Letters from a Hospital Bed is a series of reflections by Jim Houston, now entering his 100th year, in which Jim seeks to capture and reflect new insights of his ever-discoverable God, revealed through his own hospitalization, for the encouragement of all care givers.
July 7, 2022
In all the changing scenes of life, we all get new perspectives. I continue to find this the case not only through the window and across the beaches of Kitsilano to the north-shore mountains, where I live, but as the ‘dark glass’ through which I have always ‘barely seen’ grows clearer as I near my Father’s eternal presence. It is strange now for me to communicate with many of you whom I once knew as students and who are now retired from the professions for which you trained over so many years, including at Regent. Change of setting brings change of perspective.
As a child, I was never that enthused about being with my father when he was displeased with me. What child enjoys a critical parent? Yet, when his attitude changed, I found that it was a joy to be with him. If, as the shorter catechism reminds us that our ‘chief aim is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever’, how might that be possible if we insist on any sense that we are forever scolded by our Heavenly Father in his displeasure with us? As I reflected in my last letter, we need to experience in God something far deeper than simply being declared “not guilty” lest we live in the fear that His verdict might at any time change. Fear is what fills the vacuum of love in our hearts. Fear lies at the heart of most of our unhealthy emotions. Our worship to our heavenly Father is simply living in His eternal presence, recipients of His Eternal Love. Then we truly can worship Him, gloriously free from wrong emotions, all basically originating from fear.
As I reflect upon ‘Jesus' - meaning the Lord, our Saviour – I do so as He is the Eternal Physician, who heals me of all my perverse emotions, that keep me from not being always the recipient of His Eternal Love. From this new perspective that like the psalmist “puts a new song in our hearts”, we then find all the early church fathers saw 'sin’ not in a legal category, but in a medical category. The Apostle Luke, being himself a medical doctor, particularly narrates the miracles of healing Jesus performed, as well as the ‘Psychiatric Doctor’, facing angry, jealous, callous, and other emotionally handicapped individuals, whether leaders of the Jews, like the Scribes or Pharisees, or the members of the crowds. All the early fathers, from the 2nd. century until the later centuries, unanimously identified ‘sin’ and it's need of healing in medical and therapeutic terms. George Herbert, the great poetic reformer of the 17th. cen., continues this tradition and still maintains his therapeutic view of our salvation, as the healing of our emotions. Herbert viewed himself as a ‘pastor’ or shepherd of his flock and stood at the porch to welcome them to the Sunday morning service. His didactic and for some, difficult poem, “The Church Porch” also carries the title “Perirrhanterium” which in Ancient Greek referred to the sprinkler of holy water. Herbert invites us to prepare to come to worship through a welcome that is cleansing of harmful emotions to be “cleansed in the holy water, from apathy, alcoholism, inattention, swearing, the terrible emotion of pride, insincerity, inconsistency, greed, extravagance, curiosity, bad-tempered, quarrelsome, cynically mirthful, vanity, envy, extravagance, depression, meanness, that is all negative emotions that would make one incapable of being a worshipper of God in all His Holiness.” He affirms that we are in God’s house by God’s permission, concluding with the admonition; “Resort to sermons, but to prayers most: Prayer is the end of preaching”.
To enter the place of worship through the “Church Porch” is not to enter for the sake of some intellectual exercise, but to be cleansed of harmful emotion and to be nearer to God’s holy presence, cleansed and healed emotionally, to be always in prayer worshipping in the beauty of holiness. It was only later, with Calvin who trained as a lawyer, that the doctrine of salvation became a legal category and the therapeutic cleansing for real health was lost. Sin became disobedience rather than the full sweep of our emotional harming that we so deeply need to be healed so that we can be fully alive.
As we each reflect on how we have narrowed Christ’s welcome to us through mere legal justification, my prayer for us each is that we might enter His Presence as through the Church Porch, to be welcomed with a cleansing sprinkling, a cleansing of our emotional selves so as to enter so much more fully into His presence and the abundance of a full Life that He alone can provide and for which we are saved. Not just saved from death, but saved to Life!
“Help us, dear Saviour of our Souls, to become aware we are ’sinning all through our life’, when we are never healed of fear, blocking out Your Eternal Love! So, help us Lord, to rest in Your Eternal Love, as the complete environment of our souls, blessed by Your promise that “Perfect love, casts out all fear”. Amen.