Carolyn shyly came into my office. With some difficulty, she explained that her sexual relationship with her new husband, Kevin, was, to say the least, uncomfortable. The young couple got along wonderfully in every other way. However, when the time came for physical intimacy, Carolyn invariably froze, wrestling with overwhelming emotional anguish.
Although she managed to submit to her husband's desires, the experience was always agonizing for her. She felt humiliated and ashamed during their time together, and she wasn't a good enough actress to fool Kevin. He was growing weary of her struggle and had encouraged her to seek help. When she was brutally honest with herself, she feared for her marriage.
As we talked, I studied Carolyn's quiet, pretty face. Although clearly concerned, she was surprisingly unemotional about the situation. I tried to understand her sexual inhibition, which clearly didn't emanate from a religious hang-up or some moral cause. Then, on a hunch, I asked, "Carolyn, is it possible that you were once sexually molested?"
At that point, her composure wilted. She looked stunned, and her eyes flooded with tears. "How did you know?" Carolyn whispered.
"Was it a family member?" I gently probed.
"No, no. It wasn't that. It was a friend of my parents, though. And when I told my mother, she called me a liar." At this point, Carolyn's voice broke.
"Did it happen more than once?" My heart sank, imagining how alone she must have felt.
"It went on for eight years, Vickie. It started when I was six years old. He finally moved away when I was fourteen, and that's when I told my mother. But she didn't believe me . . ."
Carolyn sobbed quietly for a few minutes. We continued our discussions on the subject for several weeks. At one point I said, "Carolyn, you were a victim. You were violated and exploited, and you were too young to know what to do. You can't blame yourself for what happened. Your parents' friend was the wrongdoer, and you need to place all the guilt where it belongs—on him. Not on yourself."
Finally I looked Carolyn in the eyes, and said to her, "That man has controlled your life since you were six years old. Are you going to let him control your future, too?"
Somehow, this got through to Carolyn. She was able to assign the full burden of guilt to him and to forgive him. Then we prayed together. "Lord," she said, "please heal me. Heal my memories so this situation doesn't haunt me for the rest of my life. And please teach me how to have a good sexual relationship with Kevin. He's been so patient . . ."
I was relieved and grateful to hear a few weeks later that positive changes were taking place in that troubled marriage. God, the Healer, had touched Carolyn and Kevin's lives.
Even though we've sought spiritual maturity through God's Word, prayer, fellowship, and obedience, some of us have been hindered by something that's kept us from enjoying emotional health and spiritual maturity. Like Carolyn, we've carried baggage from our past into our new lives. Destructive emotions have retarded or blocked our progress somewhere along the road to spiritual development.
Many of us have spent thousands of dollars for remedies that have not cured the source of our pain. Having tried so hard and struggled so mightily, it's wonderful to learn there is Someone who not only has the desire but also has the power to heal us. The Bible has much to say about God as our Healer.
God first revealed Himself as the Healer of His people in a strange little Old Testament incident described in Exodus 15. After four hundred years of bondage, the Israelites had just been delivered from Egypt by the mighty hand of God. They had seen plagues devastate the greatest civilization on the face of the earth. They'd had the exhilarating experience of passing through the Red Sea on a dry path while the waters stood firm as walls on either side. They had watched Pharaoh's elite corps of horsemen and chariots drown—the enemies who had terrorized them all their lives had been defeated. In this dramatic way God gave us a picture of the first step we experience today as He begins our emotional healing: freedom from the bondage of our past.
When the Israelites saw that their bondage in Egypt was over and their former masters were powerless to enslave them again, they no longer had any reason to fear their former masters or obey them.
Much like those Israelites, when we put our faith in Jesus Christ we are freed from bondage to our old master, Satan. This liberation should also deliver us from the influence of the past on our emotions as well. But while this can happen right away, for most of us, it is a more gradual process. The first part of Exodus 15 is a song of praise to the Lord for His great victory over the Israelites' enemies. The people were on an emotional high. Then began their journey toward the Promised Land.
As the book of Exodus tells us, "Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) So the people grumbled against Moses, saying 'What are we to drink?" (Exod. 15:22-24).
Three days in the desert without water, then the disappointment of undrinkable water, and God's people soon forgot His power and care for them. They could have said, "Look what God has already done for us! After all that, He'll surely find a way to provide water for us. We'll keep on trusting Him." But they didn't.
Instead the Israelites grumbled, a habit that persisted all through their journey. The text says they grumbled against Moses, but in reality, they were grumbling against the God who was leading them in the pillar of cloud and fire that moved before them. They were babies in their walk with their God. Fortunately, He understood that and was very patient with them. Despite their complaining attitude He responded to their spokesman's plea: "Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet" (Exod. 15:25).
