As I mentioned a few days ago, I took a week-long class called “Hospital Chaplaincy” this summer. We spent five unforgettable days at a major hospital complex in Los Angeles. During this time, I wrestled a lot with the issue of sharing the hard parts of the Gospel with those who are already hurting. Since all of us are called at many times throughout life to minister the Gospel to unbelievers who are hurting, this is important to think about. I decided to write a paper on it to help me think hard and clearly and biblically. The title was: “Hospital Gospel: Preaching a Wounding Message to Wounded People.” Here’s the first part of that paper. If you have ideas, please pass them along.
THE GOSPEL PARADOX
The Gospel of Jesus Christ heals. It has a therapeutic power that rises above social, familial, emotional, mental, and physical levels. It restores people spiritually—washing their sins away, reconciling them to God, transforming them from being dead to sin to being alive in Jesus Christ, purifying them in the truth, and giving them the undying hope of eternal life. This is eternally better than even a successful skin graft, a smooth kidney transplant, or hitting the five-year cancer-free mark. This is a restoration above all restorations.
Because of this, the Gospel message is perfect for the hospital. People are hurting all over the world, but there is a concentration of pain in the hospitals. Just walk into your local hospital and you will be exposed to all the jagged contours of physical suffering. This is where healing is most obviously needed.
But there’s a problem. The Gospel of Jesus Christ heals, but it does not only heal. Most transformations are painful, especially radical transformations. This particular one can be devastatingly so. When God heals someone of the deathly disease called sin, surgery is required. He makes incisions, pulls back flaps of skin, pokes and prods, cuts off and removes harmful inhabitants, pushes organs back into place, cleans out the system, and sews it all back up. And He doesn’t use anesthesia. It hurts.
There are some “evangelists” who dole out painless medicine to people who don’t even believe they’re sick. But all these Gospel-peddlers are doing is handing out spiritual placebos. Those who take them may feel better for a while, especially if they have good imaginations and a sense of spiritual gullibility. But they are by no means healed. They have never recognized their deep and abiding wickedness, been born again, or made a radical and full commitment to follow Christ. Before, they were blind and didn’t know it. Now, they’re blind and think they see. The only difference between their spiritual “before-and-after” pictures is an assumption called “false assurance.” They were never wounded, and so could not be healed.
Jesus Christ is not like this. He often confronts before He encourages. This is because he is not in the business of temporary comfort. Jeremiah would not have grouped Him with the godless prophets and priests of whom he said, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14).
Every man must have a piercing sense of his own sinfulness before he can genuinely cry out to God for the mercy of Jesus Christ. Every sinner must despair over sin and self before he can be saved. The criminal must comprehend his crime before he can celebrate his pardon. And every person who preaches the Gospel must be unmistakably sure that his hearers understand the unmet demands of God’s law before they run to embrace the free gift of God’s grace. The Gospel wounds before it heals.
WOUNDING THE WOUNDED?
The hard thing about this is that everyone in the hospital is already wounded. They are already experiencing trauma, stress, discouragement, pain, anguish, and inconvenience. The last thing they need is another wound. Or is it? How do you share a wounding message with wounded people?