I’ve always found our ability to tolerate pain a quirky aspect of human nature. Some of us are born with the ability to tolerate a high level of discomfort before we really start to show signs of pain, but others let it be known at the first hint! In our childhood a simple kiss on the “boo-boo” from Mom or Dad helped to ease our pain, but as we grew older we realized the necessity of a stronger (and more tangible) remedy. While some prefer to go the natural route, such as visiting a mineral spring like those in Saratoga, others set up an appointment to see the doctor. No matter what, our primary objective is to either ease or get rid of that pain. Some physical pains heal easily and others not so easily. The inner and emotional pains we experience are even tougher to get rid of.
The prophet Jeremiah was well acquainted with both physical and emotional pain. In his day the region which had a reputation for healing was Gilead. The territory of Gilead was an important source of spices and medicinal herbs. It was located to the east of the Jordan River and north of the Jabbok River and is first mentioned in Genesis 31:21-22 when Jacob and Laban part ways. During the settlement years it was divided among the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, but its most illustrious resident was Elijah (1 Ki. 17:1). It played a pivotal role in the life of Joseph, who ended up in Egypt when his brothers took the opportunity to sell him to traders headed there as they passed through Gilead (Gen. 37:25). And while the “balm of Gilead” was certainly the source of physical healing to an extent, in Jeremiah 8:21-23 the prophet laments that there is no healing for his emotional wounds to be find within its borders.
It is difficult for us to understand the deep connection between the people of Israel and the city of Jerusalem, let alone the attachment to the Temple there. Although most of us hold some form of esteem for Washington, D. C. and the Capitol Building, none of us feels either of those things signifies the central relationship in our faith or our identity as a people. But that is how Jeremiah looked upon Jerusalem and the Temple. Having seen both destroyed by the Babylonians, the emotional pain this brought on was almost too much to bear. The soothing balm of Gilead was no source of relief, nor the healing hands of a physician, even though both were present. Jeremiah would have to find a source of comfort in something other than the traditional path of restoration.
I think many of us can understand that type of despair, although what causes our despair may be quite different than Jeremiah’s experience. Life is full of unexpected twists and turns and they generally occur when we least expect them. It seems more and more people are diagnosed with catastrophic health issues even when they’ve “taken good care of themselves”. But what about those pains that are deep within us? Some of them cannot be healed with a health regimen or prescribed medication. These pains are often caused by the fallen nature of the world we live in (Rom. 8:18-23). The disease of sin is far more difficult to battle (Rom. 7:24). What balm can reverse the effect of it? What physician has the comfort we need? For those battles we need Someone who is able to not only understand how we feel, but has the ability to provide rest (Mk. 2:16-17; Rom. 7:24). That Someone is Jesus (Mt. 11:28-30). Not only will He offer the comfort we need, He will also turn our situation into something good (Rom.8:28) and make it a means for us to help others (2 Cor. 1:3-4). If you are experiencing a time of deep distress as Jeremiah was, there is a Balm in Gilead available to you. It is up to you to bring those cares and worries to Him (1 Pet. 5:6-7). Only He can bring about the restoration you are seeking (Jn. 11:25; Heb. 9:11-14; 1 Pet. 2:24; Rev. 21:1-5).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 3/13/2016