Such a simple solution. So easy for God to do. And then: "The LORD made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them. He said, 'If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you" (Exod. 15:26-27).
In the original language, God said, "I am Yahweh-Rapha, the Lord who heals you." Rapha means "to mend, to cure, to repair, to make whole."
God gave this promise to the ancient nation of Israel, but it includes a principle that still applies to us today:
Emotional and spiritual health are by-products of obedience.
Health is related to obedience both spiritually, physically, and emotionally. If we obey the commands against sexual immorality, we will not be infected by the sexually transmitted diseases that are rampant in our modern world. Meanwhile, our self-worth will not suffer from being used, cast off, and rejected.
If we obey the command to not covet, we will have a healthy attitude toward both relationships and possessions. We will be grateful for all that God has given us, whether much or little, and be immune to discontent, which works like acid in our emotions.
If we obey the commands against stealing, we will have healthy self-respect, a good name, and no criminal record.
If we honor our parents instead of rebelling against them, we will protect our family relationships.
There are innumerable healthy benefits to having a clear conscience. And God challenged His people to test Him and experience Him in a tangible way—He specifically said He would bless them with health if they obeyed His commands. But there's more to the incident at Marah for us to learn . . .
The instrument God used to heal the bitter waters was a piece of wood. Why not salt, the substance Elisha used hundreds of years later? Why not just a spoken word? Instead God directed Moses to throw a piece of wood into the water because that piece of wood pointed to another—the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is the only way the bitter waters of our lives can be healed. In other words:
The cross is God's remedy for emotional pain.
Hundreds of years before Christ's birth, the prophet Isaiah, who was prophesying about the work of the Messiah, said, "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed" (Isa. 53:4-6).
Isaiah said that Jesus would be taken up, carried, pierced, crushed, and wounded for our infirmities, our sorrows (emotions), our transgressions, our iniquities, our punishment.
Why did He do it? To bring us peace and healing: As
Isaiah said, "By His wounds we are healed." Some people teach that this means physical healing is guaranteed by Christ's atonement. But Peter interpreted this passage differently. He wrote, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (1 Pet. 2:24-25).
Peter applies Isaiah's words to our salvation. God knew that we have to be healed spiritually for there to be emotional healing. The cross of Jesus Christ, where He bore our sins and took our punishment, made it possible for us to be reconciled to our God. It enabled us to come back to Him, cleansed and forgiven. His sacrifice for us brings us peace. That's spiritual and emotional healing, isn't it?
Maybe you're thinking, What about physical healing?
Remember that all healing is from God, whether it's through rest, sunshine, a healthy diet, the God-given skill of physicians or surgeons, or the miracles of prayer.
And as far as our emotions are concerned, God uses, in addition to the cross of Jesus Christ, at least four "instruments" to heal us: His Word, the power that comes from praising Him, the encouragement of His people, and the gift of a godly self-image. Let's look at each of these components of spiritual healing.
The healing power of God's Word is shown in, among other passages, Psalm 107, a song of praise to the Lord for His unfailing love for His people. He demonstrated this love by His deliverance when they called upon Him in their need: "Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. They loathed all food and drew near the gates of death. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent forth his Word and healed them" (Ps. 107:17-20).
Here we have people who were suffering affliction and physical, emotional, and spiritual sickness as a consequence of persistent rebellion against the Lord. Yet when they cried out to Him, He "sent forth His word and healed them."
How does God use His Word to heal?
Jesus demonstrated this godly gift beautifully when He was here on earth. He healed every possible affliction that humanity suffers, and He did so to demonstrate that He was the only One who could heal us from the root cause of all our troubles—sin.
Let's take a look at one specific incident. Luke 7 describes a Roman centurion whose servant had fallen ill and was near death. The centurion had heard about Jesus, and he had sent some elders of the Jews to ask Him for help.
Jesus responded to the request for healing by making His way toward the centurion's home, but before He could get there, another message from the centurion was brought to Him: "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one 'Go,' and he goes; and that one 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it" (Luke 7:6-8).
Jesus listened to this statement in amazement and told the crowd that He had never seen that kind of faith among the Jews. When the messengers returned to the centurion's house, they found that the servant had been healed.
This Roman warrior understood authority, and he knew Jesus had the authority to heal from a distance. Jesus could send forth His Word and heal, and that's just what He did.
But does He do it today? And if He does, how? What relation does the Word have to healing our emotions? To answer these questions, we need to look at the ways God uses His Word to heal us: our praise of Him.
