This past week I attended a workshop at Emmanuel Christian Training Center in Yei, South Sudan. In attendance were most of the leaders throughout the Diocese of Rejaf, and a few leaders from neighboring dioceses. The workshop purpose was to introduce people to the idea of looking to scripture for solutions in all manners of life. This conference was extremely beneficial to the work I’m trying to do, which includes looking at what scripture can teaches us about the current health situation in South Sudan.
One of the primary concepts repeated by the workshop facilitators is that the world is not run by money, weapons, or food, but by ideas. They would often quote a portion of the Kings James translation of Proverbs 23:7, “For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he”. In typical Darriel fashion, my mind started on a tangent of thoughts about this scripture, and the power of ideas throughout the Biblical narratives.
Immediately, I was drawn to two narratives: original sin (Gen 3:6-7), and Jesus healing a paralytic (Luke 5:20 and Matthew 9:2). In the original sin narrative, Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil after God had already deemed that tree off limits. The only noted immediate consequence of eating the fruit “able to make one wise” was that their eyes became open to themselves. For the first time they “knew” they were naked. The immediate effect of original sin seemed to be a change in self-perception, or the idea of oneself. Adam and Eve didn’t change physically, they were always naked, but when knowledge of good and evil came, they saw their most intimate parts as evil. They were embarrassed at themselves, and they couldn’t have God, their regular visitor, see them like that. To remedy their situation, they came up with the idea to cover themselves so that God didn’t have to see what they had become, what they were now wise to see as evil. It seems that this has been the standard pattern of humans ever since, only not just physical but emotional and psychological as well. Many times we hold the idea that we must hide what is intimate not only from one another, but also from God, our regular visitor. We have this idea because we hold the idea that what is most personal/intimate to us is problematic.
Juxtaposing the original sin narrative with Jesus’ healing of the paralytic provokes interesting possibilities. When Jesus heals the paralytic in Luke 5 and Matthew 9, he simply says, “Your sins are forgiven”. The result of Jesus’ words was healing for the paralytic. Jesus didn’t touch the man or speak about the man’s condition. He simply said, “Your sins are forgiven”, beckoning the man to alter the idea he held of himself. Of course, Jesus is also teaching everyone, including the Pharisees, that he has the ability to forgive sins. After a short discourse where Jesus relays his authority, Jesus looks at the paralytic man and says, “I tell you, get up, take up your mat and go home”. Jesus seems almost annoyed that the man has been healed and is still laying there. It’s as if Jesus is telling him, “I said you’re forgiven. I’ve given you a new way of seeing yourself, and through this you are healed. Please begin to act like it.”
As I sat in the conference, off on my mental tangent, I began to wonder how many miracles I’ve bypassed because my idea of myself did not match God’s idea of me. My mind began to replay Chaplain Bates voice it spoke the Holy Communion liturgy during my three years at Duke, “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!” It’s a sad, but marvelous thing, that it took a conference in South Sudan for me to grasp a deeper understanding of those words I once heard regularly. Whenever I become burdened by the disappointment of a past event and dare to hide myself and my thoughts from God and God’s people, I pray I can continue my walk home, open and uncovered, remembering the healing words, “In the name of Jesus Christ, You are forgiven!”