Stiff-Necked People Aren’t Always Bad: Coping with Pressure Wounds

Stiff-Necked People Aren’t Always Bad: Coping with Pressure Wounds May 22, 2021

John Everett Millais, “Victory O Lord!” 1871; {{US-PD–expired}} The picture portrays Moses interceding for the people of Israel at the Battle of Rephidim. The painting stood out to me in view of this blog post’s discussion of Moses’ intercession on behalf of Israel, as well as my reflections on active and passive range of motion.

I would have never thought I would be asking for prayer that my son Christopher would develop a stiff neck, as in “bull neck” (thick and strong)—not to be confused with being bull-headed. My son has lost so much muscle tone due to the absence of active movement resulting from his traumatic brain injury. It is really so hard to see and imagine given what great shape he was in prior to his injury. At least, his lungs and heart are still very strong, for which we are extremely grateful. A respiratory therapist said just the other day that Christopher has the lungs and heart of an athlete, which he is. He also has the heart of a lion, as he fights deep within his being for life.

Given the devastating brain injury, Christopher’s neck flops back and forth all too easily, which can lead to and aggravate pressure wounds and sores on his ears. Physical Therapy, which oversees range of motion at his rehabilitative care facility, did something ingenious: rather than “neuro-storm,” like Christopher can easily do, they brainstormed and cut a hole in a foam cushion for a pillow. The ear can rest in the hole to avoid pressure. Brilliant move. Now if only my son’s neck would not move and flop back and forth so often.

At the outset of this piece, I mentioned that I never imagined asking people to pray for my son to develop a stiff neck. It’s not simply because he was the specimen of health prior to his traumatic brain injury that I never conceived of making such a request. It’s also because someone who has a stiff neck has been condemned from ancient to modern times.

For example, the Bible and Bob Marley both speak or sing about being stiff-necked fools. Let’s start with the Bible, in case you’re not into Reggae. God rebuked the Israelites on various occasions that they were a stiff-necked people. In other words, their hearts and ears were hardened against responding and listening to God and obeying God’s word. Here’s one example: “Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way” (Exodus 33:3; NIV). In his speech to his countrymen, the first Christian martyr Stephen rebukes his listeners who will shortly stone him in Jerusalem for his witness to Christ Jesus. Riffing off of the Hebrew Scriptures, he challenges his audience, “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51; NIV)

Now let’s turn to Marley, in case you’re not predisposed to Scripture. Marley also references the Bible in the tune “Stiff Necked Fools,” when he alludes to Proverbs 10:15 and 21. For example, he sings of the righteous teaching and nourishing many people, whereas the foolish perish for lack of wisdom. Proverbs 10:21 reads, “The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of sense” (NIV). One person commenting on “Stiff Necked Fools” at Lyrics Mode offers this plausible interpretation of the song’s meaning:

I think Marley is speaking about two distinctive issues facing our society today. The first is the oppression by the colonial masters who deny the people of political and economic freedom. They were stiff-necked in understanding the plight of the common man. The second is about the lack of love for humanity as expressed in today[‘]s world where wealth and earthly riches are popularize as the end thing. He is preaching about religious freedom and assuring the oppressed that their wealth is in servitude to God and not the love of vanity.

In no way, shape, or form do I wish for my son to develop a stiff neck along the lines the Bible and Bob Marley condemn. In fact, I believe if we could converse right now, my son would be resonating with Marley’s take on “stiff-necked” and these texts in Proverbs. In addition, Christopher’s musical tastes are quite eclectic, ranging from Tool to Sinatra, Aretha to IZ, and Cash to Marley. So, in addition to reading Scripture, I will play this and other Marley tunes for him today. Maybe it will inspire and prompt in him some active range of motion.

Given the brain damage, which has negated active motion to this point, I assist with moving Christopher’s limbs. Such passive range of motion does not increase muscle tone, but it does help guard against the hardening and shortening of muscles, as well as tendons along with other tissue. We want to make every effort to guard against rigidity and deformity.

Please pray and hope with us that Christopher would miraculously—whether of the medical or supernatural kind—come to a point of active range of motion soon. Pray that he would develop a stiff, bull-like neck, nimble limbs and joints, and that he and his father would have a soft heart toward God. As with my son’s traumatized brain and neck, I all too often flip back and forth spiritually. It is so easy in the midst of this current horrific ordeal to harden one’s heart toward heaven. I love how Moses prays to God, as recorded in Exodus 34:9: “‘Lord,’ he said, ‘if I have found favor in your eyes, then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance’” (Exodus 34:9; NIV).

Moses interceded on behalf of the people of Israel. He and the prophets exhorted the nation of Israel to repent on numerous occasions. The same goes for the New Testament. We must confess and repent of our sins in order to be cleansed and healed (1 John 1:9). The great Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel speaks of repentance in the following terms:

The most unnoticed of all miracles is the miracle of repentance. It is not the same thing as rebirth; it is transformation, creation. In the dimension of time there is no going back. But the power of repentance causes time to be created backward and allows re-creation of the past to take place. Through the forgiving hand of God, harm and blemish which we have committed against the world and against ourselves will be extinguished, transformed into salvation. (Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, pp. 69)

Lord, I pray for a miracle. Transform Christopher. Make this good-hearted young man a new creation in body and soul. Do the same with his old-hearted dad. As Keith Green sings in “My Eyes Are Dry,” soften my old heart with your divine oil and wine. The psalmist says that a broken and contrite spirit, you will not despise (Psalm 51:17). So, Lord, forgive all our wickedness and sin and take us as your inheritance. Give us a bull neck and a soft heart.

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology & Culture, Multnomah University & Seminary; Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins; and Author of numerous works, including Beatitudes, Not Platitudes: Jesus' Invitation to the Good Life and Setting the Spiritual Clock: Sacred Time Breaking Through the Secular Eclipse. You can read more about the author here.

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