One of the instructions we've received from the Lord says, "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Phil. 4:4). This is God's Word. But how can it heal?
Suppose you are filled with anxiety, fear, discouragement, or grief. Your future is uncertain. You have no job. There is terminal illness in your family. Your children have turned away from the Lord and are estranged from you. You are in deep grief because of the loss of someone you love.
In the midst of your troubles, this word is sent from God to heal you: "Rejoice in the Lord always."
You see, God is the only unchanging constant in our lives. When all else is gone—health, family, friends, money, position—God remains. "Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever" (Heb. 13:8). Isn't that something to rejoice about? Not only is God present with us, but His Word also tells us that He loves us and nothing can separate us from that great unconditional love.
Another word from the Lord says, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
How can we apply this in a practical way? How about praying something like this:
"Lord, I feel terrible. I'm fearful, worried, lonely, rejected, grieving. [You put in your own words.] But Your Word assures me that nothing here on earth, whether past, present, or future, can break my relationship with You through Jesus Christ.
"Since I'm going to live forever, my time on earth is a very small dot on the pages of eternity. I can rejoice in You because You will never abandon me. You will never stop loving me. You hear my prayers when I cry to You just as You did for Your people long ago.
"You have given me Your Word, and I choose to obey it. I rejoice in You. I praise You. I thank You for who You are and for what You have done for me."
Pray this prayer consistently, and I can practically guarantee there will eventually be a change in your emotions. But God knows we need help, both divine and human. And He provides that help.
When we trusted Jesus Christ, He forgave our sins and called us to a new life of obedience to Him. He didn't say, "Now that I've forgiven you, clean up your act. Do your best. Try harder. You'll be able to change yourself." How hopeless that would be!
The wonderful fact is that He knew we couldn't change or heal ourselves in our own strength. He gave us Someone to help us. He gave us His Holy Spirit to take up residence in our hearts. He is the One who gives us new birth, makes us a new creation, and places us into the body of Christ. He is the One who makes us able to understand and apply Scripture (see 1 Cor. 2:12-13).
Romans 8 teaches us that the Spirit sets us free from slavery to sin. He is our new Master. He leads us in God's ways. He gives us assurance that we are God's children and can come into His presence with freedom and intimacy. He helps our weaknesses. He interprets our prayers, and He intercedes for us. Our part is to yield to His control, have our minds and hearts set on what He desires. Our part is to keep in step with His leading and trust Him to give us the ability to live to please God. He is the One who will work in our innermost being to give us the character of Jesus Christ, which is God's ultimate purpose for saving us and adopting us into His family. The family of God, other believers, is God's provision of the human help and companionship we need.
While I want to mention Christian friendship here as an instrument of God's healing, we'll postpone until chapter 18 an in-depth discussion. For now, it's sufficient to say that friends and support groups are keys to emotional healing; they are effective because we humans were created to need each other.
The Bible tells us that God loves and accepts us, yet we need the tangible demonstration of love and acceptance from people we can see, hear, and touch. If one part of the Christian body suffers, every other part suffers with it. So if you are in difficulty, don't be a loner. Reach out to Christian friends, support groups, or counselors, and allow them to help you. Give them the privilege and opportunity to pray for you.
God also uses another powerful tool to keep us emotionally healthy. When we accept Jesus Christ into our lives, God gives us a new self-image in Christ. This healthy view of ourselves is only possible when we stop believing what our emotions tell us and start believing what God says about us.
For example, our emotions may tell us: "I don't think anyone has ever really loved me, so something in me must be unlovable. I feel like a loser. I don't feel that I'm a good Christian. I don't feel God's love."
In contrast, if we have a relationship with God because we have trusted Jesus Christ, this is what He wants us to hear: "I love you. You are now My child. I know all about you—past, present, and future—and I accept you. You are united with Christ. You are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. I will never abandon you, either in time or eternity."
Faced with those opposing kinds of self-talk, who are you going to believe, your feelings or God's Word? Not only must we believe God's evaluation of us, but we need to reject what our own faulty experiences and emotions tell us. As we consistently reject the negative impressions that we have believed for years and accept our new status as those whom God loves as He loves His own Son, our self-images will change.
Self-image doesn't change because we focus on pleasing ourselves, saying, "I'm doing something good for myself," and following all the other suggestions that feed self-centeredness. It changes because we choose with our wills to believe God and accept His love for us.
Yes, God can heal our emotions. He is our Healer. He wants to heal us. He wants to free us from the crushing emotional obstacles that hinder our growth to maturity. The wonderful fact is that He has the power to heal, and He has provided everything necessary for our healing: