On a recent trip to the East I had to declare all the identification marks or scars on my body during my visa application process. It reminded me of a humorous incident when I was 17 years old. My brother and I both applied for an engineering scholarship in the Navy which required a full medical check-up. During the check-up the Naval doctor asked me about my scar on my upper right arm, and also inquired about my hand which had been broken before. Embarrassed I had to tell confess that the scar was caused when my brother “accidentally” stabbed my during a dish-washing washing incident. “And about the hand?” I blushed. “Well… my brother ducked and I hit the wall instead…” (Three teenage brothers… these things happen!)
A few weeks later I found myself neatly dressed in a Naval board room, facing several officers of the selection committee. Very intimidating for a teenager! Near the end of the interview (which I thought went quite well up this point!) the one captain – introduced as a psychologist – asked me about my relationship with my older brother (who was interviewed by this committee just before me). “Very good!” I answered truthfully. “Are the two of you competitive with one another? Would there be striving if both of you are selected for the training?” “Not at all! We are very close … really no issues between us!” I assured the captain. He smiled knowingly and asked: “Ross, will you tell us how you got the scar on your upper right arm? And how did you break your hand?” I blushed… apparently the Naval doctor made very thorough notes of my medical exam. We all had a good laugh as I retold the stories of my scars, and the day ended with both my brother and I being selected for the Naval training program.
As I previously wrote, the rings and marks of a tree reveal much of the events that literally shaped the tree. We can discern much of the climatic and environmental events such as wet and dry seasons, forest competition, sickness or pestilence, animal damage, forest fires and even major earth quakes it lived through. We can never see the trauma the tree encountered – only the tree’s growth response to the events. We only see the rings and the scars – how the tree grew and healed through its encounters. These scars latterly tell the story of life of the tree – what the tree endured and survived.
Our scars – visible and invisible – tell a similar story. My experience is that people want to hide and even forget their scars, being ashamed of the imperfections and afraid of the memories. In contrast, the apostle Paul boasted about his scars[i] and listed the events which caused these scars (inside and outside) with gratitude and dignity, claiming that these scars are something to be cherished, even honoured. [ii] Why? How could our pain and the scars it left be something to be thankful for, something to be cherished and even paraded? What can we learn from Paul about our scars and the trauma which caused it?
Firstly, my scars are a witness to my weaknesses, and therefore they are signs of grace. Paul boasted in all his weaknesses[iii] because during these weaknesses and the sufferings which revealed the end of his strength, he experienced the grateful strength and intervention of God. These traumatic events scarred Paul’s body because of violence and accidents; it scarred his soul because of betrayal and abandonment; and it scarred his spirit due to accusations and torment. Yet these scars were cherished by Paul because each scar – visible and invisible – reminded him of God’s sustaining grace. Without God’s grace Paul would have died, given up, or turned back from God’s call for his life.
Like the rings and marks on a tree, our scars are reminders of God’s faithful care, intervention and sustaining power during each situation that left its mark. The scar says “If it had not been for the Lord,[iv] this would have been my end… but God carried me through and restored me!” As such these scars bring me daily comfort that God is always with me, and can turn anything and everything I face today for my good.[v] Whenever my strength fails, I can be sure of His strength.[vi] When fear wants to overwhelm me, my scars remind me that stronger is He that is in me than what I may face in the world today.[vii] I never face anything alone.[viii]
Secondly, my scars are witness to tests I have passed. Like the marks that give character to the tree, every scar – visible or invisible – tells the story of pain that I endured, of hardship that I was not spared. And therefore, as a believer in Christ, these scars are signs of faith that remind me that I was tested and purified as through fire. [ix] In spite of the troubles I kept on believing that God is good and a rewarder of those who diligently serve Him[x]. Through the pain, loss, or shame I kept on trusted God, believing that he has overcome the world.[xi] My faith was proven and found to be real because I have come to trust God’s character more than my experience.
Looking at my scars as marks of faith bring me daily confidence. My scars remind me that nothing can separate me from God’s love, and that in every hardship I endure I am more than a conqueror through Christ who gives me strength.[xii] In this sense each scar is an affirmation of my faith, each adding confidence in the face of adversity.
Thirdly, my scars are witness to a fading, fallible world. We only get scars on earth because the rule of sin and its decaying effect is limited to this fallen world of ours. Our scars are caused by things like violence, sickness, calamity – and these have temporal freedom here. The driving forces that brings the pain and leave scars are often hatred, jealousy, greed, betrayal, or abuse – and these are only at work here and now. But when Christ returns to reign there will be no more pain, no more sickness, no more calamity[xiii] – there will be no new scars in heaven.
Every scar reminds me that our world is fallen, and it stirs my longing for the day when Christ will come to make all things new.[xiv] As such our scars are signs of hope, reminders that Christ will bring an end to sin and suffering and establish His reign of shalom. Looking at my scars in this light brings me joyful endurance, knowing that whatever I might face is today temporal; it cannot compare to the eternal glory that awaits me.[xv]
Lastly, our scars are reminders of Christ’s scars on his body. CHRIST HAS SCARS BECAUSE WE HAVE SCARS. Moved by love the Eternal Perfect One exchanged his pain-free heaven for our pain-stricken existence. He vicariously suffered everything mankind endures to redeem us to Himself.[xvi] This sacrificial love left the Eternal Perfect One scarred forever – as a Lamb having been slain.[xvii]
Our scars point us to His scars, a visceral reminder that we are greatly loved. My scars are signs of love. He was scarred in body, soul and spirit for our healing, peace and forgiveness.[xviii] In this – His scars – His love for us is demonstrated.[xix] O, how He loves us! Looking at my scars in this way stirs my gratitude and devotion to Christ.
Through what did you grow this year? What scars did the past year leave in your body, soul and spirit?[xx] How do you feel looking at the marks life left on you? Like the rings and scars in a tree, we our character is shaped by our response to what life throws at us. We too are known by our scars. How you relate to your scars shape your reality, relationships and ultimately your destiny.
Reframing how you view your scars will realign your reality, relationships and your destiny. Ask yourself: How do these scars remind you of God’s sustaining grace? Can you see the scars as affirmation of real faith? Do the scars stir your hope in Christ’s return? And do the scars remind you of God’s immense love? How does all this make you feel at the prospect of another year? Comforted? Confident? Joyful?
Now you too can look at your scars and say with Paul: “We we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. These light afflictions, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…” [xxi]
[i] Galatians 6:17.
[ii] 2 Corinthians 11:23-33, 12:8-10.
[iii] See above.
[iv] Psalm 124:1.
[v] Romans 8:28.
[vi] 2 Corinthians 12:8-10.
[vii] 1 John 4:4.
[viii] Isaiah 43:2.
[ix] 1 Peter 1:6-7.
[x] Hebrews 11:6.
[xi] John 16:33.
[xii] Romans 8:35-37.
[xiii] Revelation 21:4.
[xiv] Revelation 21:5.
[xv] 2 Corinthians 4:17.
[xvi] Revelation 5:9.
[xvii] Revelation 5:6.
[xviii] Isaiah 53:4-6.
[xix] Romans 5:8.
[xx] If you read ‘spirit’ in this sense, it is helpful to think of identity, as well as your relational ability to love, hope and trust.
[xxi] 2 Corinthians 4:16-17.