Social Reconstruction: At the Heart of the Biblical View of Healing

Keith Russell

A theme common to both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is that of restoration and rebuilding. Whether the focus is on gaining the promised land, restoring the Temple, rebuilding the ruins of the Holy City, or hoping for the reign of God, there seems to be a
consistent and persistent focus on healing. This is not so much an emphasis on the healing of persons as it is an emphasis on healing the society, the earth, the cosmos. ‘The dominant focus on healing in scripture is on healing ~restoration and rebuilding with a particularly sharp focus on the realities of justice and mercy.

This is not to say that the healing of persons is unimportant in the Bible but that the healing of persons is centered in the restoration of wholeness to the society. Many of the
healings recorded in the gospels during Jesus’ ministry are actually signs of this new reign which God is initiating. That the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised and the poor have good news preached to them (Luke 7:22) is dramatic proof that a new age/era has been introduced on the earth. These signs of personal restoration give rise to the hope of radical social reconstruction. Such a radical vision of healing is recorded by John of the Apocalypse:

Then I saw a new heaven and new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more, And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, See the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them; they will be God’s peoples, and God will be with them, God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21: 1-4).

It is striking how often contemporary conversations about healing in the church are devoid of social content or context. Healing is something that does or does not happen to individuals but is not linked to the current social order or to hopes of new social order. Why do we not regard a personal healing as a sign of God’s promise of a new social order?  Can the healing of disease or disability be an end in itself?

Our contemporary social construction is full of disease and brokenness. Thousands of poor are being cut from food stamps, medical services and benefits. Immigrants and aliens are being targeted as enemies who need to be monitored. The least among us are being blamed for the problems facing our age and for the demise of the American Dream. How can the church engage in conversation about healing without an analysis of that which is broken in the social order?  How can the church engage in services of healing which do not take into account the reign of God ~ that which breaks in on the existing structures of privilege and power?

I hope that our concern about the healing of individuals does not cause us to avoid looking at a world which also needs to be new. Is it possible that the principalities and powers of this corrupt age want to distract us from looking at the need for fundamental reconstruction and restoration of the social order? A concern for healing which is disconnected from the radical claims of the reign of God runs the risk of being used by the powers of evil to keep things as they are.

Personal healing and social healing must go hand in hand. Do we not need signs and wonders that keep us working until  ’Justice rolls down like a mighty water and righteousness like an everlasting stream?  Mark’s Jesus puts it directly: “The Kingdom
of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15).

July 3, 2010 – The Living Pulpit


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