by Joe Leavell
Spiritually speaking, there are myriads of hurting people in need of care. There are people struggling to communicate and understand one another in their marriages. There are individuals who are struggling with mourning the loss of loved ones. There are children who are enduring the sounds of constant fighting from their parents, and folks plagued with addictions wondering how to find real freedom. There are those who are struggling to forgive those who have wounded them deeply, and others who struggle just to make it through the day. Sin always hurts and always destroys, wounding and breaking apart countless lives. Charles Spurgeon, the great 19th century pastor, put it this way, “Could I take you into the wards of that hospital where lie sick and wounded Christians, I could make you tremble.” The question is, how do we care for struggling believers and the lost in our community who need care?
Think with me for a moment about the differences between the care a person receives when they are getting treatment from a hospital and the type of care received through hospice. Those who work in either care very much about the patients under their charge, but there are two very distinct purposes for their treatment. In a hospital, those who are struggling with severe sickness, wounds, infections, cancers, broken bones, and other ailments are under the care of doctors and nurses who are doing everything in their power to help their patients recover. The patient remains under care until recovery has reached a level suitable for the patient to return home. In contrast, there is hospice care. In hospice, the goal is completely different. Whereas a hospital seeks your recovery, a hospice is designed for those who are terminally ill to be made comfortable. Your recovery is a welcome surprise, but their primary purpose is to ease pain and struggles, and to provide support until the patient finally passes away.
Which one of those two pictures is more accurate in how we are to care for those who are spiritually lost or are believers who are struggling? Most of us would probably acknowledge that a hospital is a more desirable place than hospice. Unfortunately, however, there are many people who seek after churches, pastors, counselors, and even friends that will give them a kind of spiritual hospice care. These are the people who seek after churches that will pander to their preferences and desires. They surround themselves with friends who will only encourage and support their decisions, no matter how damaging. They will find therapists that will affirm that their only real problem is a lack of self love and low self-esteem. They will seek churches that cater to their wishes for exclusively positive messages and feel good music. They refuse to see or hear anything that reminds them of their spiritual pain and need. Why? It is either because they do not primarily see themselves as someone who is a sinner in need of a physician or because they believe themselves to be so spiritually bankrupt that they are beyond help. So, they seek people to make them as comfortable and as happy with where they are spiritually as possible, minimizing the effects of their sin for as long as possible, to their own destruction.
Jesus, the Great Physician, will heal no one who refuses His care. This was the scenario of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day that prided themselves on their spiritual health and vitality. They thought that because they exercised all of the “right” disciplines that God approved of their behavior. They prided themselves as the model of spiritual fitness. Yet their pride was a spiritual cancer that was eating them from the inside out, and they refused to admit it. They openly criticized Jesus who spent a significant amount of time with those who acknowledged they needed forgiveness and healing. In this context, Jesus tells them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32). Because they did not want someone to challenge their claim of spiritual health, they rejected the care of the only one who could make them well.
For those willing to move beyond their comfort, and seek to be made well, they must understand that Jesus, our Redeemer, is the only one who can heal us from our sin. This means that while believers often get to play the part of a nurse in caring for those in need, ultimately, our responsibility is not to change people’s hearts because that is beyond our ability. Our role is to point them to Jesus. Only God Himself has the ability to heal the soul, to mend the broken hearted (Luke 4:18), and to do real heart change. Those who look to others to meet the needs that only Jesus can meet will be sorely disappointed. This does not mean that believers have no responsibility in caring for the hurting. Frankly, all staff members who work in a hospital work for the care of the patients. Even those who empty the trash and clean the linens are valuable members, doing their part to make sure patients are properly under the doctor’s care. We all can work together to do our part to care for one another.
No analogy is perfect and this one breaks down when you start talking HMO’s and pharmaceutical companies, but hopefully you get the point of the analogy. In reality, the most damaging thing we could do for people who are struggling spiritually is to simply give them hospice care. While we seemingly are compassionate in keeping people from pain and giving them only positive words, to do so is to keep from the only one who can heal: Jesus. Jesus isn’t just interested in making you comfortable. He is interested in healing your soul. Sometimes the process hurts, like a doctor who has to re-set a broken bone. Ultimately, however, being under the care of Doctor Jesus is the only way true spiritual healing can ever take place.