"Huge blasts attack Iraq unity" read the headline in this paper after simultaneous attacks against two Shiite shrines killed and wounded countless worshipers. The article explained, "The violence dealt a further blow to efforts to restore stability to a country that is becoming increasingly divided along sectarian and ethnic lines" (Mar. 3).
It's hard to feel hopeful about Iraq's future. Like a land mass with tectonic plates shifting below its surface, the country seems destined for instability and widening divisions for years to come - at least from one perspective.
For me, that's where God comes in. The God I know from reading the Bible and studying the writings of Mary Baker Eddy is, perhaps first and foremost, a God who is Love itself. A universe- enveloping Love that knows no borders or boundaries, developed or developing countries, but loves all its creation with a tender, nurturing, unifying love.
Love unites. That's the spiritual fact I cling to as I follow Iraq's progress. Love harmonizes, builds, cultivates, makes whole. It helps me to think of Love's activity as both universal and individual. I've seen this Love in operation in my own life, healing the rifts that have troubled my heart. Surely a Father-Mother whose nature is all- embracing Love would care for each of His/Her children in just this way, "bind[ing] up the brokenhearted," as the Bible puts it (see Isa. 61:1).
It strikes me, as I pray about Iraq, that wholeness of heart might be a good place to begin. What is it that would cause divisiveness and disharmony but old wounds that have never been healed? Old wounds like oppression, discrimination, distrust, and misunderstanding. A human history scarred by longstanding bitterness and old animosities. A crippling weight of past offenses.
Who knows what kind of wounds or crippling conditions - mental and physical - Jesus encountered at the pool of Bethesda. But there were hearts yearning for wholeness there, too.
On the five porches, the Bible relates, there "lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had" (John 5:3, 4).
The focus of this story is a man who'd been ill for 38 years. He'd been living out an existence of anything but wholeness when Jesus approached him and asked him a life-changing question: "Wilt thou be made whole?" Although the man first answered with an excuse - "Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me" - he quickly saw that no condition is too entrenched or hopeless for the Christ. "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk," was Jesus' healing response. And the man did.
I love to think of that "Wilt thou be made whole?" as the Christ's timeless message, reverberating and resonating in every heart. It's the call to rise out of a crippling past, above whatever would thwart progress or overshadow good. It's a tender command to see past limitations and embrace the freedom that is each individual's right as a son or daughter of God. And it's a promise of strength - an assurance that Love is moving and animating and working in each of us, overcoming any weakness that would try to pull us down or hold us back.
The Christ's call to wholeness stops "I can'ts" or "it's impossibles." It counters justifications for anything less than harmony and well-being, soundness and strength. A God of love would never allow His ideas to languish or fall prey to the handicaps of a troubled past. Omnipotent Love's view of creation is just what the Christ communicates: one of unalterable wholeness.
Once when I felt I couldn't hear the Christ for the fray, I realized that God's messages don't have to be louder than the shouts of fear or anger or pain because they're simply more persuasive. More persuasive than a history of divisions. More persuasive than an uncertain future. More persuasive than beliefs of entrenchment, immobility, and discouragement.
My prayer for Iraq? That the Christ's "Wilt thou be made whole?" speak to each heart of Love's compelling promise: restoration, and the strength to move forward, united.