Where is the balm?
Where is God when it hurts? It’s a question most of us have asked at least once as we’ve watched others struggle through unbearable pain or trial. For many believers, the hurt results in genuine cries of pain and frustration. Sometimes this is followed by a nagging guilt over our own doubts and uncertainties – as if asking the question is wrong, or going through pain makes us less than… It might reassure you to know that the scriptures describe many people who cry out to God as they seek to understand where God is in times of suffering.
The prophet Jeremiah is a good example. In his response to the cries of distress from the people of Judah and Jerusalem, he famously declared:
‘Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?’ (Jeremiah 8:22 ESV).
For anyone who has experienced the feel of cool aloe vera on a nasty sunburn, you will know what a balm is supposed to feel like. It is both a source of healing and of comfort. Jeremiah is asking, where is the comforter? Where is the one who will heal the people and the land? Where is the redeemer?
In a world full of conflict and geopolitical instability, it is natural that we ask ourselves such questions. They are not a sign of faithlessness, and they should not move us to feelings of guilt or inadequacy. Pain, violence, and inequality are all consequences of a broken world in need of healing.
When someone collapses in the middle of a street, those who intervene might cry out for a doctor — that doesn’t imply an absence of help, rather it is a declaration of need.
Throughout this passage in Jeremiah, the language is intentionally vague as to who the speaker is. Is it Jeremiah or God speaking? The ‘daughter of my people’ is a term best used by God. God himself is declaring the helplessness of the world that is broken and in desperate need of healing – is there one who can bring it the comfort and restoration that is needed?
When we cry out in frustration at the state of the world, we witness to the faithfulness of the Father and to his compassion that he feels as he looks upon everyone caught up in pain and suffering. He cries out with the prophet, ‘Is there one who can bring the comfort and restoration that is needed?’ In Jesus, we hear a resounding ‘yes’ to that question. He has come as a physician to heal the sick and he has sent his Spirit who is a balm to fill, soothe and restore the cracks that permeate our broken world.
The next time you or someone you know calls out in despair, rest in the truth that we have God’s answer in Jesus. There is a balm in Gilead, there is a physician here. He has answered the call of a broken world. He has wept alongside it, suffered for it, and healed it with his wounds.
Presented by Greg Williams
About the presenter:
Greg Williams is President of Grace Communion International and lives in North Carolina, USA. Word of Life each Sunday is taken from ‘Speaking of Life’, (https://www.gci.org/videos/media-speaking-of-life/), a public resource video on the USA website of Grace Communion International.
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