Monday, March 14, 2016

Book Review: Touching the Hem

Touching the Hem: A Biblical Response to Physical Suffering. Elizabeth A. Johnson. 2013. Ambassador International. 160 pages. [Source: Bought]

Where do you turn when you're in pain? Where do you turn when you seem to be stuck in physical suffering? When you perhaps don't know if--or even when--you'll feel better? May I suggest you turn to Jesus? The suggestion may seem many things among them obvious or ridiculous. But from personal experience, no one understands more than Jesus--and he's there, always there. Even in the middle of the night. Even in the hospital. Yes, I'd recommend turning to Jesus, and, perhaps turning to the Psalms.

Touching the Hem: A Biblical Response to Physical Suffering by Elizabeth A. Johnson is a book I could gush on and on about. It is a wonderful, life-affirming, God-affirming, overall encouraging read. From start to finish I found it to be biblical. That is perhaps the most important thing that can be said in its favor. The Bible is the ultimate AUTHORITY for the Christian. I think readers should approach books about healing with some caution. One never knows exactly what to expect. And any book about healing, about pain and suffering, that goes against Scripture should be rejected, seen at the least extreme as unhelpful, and at most dangerous. (Of course, one has to know Scripture before one knows what goes against Scripture.)
Many charismatics have written books and articles about healing, asserting their dramatic views of faith healings. Others have written from the mind-over-matter viewpoint, proclaiming if we would believe ourselves to be healed, or have enough faith, then we would find ourselves healed. Still others have purported, if we were truly living in God’s will, then we would not even be dealing with sickness. None of these views, however, seem to agree with Scripture—the standard of truth by which everything must be measured.
The purpose of this book is clear, passionate and oh-so-relevant. The book sets about answering some tough questions--questions that you or someone you love may be asking right now.
Does God still heal in modern times as He did back then? Can believers today still experience the same divine power of being restored to physical wholeness? In order to answer these questions accurately, many things must be considered. First, we must look at who our God claims to be. Does He claim to know our situation entirely? More specifically, does He claim to know our individual circumstances and needs? Does He still have the power to heal, if He desires to do so? Second, we must consider all the works God has done throughout history. In reviewing His past works, we can anticipate how He may work in the present and future. Once we confirm who our God is and what He has done for us, we can look at our circumstances. Why do we even have to deal with sickness? What is its purpose in our lives? Does sickness serve the same purpose in everyone? In order to answer these questions, we must consider examples from the Old and New Testaments, as well as cases from modern times. Enough of God’s people throughout history have dealt with sickness to provide some reasons and purposes for illness within our lives. Finally, after considering God and our circumstances, we must then consider our response. How do we reconcile the loving-kindness of God and the difficulties of sickness? Should we trust Him to remove the sickness? Do we attempt to use physical means to find healing? Can we even hope for healing? If we hope for healing, what if its manifestation does not come immediately? What is our responsibility while we are waiting for healing?
This isn't necessarily a philosophical book about theoretical suffering. You know the type of book that is full of tension and conflict about how could a "good" God and a "powerful" God ever allow any pain or any suffering. The kind of book that attacks God one minute and perhaps defends him the next. No, this is a very real, very down-to-earth book about real pain and suffering. It is a (precise) study of what the Bible has to say on a handful of subjects. For example, who is the God the Bible reveals? What does the Bible have to say about healing? What does the Bible have to say about suffering? about the purpose of suffering? The author KNOWS you have questions because she has questions too. She turned to God, to the God revealed in the Bible, and she sought answers in the one book that holds life.

The book is divided into five sections. The first part is 'A Look at God's Character.' I love, love, LOVE, LOVE that she starts here. In some ways it's a natural starting place. How can you TRUST God if you don't know Him, know Him as He reveals Himself in the Word? Perhaps the God you semi-trust is a God that you've pieced together here and there, a God that blurs the line between revealed truth and your imagination. Don't you think it is important--now more than ever--to know WHO it is you believe, who you trust? These chapters are rich in truth, and, I believe quite necessary for building a foundation for the rest of the book, also a foundation for living.

The second part is 'A Look at God's Works.' One chapter focuses on Christ's earthly ministry: his spiritual and physical healings of men, women, and children. One chapter focuses on Christ's 'real' purpose for coming to earth: the atonement. We DESPERATELY needed a savior to save us from sin and the consequences of sin. Christ didn't come to earth primarily to heal the blind and cast out demons. No, he came because we were spiritually dead and in need of resurrection. One chapter focuses on glorification. I don't think enough people talk about the doctrine of glorification. It is a wonderful thing, and, I'm so glad Johnson took the time to focus on it here!

