We all have that moment… the traumatizing experience that took our favorite fictional form of media and made it REAL, complete with actual feelings and maybe even tears. For me, it was the shocking moment when the previously invincible Optimus Prime was permanently deactivated in the first Transformers animated movie… yes, I am that old. For some, it was the end screen of Quantum Leap when we were callously informed that Sam Beckett never returned home. For many of us, it was the shocking events that made Avengers: Infinity War movies resonate so powerfully as our favorite characters were snapped away or when franchise icons such as Loki, Heimdall, Black Widow and Iron Man painfully sacrificed their lives… or more recently when Loki finally achieved his glorious purpose by choosing the lonely burden of holding the multiverse together for all of time. In our video games, it may have been the unforgettably scarring memory of Aerith’s cruel and sudden removal from the playing field at the end of Final Fantasy VII’s disc one… the resolution of Dom’s storyline in Gears of War 3… or Mordin’s ultimate act of sacrifice as the Mass Effect trilogy reached it’s conclusion. While these are all fictional stories, they all left us feeling broken, empty… and scarred. These moments are etched in our memories, permanently coloring their surrounding events… and any recollection of these stories, including the previously pleasant parts, ultimately come back to these events and the telltale scars that they left behind.
Our scars from these fictional experiences show up in a variety of ways… it could be when they come up as a topic of conversation with others, when that specific franchise experiences a remastering/remake, or when a musical theme plays nearby and brings us back to a place that we thought we would return to. And suddenly, we are whisked right back down memory road to that theater where our young eyes confronted death for the first time in the form of a beloved robot… we see the PS1 controller fall from our hands as Sephiroth enacts his master plan… we hear the haunting strain of “Mad World” and vividly recollect Dom’s final actions to save his squad and his best friend. These moments “scarred” us… even though they only occurred in a story, the emotions they created were real enough to continue to resonate with the participants decades after their credits rolled.
In our real world lives, our experiences on this broken planet will often leave us in a similarly “scarred” state… some of them are physical and easily seen, while others are buried beneath the surface, invisible to others. For most of us, they serve as a bitter reminder of the pain and suffering we endured… it could be a physical scar, a torn picture, or a previously filled chair that now sits empty around a table. And when we look at these scars, they take us back to the places where these traumatizing events occurred… they remind us of when we were hurt, how it happened, and how it could have been prevented if just ONE THING went a little bit differently. What if we weren’t in that place at that exact time? What if we had never trusted that person who abused our kindness? What if we had left ten minutes earlier, ignored that phone call, never met that person, or made a different choice that would have changed everything? And as we pick apart our memories in search of an outcome that might have prevented these scars from ever occurring, our thoughts inevitably turn upwards towards an Almighty God who didn’t prevent them from happening.
If we are going to keep it real, regardless of where we are at in our faith, we can still struggle with the presence of the physical and emotional scars in our lives that are left behind by the painful circumstances we have endured. We may be able to forget about them until something jogs our memory and brings them back to the surface, or perhaps the trauma that caused them remains so inescapably imprinted in our minds that they never truly leave our thoughts. Either way, these scars can feel like a permanent reminder of when we WEREN’T protected… and if we are being honest with ourselves, our love and appreciation for our Heavenly Father can be adversely affected by the bitter aftertaste of wondering why He didn’t intervene in the situation that left us this way. Long after the pain has subsided and the threat has been removed, we are left with these ugly reminders of a situation that permanently changed us… and how we view our scars will not only impact the way we see ourselves, but how we view our Savior who understands in more ways than we can imagine.
Matthew 26:36-46 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.”
In the hours leading up to His crucifixion, Christ knew all too well the pain and suffering that awaited Him. And as He prepared to face His moment of sacrifice, He grappled with pressing that bitter cup to His lips and drinking from it. In a moment that showcased His humanity as profoundly as any other, Jesus prayed to the Father multiple times for an alternate solution… prayers that were not answered in a way that changed the path that was in front of Him. And His decision to move forward and face the horrific fate that awaited Him in order to save all of us ultimately had a happy ending… but it still left Him permanently scarred. And these scars served a purpose… a purpose I never understood until now.
