Tuesday, March 05, 2013

For Good or Not

Here is a tool that could frighten a person not knowing its purpose:

It is actually quite a wonderful invention, despite its rather intimidating appearance.  It is a tool designed to grant comfort and relief.  It is a shoe stretcher.  It is designed to be used to alleviate pressure on bunions and other troublesome areas of the foot.  It is used to stretch the area of the shoe that would cause pain to the bunion or other oddly shaped part of a person’s foot.

Of course, if applied incorrectly to the shoe, or in some other way misused, it could actually become an instrument of pain or torture.  It could be used to increase agony rather that to relieve it.  Even if used with good intentions but misapplied, it could work the opposite for which it is designed.

For example, if the stretcher is used improperly so that the area is not sufficiently stretched, and yet the suffering person is coerced to wear the improperly stretched shoe anyway, the condition of irritated bunion could be worsened.  If the person is told that the pain is not real and that the stretcher has removed the cause of pain, the person may be further injured emotionally.

Sadly, the Gospel, while not a tool, but nevertheless a means of comfort and relief, is often used improperly so that the result is a worsened state of suffering rather than relief.  It is not the fault of the Gospel that this happens.  Rather the fault is in the misapplication of the Gospel.  Often it is not only misapplied, but entirely misrepresented.

Imagine if the shoe stretcher were given to a person and told to use it to apply pressure to the bunion to reshape the foot to relieve the problem.

As outrageous as this sounds, it is very similar to how many apply the Gospel.  Instead of proclaiming the Gospel as God’s work to address and remove sin and the guilt of sin, people are told to use the Gospel as a means through which they must reshape their lives and eliminate sin and guilt by their own endeavors.  When these attempts fail or make matters worse, then the Gospel itself is reshaped and redefined to make it feel less powerful when it is misused.  Eventually it becomes defined as nothing more than a placebo, a sugar pill in which people hope for relief.

When the shoe stretcher is used rightly, it does provide the promised relief.  It can even reduce the swelling and inflamation.

The Gospel, when used as it has been given to be used, does much more.  It actually heals the disease.  It not only addresses the symptoms but actually restores to the true spiritual health that has been lost.  But this does not happen when those who use it do not believe the efficaciousness of its proper use.

Another example can be gleaned from my experience as an arborist.  I often observe where someone has pruned a dead limb from a tree.  However, it has not been properly pruned and so while it temporarily has a better appearance than having a dead limb extending from the trunk, it nevertheless does not properly close.  The dead stub remains and the fungal growth finds its way into the heartwood of the tree rather than sealing the area against such infection as normally occurs with proper pruning.

From these three crude drawings the contrast can be observed.  The first shows the tree with the dead limb.  The second shows the limb pruned as is commonly seen by those who either don’t know better or don’t care.  The third shows the limb properly pruned near the growth collar, so that the natural compartmentalization by the tree is complemented by the pruning so that the cambium grows over and seals the wound in the least amount of time and without the fungal acids that would be produced by the fungi growing in the dead stub which would digest the tree’s waxy protective sealant.

Improper pruning is no more effective than leaving the ugly dead limb.  Both result in the fungal growth that eventually may infect the heartwood of the tree.  Both result in the cambium improperly growing outward over the remaining dead material so that a hollow area is produced that catches moisture and fungal spores.

The proper pruning eliminates the deadwood, thereby eliminating the fungal growth.  The cambium grows straight across the wound, sealing it properly.  Heart rot from such a pruned limb is much less likely.

The Gospel is something like this, but even better.  One who hears the Gospel for what the Scriptures actually declare it to be will readily see the comparison.  The Gospel actually does much more than mere pruning of deadwood or diseased limbs from a tree.  It actually restores life where death and decay have already occurred.  But that only happens when and where the Gospel is actually administered in its purity and as it has been given to be used.

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