Is there anything more frustrating in life than discovering something is missing? You spend hours doing a jigsaw puzzle (that was a bargain from the charity shop) only to find at the end that a piece is missing. The endless hours of pleasure doing it, spoiled in a moment! You carefully put together the unit you bought from IKEA (and you are really pleased with yourself for doing so without consulting the instructions) only to find that one vital piece or screw is missing! You finally manage to re-assemble that piece of machinery that you have just repaired (a new blade for the lawnmower or replacement battery for the clock) only to find a washer or spring lying around and wondering to yourself if it just happened to be there already or have you left something vital out of the piece of machinery you just re-assembled? Perhaps the only thing more frustrating in this direction is when you sense something important is missing in the life of a loved one – a member of your family or friend – or even in your own life? By way of contrast it is so much more satisfying when you know something or someone is complete, whole. The jigsaw paints a perfect picture, the bookcase stands firm and secure (and is full of books), the lawnmower or clock works perfectly, and the person we love has ‘got it all together’.
The English dictionary defines ‘wholeness’ as ‘the state of forming a complete and harmonious whole; unity; unbroken or undamaged’, whilst the Christian dictionary defines ‘wholeness’ as ‘the state of being perfectly well in body, soul, mind, will, emotions, and spirit’.
One of my favourite words is the Hebrew word shalom which is commonly defined as ‘peace’ – the absence of conflict or war, but which in the Hebrew actually means so much more. Essentially it comes from the root word shalam which means ‘to be safe in mind, body, or estate’ and speaks of completeness, fullness, or a type of wholeness that encourages you to give back, to generously re-pay something in some way. A classic example of this is the exhortation to the Jewish exiles to ‘seek the peace and prosperity of the city’ where God had placed them (Jeremiah 27:7) rather than moan about being in exile away from where they would rather be.
The New Testament has a number of different words for ‘wholeness’ that variously mean ‘to be in good health’ or ‘to be thoroughly saved’ [NB. What is the difference between being ‘saved’ and being ‘thoroughly saved’?], or (my favourite) ‘to be made perfectly whole’. We are told on numerous occasions in the Gospels that, as part of his mission and ministry, Jesus came to ‘make people whole’. A classic example of this is found in the story of Jesus healing the invalid at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15) where Jesus spoke healing and deliverance into the life of a man who had been a partial paralytic for 38 years. John tells us that when ‘Jesus said to the man, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” Immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked!’ (vs. 8,9). It is clear, from the rest of the story, that this man was not simply healed of his physical paralysis – all kinds of other good stuff was going on inside of him as well.
When I first became a Christian (more than 60 years ago now) there was a popular saying (one of many) in evangelical circles about ‘the whole Gospel for the whole man’ [we would want to use more inclusive language today] to indicate that the Gospel was not just about ‘saving our souls’ but about making us ‘whole’ people. As human beings we need to recognise that we are holistic beings who have physical, mental, social, emotional, environmental, as well as spiritual needs … and the Gospel has something significant to contribute to each of those needs that will enable us to become truly ‘whole’. We don’t simply need to be ‘made right with God’ spiritually … many of us need to know God’s touch upon our lives physically, or mentally, or socially, or emotionally, … and even environmentally i.e. making us more aware of our responsibility to be ‘good stewards of God’s creation’ (Genesis 2:15).
If we are to be truly ‘made whole’ however, we need firstly, to recognise that we are holistic beings, and that the Gospel is not limited to our spiritual needs alone (even though our spiritual need is vital). And secondly, we need to engage with God (co-operate with God if you like) in allowing God to make us whole right across the board. Let me illustrate. In one of my churches we went through a season of seeing significant healings take place through the ministry of the laying on of hands and prayer (James 5:14,15). Not everyone who was prayed for was healed, however, and I recall one of our Elders (a highly respected brother in Christ) getting up in church one Sunday and stating rather bluntly that there was little point in some people coming for prayer for healing when they weren’t making any effort to improve their diet, eat sensibly, take exercise, and so on. And he was right! Prayer is not a ‘quick fix’ for those who want to ‘cut corners’ living a disciplined life! But, if we genuinely engage with God (and play our part in the process) God can do more, much more, than we could ever achieve on our own!
One final thing needs to be said which echoes something we learned earlier from the Old Testament word shalom. The wholeness that God wants us to enter into is a type of wholeness that ‘encourages you to give back, to generously re-pay something in some way’. Being ‘made whole’ should result in us making ourselves ‘wholly available to God’! Abraham was blessed by God in order for Abraham himself (and his descendants) to share God’s blessing with the rest of humanity (Genesis 12:2). Paul encourages Christians everywhere, having become recipients of God’s mercy, to ‘offer ourselves back to God as living sacrifices’ (Romans 12:1,2). To say, with Chris Bowater –
Here I Am, Wholly Available
As For Me, I Will Serve The Lord
The Fields Are White Unto Harvest
But Oh, The Labourers Are So Few
So Lord, I Give Myself To Help The Reaping
To Gather Precious Souls Unto You
The Time Is Right In The Nation
For Works Of Power And Authority
God’s Looking For A People Who Are Willing
To Be Counted In His Glorious Victory
As Salt Are We Ready To Savour?
In Darkness Are We Ready To Be Light?
God’s Seeking Out A Very Special People
To Manifest His Truth And His Might
Here I Am, Wholly Available
As For Me, I Will Serve The Lord
~ Chris Bowater (b. 1947)