Restoring the Wounded

An ancient story from the Talmud offers an answer to the question, “Where will I find the Messiah?”

A Rabbi asked Elijah, “When will the Messiah come?”

Elijah replied, “Go and ask him yourself.”

“Where is he?”

“Sitting at the gates of the city.”

“How shall I know him?”

“He is sitting among the poor covered with wounds.  The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again.  But he unbinds one at a time and binds it up again, saying to himself, “Perhaps I shall be needed; if so I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.”

Western Christianity is thorough and effective in addressing the needs of the sinner, the sinner’s sin, and the restoration of the sinner.  It is not so effective in speaking to the wounded.

Typically, we are convinced that when the sinner is restored, the injured need to get over it.  Mind you, nothing is said to them in the meantime.  Tea and a bit of sympathy, perhaps — a shoulder to lean on — but the wounded are disenfranchised by our theology of sin, their pain goes largely unacknowledged, and when the sinner is restored it is time to move on.

It’s no small wonder that many turn to thoughts of vengeance and many more feel alienated from the love of God.  Where do you go when you’ve been denied justice and you’ve never had time to grieve and all that people tell you is suck it up and move on?

Love without justice is flaccid and underwrites villainy.  Justice without love can be cruel.  Restoration without attention to the wounds inflicted on the victim is easy and comfortable for on-lookers, but well short of complete for those who suffer at the hands of the persecutor.

In this respect, my friend and colleague Andrew Sung Park has called our attention to the contribution of Asian Christianity.  Korean Christians talk about “han” — the black hole created in the lives of those who are wounded — a black hole filled by bitterness, alienation, and anger, as well as the potential for vengeance and yet another round of violence.

To work for complete restoration, we cannot work for the forgiveness of sin and the restoration of the sinner alone.  We need to care for those who are injured.

That requires a number of things:

  • The willingness to acknowledge the harm done and the pain inflicted
  • Diligence in comforting the afflicted and assure them of justice
  • The willingness to work for justice and healing
  • The ability to hold the pain for one another when we are injured — because when we are injured, we are all capable of blind vengeance

To do these four things requires vigilant strength that sets aside our own desire to resolve a conflict or run from the pain of others.  We all fear embracing the pain of those who are injured.  It reminds us that all is not well in the world.  It reminds us that we too could be injured.  And harder yet, it reminds us that we too are capable of injuring others.  The difficult business of holding the injury experienced by others is a God-given task — the other and neglected side of restoration.

We are human, frail, and we long for simplicity.  So, we are drawn to the easy resolution of the pain we have inflicted — love and restore, or judge and condemn.  God, whose patience, love, and capacity for facing the truth, invites us to do more.  Healing is almost never found at the extremes, nor in the middle, but in the tenacious effort to listen for the voice of God.


About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, including forty-four entries in Doubleday’s Anchor Bible Dictionary, as well as articles in Feminist Theology and The Scottish Journal of Theology. He is author of A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). His latest work, The Dave Test (Abingdon Press) will appear in the autumn of 2013. He is also the series editor for the new Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series.

From 2000-2012, he worked as Director of Spiritual Life and Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. As one of Perkins’ senior administrators, Dr. Schmidt was responsible for programs in formation, serving over 500 students. He developed the School's program in Spiritual Direction which has thus far served over 150 students from across the country; the program in Anglican and Episcopal studies; and the spiritual formation track in the Doctor of Ministry program. Prior to his arrival at SMU, he served as Canon Educator, Director of Programs in Spirituality and Religious Education, and Acting Program Area Manager at Washington National Cathedral. In this capacity Dr. Schmidt was responsible for the development of a program of religious education and spirituality that annually provided resources for broad-based audiences of over 5000 adults. He also designed and produced workshops and seminars for ecumenical and interfaith constituencies; hosted foreign dignitaries from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union on behalf of the Meridian Institute; and developed the programmatic work and daily operations of the Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Before going to the Cathedral, Dr. Schmidt served as special assistant to the President and Provost of La Salle University in Philadelphia and as a Fellow of the American Council on Education. From 1994 to 1995, he resided in Jerusalem, where he was Dean of St. George’s College and Residentiary Canon of the Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr. He has also served in numerous parishes, including St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, All Saints Episcopal Church in Hershey, Pennsylvania and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas.

His work in higher education includes service as associate professor of New Testament Studies, as a lecturer in New Testament studies at Oxford University, and as a tutor at Keble College, Oxford. He has been a guest lecturer at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and the Southwestern Medical Center at the University of Texas, Dallas.

Dr. Schmidt holds a bachelor’s degree from Asbury College, the Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University. His honors include a Fellowship in administrative leadership with the American Council on Education; a Senior Fellowship with the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research; the Young Scholars Fellowship presented by the Catholic Biblical Association; nomination to Class XI of the Clergy Leadership Project, sponsored by Trinity Church, Wall Street; the Angus Dun Fellowship (Episcopal Diocese of Washington); and an Ecumenical Service Award given by Christian Churches United (an ecumenical organization covering a tri-county area and based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is a recipient of the F. W. Dillstone Scholarship awarded by Oriel College, Oxford; the Hall Houghton Studentship awarded by the Theology Faculty of Oxford University; and an Overseas Research Student Award, presented by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom. Dr. Schmidt is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. From 1998 to 2000 he served as a member of the Institutional Review Board for Heart, Lung and Blood Research at the National Institutes of Health and he currently serves on two Data Safety Monitoring Boards for NIH. He is Secretary-Treasurer of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars and a member of the Board of Examining Chaplains for the Episcopal Church, USA.

In addition to his work in the academy and the church Dr. Schmidt currently serves as a patient safety and ethics consultant on Data Safety Monitoring Boards for the National Institutes of Health and Allergan, Inc.

He lives with his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), and Hilda of Whitby, their Gordon Setter.