Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?

Foundations of the burnt room, a house in the wall of the city of Jerusalem during David's time, destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonians.
Foundations of the burnt room, a house in the wall of the city of Jerusalem during David’s time, destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonians.
The sign at the site reads, "He burned the house of the Lord, the king's palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem.."
The sign at the site reads, “He burned the house of the Lord, the king’s palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem..”

Last month my wife and I had our first visit to Jerusalem.  We took these pictures at the site of the foundations of the wall of the original city of David, destroyed by the Babylonian army in 586 B.C.  The sign continues to read, “The floors of the houses were covered by a thick layer of ash. Beneath the heap of rubble in one room, Yigal Shiloh uncovered Babylonian and Israelite arrowheads and remnants of a charred piece of wooden furniture bearing a palmette design. The wood was imported to Syria, attesting to the high status of the residents of these houses.”

What does the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC have to do with healing the brokenhearted?  God had pleaded with His people through the prophet Jeremiah decades earlier: “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.  Do not trust in deceptive words, saying ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.” (Jeremiah 7:4-7).

God cares for the brokenhearted and He wants His people to do the same. He commanded them to practice justice, care for the orphan and widow, and treat foreigners fairly.  Because this is God’s heartbeat, their obedient faith was far more important than God’s keeping the city and temple intact.  Jeremiah weeps over and over again for the choices they make to serve their own appetites and gods, rather than follow God’s ways. In 596 BC the warnings had gone on long enough; the entire city was destroyed and the people either killed or deported to Babylon.

Today God still cares for the brokenhearted; as Christ’s followers justice for the weak, care of the marginalized and fairness to foreigners are not an option, but express Christ’s heart for the nations.  All of us must be involved, not just those of us in medicine and healing professions. But Christians in medicine have a unique opportunity to bring words and works of healing to the brokenhearted. How are you involved? How might you engage with God’s heart this way in 2015?

Here’s a warning for us.  The people of God refuse to listen to Jeremiah.  He said (Jeremiah 8:11) “they heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.”  The leaders of that day promised peace but the healing was superficial.  There was no inner change.  Real peace and real healing go hand in hand, and man cannot manufacture them; they are a gift from God.  Am I willing for God to break my heart for others in distress, or will I cling to superficial words of peace and superficial healing? My challenge is that I am committed to bring healing to the brokenhearted, but in order to do that my own broken heart must be healed.

When Jeremiah himself understands that His people will continue in their rebellion, he says, “Harvest is past, summer is ended, and we are not saved.” (Jeremiah 8:20).  In other words, Babylon will definitely come (as they later did in fact).  He laments, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?”  In fact Gilead was a town east of the Jordan river known for its healing balm and arts.  But there would be no final healing for a nation that will not receive God’s medicine. God will not heal superficially.

Many of us are engaged in some way in Christian mission or medicine.  Do we heal with superficial words and actions, or are we attempting to bring deep healing to the wounds of the nations?  As we align with God’s purposes in Christ, harvest is not past, summer is not ended.  There is a balm in Gilead, found in the sweet person of Christ, and available for healing of the nations. First however, we must allow Him to apply the healing balm to our own broken souls. How about yours?

So where did hospitals come from anyway?

Many of us have some sort of notion that hospitals are just a natural part of the community; the idea of a hospital must be handed down to us from classical times.  But we we would be wrong.  They were nurtured in an unexpected place.

Among the ancient and pagan Romans, compassion was not well developed.  “Mercy was discouraged, as it only helped those too weak to contribute to society.  In the cramped, unsanitary warrens of the typical Roman city, under the miserable cycle of plagues and famines, the sick found no public institutions dedicated to their care and little in the way of sympathy or help.”  [“A new era in Roman healthcare” Gary Ferngren]

Ferngren goes on to explain while one of Rome’s greatest prides was its cities, they also provided fertile breeding grounds for disease, especially for migrants from the countryside.  No clinics or hospitals existed to provide healing or basic nursing care. Physicians were for the wealthy. In a world of gods who were not known for compassion, the Roman culture did not encourage a felt responsibility to care for the sick and marginalized.

Despite persecution, by the second century Christian churches had sprung up in most of the major cities, and their charity included care for the sick.  By the fourth century bishops in the eastern half of the empire began to establish Christian welfare institutions for the sick and poor, called xenodocheia.  Christian History magazine issue 101, “Healthcare and Hospitals in the mission of the church” details how this ancient movement flourished and eventually birthed the concept of the hospital.

An unexpected place!  Much of the impetus behind hospital ministry, especially to the poor and marginalized, comes from the faith of early Christians.  Is this  a surprise to you?  What can we learn now from their faith and example?  Reply below!

Why the Ebola crisis needs a more biblical response

These women from Sierra Leone get it right. “Jesus always ran toward sick people.” His ministry had a bent towards those who were sick, oppressed and marginalized. This CT article spells out ways that one group of women are making a difference. They are mobilizing Christ’s followers to action. This is something that should challenge us wherever we live. As they say in this article, too often the ‘spiritual’ is separated from the ‘medical.’ The church may be lulled into believing she cannot make a difference. But look at Jesus. He was one person, and by following His Father’s will He was able to change the world! We must all take an example from these women from Sierra Leone.  We can make a difference in this world, whether in the midst of Ebola or lending a helping hand to a struggling youngster, I believe that we can and must act to lift the body and spirits of those who are sick and marginalized; this should especially be true for followers of Jesus.

How missionaries are changing medicine

Medical missionaries have been at the forefront of a number of innovations in medicine and public health. Why? Because we are in the most needy places, working on multicultural teams, learning from local people, and get immediate feedback on what works and what does not work. The drawback to all this is that we tend to get absorbed into the work — the workload is beyond what anyone is able to bear; thus we frequently do not have the margin to create and publish. It’s an amazing challenge. Want to help us change the world?

This CT article addresses the topic:

What's all the fuss?

The Ebola outbreak has been a big story, with over 25,000 separate news articles mentioning SIM since we first brought Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol out of Liberia to Emory Hospital. But our aim is not publicity. It is God’s glory that we are after. In the midst of the suffering we have the confidence that our gracious God is at work among the nations, and especially in West Africa. Our missionaries put themselves in harms way, getting close to the people, and but this is the calling they have received from Jesus. Jesus came as God to be with us, alongside us, lead us, save us. We come in His name alongside people, to be with them and point them to Jesus. This is the basis of community transformation. It also reflects Christ’s character. Our aim is not publicity for ourselves. It is not about SIM; it is about what God is doing in the world, showing His good character and grace, rescuing men and women in the midst of their pain.