Recently I’ve had a recurrence of sciatic nerve pain caused by disc issues in my lower back. This has returned me to the chiropractor’s office. Chiropractors treat neuromuscular irregularities with an “emphasis on treatment through manual adjustment and/or manipulation of the spine.”* I’m grateful for this option of care and the ingenious methods chiropractors have developed to reduce pain and restore healthy functioning.
In the midst of this trial common to humans, the opportunity for metaphoric reference to spiritual growth and health has not escaped me. I am inspired in this by the writing of A.W. Tozer on the sovereignty of God and the limitations to human freedom. He writes,
“We are not psychologically conditioned to understand freedom except in its imperfect forms. Our concepts of it have been shaped in a world where no absolute freedom exists. Here each natural object is dependent upon many other objects, and that dependence limits its freedom…The freest bird is, along with every other created thing, held in constant check by a net of necessity. Only God is free.” (A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy).
When I pray with people who are experiencing pain or illness, I often encourage them to consider not only what is going wrong in their bodies; I lead them in giving thanks and praise for what is operating correctly even while they are preoccupied with an acute problem. The heart pumps, the lungs inflate, the blood brings life-giving nutrients and carries away waste for the intestines and kidneys to filter and excrete. Feet carry us to our destinations. And hands are the most useful, versatile tools ever created to assist us in a thousand ways every single day. We take these things for granted, don’t we?
Despite the brilliance of God’s created order, systems do break down, and it’s largely because we are not free, even within ourselves.
For example, the correct functioning of my legs is dependent on the health of my spine and the complex neuromuscular communication system connected to it. Then, my whole being is subject to all kinds of external physical and psychological stressors, necessitating activation of systems of maintenance, regeneration, healing and rest.
My well-being also depends significantly upon the relative health of my relationships. Especially my relationship with God.
God offers himself to us freely, but he does not compel us to respond to his invitation to personal relationship. In this we are free. When we choose to respond in faith and become born again, God through Christ initiates a course of “treatment” that continues throughout our natural lives.
If we submit fully to his wise interventions, the Sovereign Lord daily makes adjustments—to our attitudes, our emotions, our priorities. Sometimes there is a dramatic “pop,” but often progress is much more subtle and gentle. Either way, he is infinitely wise and kind. He is on a mission to set right what was made crooked by the great Fall that brought sin, disorder and death.
We mustn’t suspend treatment. If we quit the treatment plan prematurely, we are likely to regress, wax worse and worse, become bent, brittle, and broken.
When I look at the skeletal images of my spine, pelvis, hips, and rib cage, I marvel at the magnificent complexity of God’s design. It protects vital organs and holds together the structure of the torso. Most beautifully, while it is strong and durable, it is amazingly flexible. Its interlocking bones are strong enough to withstand enormous pressure, yet flexible enough to bend in all directions. It allows me to dance, to praise, to bow in worship.
Is this perhaps a fitting metaphor for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Are we not wise to allow our expert clinician to make every adjustment and alignment of our bodies and souls that he determines for our good?
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40:3-5)