Dr. God

Wednesday, October 9, 2013 — Week of Proper 22, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 119:145-176 (morning) // 128, 129, 130 (evening)

2 Kings 22:14-23:3

1 Corinthians 11: 23-34

Matthew 9:9-17

Human beings have devised some clever ways to protect themselves from God’s judgment. In our first reading, King Josiah has torn his clothes and wept so that God will make an exception for him. It seems to work: According to the prophetess Huldah, God will allow Josiah to die in peace and not to witness the destructive judgment that God has planned for everyone else in Israel.

Paul also offers a strategy to his readers in Corinth for keeping God’s judgment at bay. Paul prescribes rigorous self-examination before receiving the Eucharist, saying that “if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged.” In Paul’s theology, if we act as our own judges and critics, then we can spare God the trouble of judging us . . . and spare ourselves the pain and consequences of God’s judgment.

Just like Adam and Eve covering their nakedness and hiding in the bushes, we try so hard to protect ourselves from judgment—even if it means becoming our own severe judges. But Jesus introduces a simple analogy for God that should help us to let go of our self-protective strategies. Jesus speaks of God not as judge, but as doctor. To explain why he dines with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus says: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”

We need a doctor, not a judge. Granted, not all of us have had great experiences at the hands of modern medical doctors! But we can still imagine the difference between God as a rigorous judge and God as a concerned healer.

When Josiah approaches God the judge, he tears his clothes in desperation. But when we approach God the physician, we can more tenderly remove the layers between us and expose ourselves to his care. When Paul approaches God the judge, he first examines and judges himself. But when we approach God the physician, we can more trustingly share with God our points of weakness and hurt—expecting help and healing.

This week, I read an extraordinary book called “Reading the Bible with the Damned,” by Bob Ekblad. In his Bible studies with people in prison, people addicted to drugs, and people without legal documentation, Ekblad observes, “I constantly see that negative images of God are what most separate people from God” (p. 34). People on the wrong side of the law expect God to judge and punish, like the other powers in their lives.

What if we all revised our strategies for avoiding judgment? What if we prepared ourselves for a full examination by a doctor instead of a prosecuting attorney? Perhaps we could remember that the purpose of our spiritual lives is not to protect ourselves from God the judge, but to present ourselves to Christ the physician.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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