The third part is 'A Look at Our Circumstances.' This section is powerful and thought-provoking, in my opinion. One chapter focuses on the ORIGIN of Suffering. Another looks at the PURPOSE of Suffering. One chapter focuses on EXAMPLES of suffering in the Bible. Other books may claim definitively that all illness, all suffering, is the work of the devil, that God has no part in it. Other books may claim that God doesn't have a purpose for your pain, and, suffering. That you suffer because you lack faith, or you suffer because you're not obedient enough. But wouldn't it be good to know once and for all the TRUTH about what the Bible says?

The fourth part is 'A Look at Our Response' So what should we do, where should we turn? The author advocates TURNING TO GOD. One chapter focuses on the importance of prayer and Bible study, the importance of gratitude, praise, and worship. One chapter focuses on practical physical means of healing. For example, seeking help from doctors, surgeons, etc. Seeing what medicine can do to help you in your circumstances. One chapter may prove somewhat controversial in that it calls into question the legitimacy of faith healings.

The fifth part is 'A Look at God's Response.' She gives readers practical advice on how to wait on God, how to keep seeking God even when the answers aren't as quick in coming as we'd like. The final chapter asks the question--what if I'm never healed, what if there is no end in sight for this pain I'm in??? She writes,
Sometimes it requires stronger faith to trust God when healing does not come. It is a harder path, but He still leads. It is more physically difficult, but the spiritual rewards can be bountiful. Although we might suffer tremendously here on earth, we look forward to an eternity of abundant, glorious life with Him! He promises to provide good from our suffering: beauty from ashes and joy out of mourning (Isaiah 61:3).
When healing does not come, we must still remain steadfast in faith and doctrine. We must continue in prayer for ourselves and others, as He commands. We must learn to live rejoicing evermore, giving thanks in everything. Whether we are healthy or sick, comfortable or afflicted, full of life or knocking at death’s door—this is His will for each one of us.
God ordained the number of our days before we were even conceived. We can neither lengthen nor shorten them on our own. Sometimes, God ordains our days to be concluded by terrible illness. Sometimes, He lovingly takes His child home by severe physical suffering. It is certainly not easy to watch a loved one suffer toward death; however, He alone determines the span of every life.
The book also have several appendices. The first is a chart of healings performed during Christ's ministry. (Many study Bibles have similar charts.) The second was perhaps my favorite. A whole section on the GENERAL PURPOSES OF TRIALS. Readers can learn that: trials reveal the works of God; trials reveal the glory of God; trials reveal the love of God; trials reveal the favor of God; trials reveal the comforting of God; trials reveal the compassion of God. And that's just naming a few! To anyone who doubts that God has a PURPOSE for them in their circumstances, in their suffering...this section is a BLESSING. The third appendix is a practical list of suggestions for dealing with illness. It includes ideas like "Post Scripture verses around the house to see and meditate on regularly. Use this method to help memorize Scripture as well; it can be a great comfort when you are too sick to read God’s Word." And "Stay informed about your illness and possible treatments. Learn your nutritional needs and follow healthful dietary principles. Exercise as you are able to; be consistent even in small amounts. Realize you have new limitations on your body and mind; seek to develop a routine according to this new normal." The fourth appendix is essentially an annotated bibliography. It recommends books in the following categories: the character of God, the atonement of Christ, the glorification of believers, the purposes of suffering, etc.

I loved, loved, loved reading this book. I love how biblical it is. I love how straightforward and thorough it is. It asks hard questions, gives what some might view as hard answers. But I believe this book can be a BLESSING to believers.

Part 1: A Look At God's Character
God's Immutability and Faithfulness
God's Knowledge and Wisdom
God's Goodness
God's Loving-Kindness
God's Sovereignty
Names of God
Overview of God's Character
Part 2: A Look at God's Works
Ministry on Earth
Work of Atonement
Promise of Glorification
Part 3: A Look At Our Circumstances
Certainty of Suffering
Origins of Suffering
Purposes of Physical Suffering
Examples of Physical Suffering
Part 4: A Look At Our Response
Scriptural Principles for Healing
Physical Means of Healing
Sinful Attempts at Healing
Part 5: A Look at God's Response
Putting It All Together
Waiting for Healing
Lack of Healing
Appendix A Healings Peformed During Christ's Earthly Ministry
Appendix B General Purpose of Trials
Appendix C Practical Suggestions for Dealing with Illness
Appendix D Suggested Readings by Topic

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