heals the addicted with the formerly addicted; the understanding and patience that come from traveling that road. He heals the divorced with the previously divorced; the grace and wisdom from those who’ve been crushed by a broken marriage. He heals the grieving with the grieving; the hope and purpose from those who’ve come through to the other side of that veil.
But there is a catch to all of this. Or maybe it’s better to say that there is a path to the healing power of God, but the path has some ironies built into it that can throw us off. It is well described by Amy Grant in the song, How Can We See That Far.
The same rain that drowns the rat can grow the hay;
And the same sun that melts the wax can harden clay;
And the mighty wind, that knocks us down if we lean into it,
will drive our fears away.
When we’re in pain, when we feel scattered, lonely, and insecure the quick and easy thing to do is get angry, even angry at God. “Why did you let this happen to me!?” We feel as if we’ve been drowned in sorrow God could have stopped; melted by a blazing sun that God could have shielded us from; knocked off our feet by a storm God could have calmed with one word, but didn’t.
The temptation in that moment is to turn away from God and stomp off, or even run. That’s the irony of it all. That’s the worst thing we can do. It’s at the moment when the storm blows the hardest that leaning into it is the thing to do.
The Psalmist shows us how.
First, verses 4-7 tell us we must embrace humility in the pain. “Sing to him with thanksgiving,” it says. It is a humbling thing, a completely ironic thing, to praise God in the midst of pain, to lean into that wind. But that’s where the healing comes from. That’s what drives the fear and insecurity away, leaning into him with worship and praise, not running away in fear and anger when all our instincts tell us to.
Then, verses 8-11 tell us to “put your hope in him.” Another great temptation when we are wounded and hurting is to look for substitute sources of solace and security.
Remember what Jesus said to Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus had died? “I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?” “Look to me Mary, look to me Martha. Put your hope solely in me.” It’s counterintuitive, but it works.
Is there some substitute that you look to for healing when you’re hurting? It may be a drug. It may be alcohol. It may be something or someone else. Yet we experience God’s delight, God’s healing, God’s binding up of wounds and gathering of things scattered, when our hope is only in him.
Many voices vie for our attention when we are brokenhearted, many people, many philosophies promise peace and healing. Only God can give us the order we need, the comprehensive understanding that leads to healing. Only God can give us himself.
*Brendan I. Kroerner, "Secret of AA: After 75 Years, We Don't Know How It Works," Wired (6-23-10)