The crucifixion of Christ was brutal, painful, and savage… and it left our Lord physically scarred as a result. And here is the question I have grappled with for years… in His post-resurrection body, surely He could have looked however He wanted to, right? He could disappear and reappear at will, He clearly had recovered from the massive amount of wounds that had been inflicted upon Him and caused His death… why did He choose to retain His scars when He could have easily just made them go away? He kept them for a REASON… one that was just as important the day He appeared to Thomas as it is for us to understand when we look at our scars today.
Jesus conquered death, hell and the grave… He stood triumphant before His disciples with His mission accomplished and eternal life now freely available to all who would choose to believe and follow Him. And yet, He decided to retain His scars… why? Why keep such a painful memory when in His infinite power He could have simply regenerated those areas the same way the rest of His body was resurrected? Why allow the cruel shapes of those nails embedded in His flesh that represent the very worst of humanity remain present when He possesses the ultimate “Magic Eraser”? Well, we need to understand the importance of serving a “scarred Savior”… because it will help us embrace the scars that each of us carry once and for all.
John 20:24-29 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Here was the problem… ten of Jesus’s disciples believed in Him and had embraced His return. But one of them, Thomas, remained on the outside looking in. Thomas needed to see the scars… He wanted additional reassurance that this was not some mere spiritual manifestation of his deceased Master, but that it was HIM. The One who had died and returned… and those scars were essential from bringing Thomas from a place of doubt to a position of belief. It was not the appearance of a resurrected Jesus, but the existence of a Lord who still carried His very real scars as eternal proof of the price that He paid that Thomas needed to see. And if Jesus saw the value of His scars as essential proof that the same God who allowed Him to be crucified is ALSO the same loving Father who brought Him back, then maybe our scars serve a higher level of importance than we may have previously understood.
Christ’s scars weren’t needed as proof that He suffered and died… Thomas already knew all of that. These scars were proof that Jesus had conquered that tomb and that He LIVES. And similarly, our scars are proof that we survived when we should have died… that our story continued when it could have ended. And in His hands, our scars can be used to encourage those who are feeling defeated by showing that when we fell, He picked us back up… that we were hurt by evil, but in His goodness He preserved us and brought us back. They demonstrate that even though we are at war with a strong and determined adversary (Ephesians 6:10-11), we serve a stronger and infinitely superior Savior who proudly wears His scars as eternal proof of His unbreakable love for us. Our scars do not define us, nor are they something to be ashamed of… we serve a Savior who came back in His resurrected body and deliberately chose to keep His scars. Not as a reminder of the pain He endured, but of the victory that they represent… the proof of His triumph over an adversary that tried to destroy Him (Colossians 2:15). So let’s look at the scars that we carry from a different perspective… they are not proof that the Lord abandoned us in our moment of need (Matthew 28:20). These scars don’t indicate the Father’s absence or His disinterest in the situation that caused them… they actually conclusively show that He showed up and intervened just in time, and that He has a continuing plan for us that will require these scars to complete (Revelation 12:11). They are evidence that we took our enemy’s best shot and SURVIVED… and now our testimony is written on our very flesh and souls as an eternal reminder that He that is within us is greater than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).
Jesus didn’t simply retain His scars as battle trophies… He used them to bring one of His beloved but troubled followers from a place of painful denial to faithful acceptance. And our scars have a similar purpose… they give us the ability to relate to the very real pain and suffering of the souls around us in a way that we wouldn’t have had an opportunity to reach any other way. That unwanted trip to the emergency room may open the door for a conversation that can provide a level of healing that doesn’t happen in a surgical room. That scar that reminds us of a dark time in our lives can serve as the impetus for bonding with a soul who shares nothing in common with us… except for that same shared pain. The physical scars that I carry still remind me of the tragedies that led to their creation… but now they serve as my personal testimony of His power to save through the shipwreck, to preserve me through the pain, and to use what was meant to harm me to serve a greater purpose. So let’s embrace the beauty of our scars… the ones others can physically see as well as the inner ones that are hidden from view. We serve and follow a similarly scarred Savior, and in His hands our scars do more than tell a story of the battles we have faced and the pain we have endured… they demonstrate His triumph over the very darkness that tried to consume us and was denied, sharing a message of hope to those who couldn’t have been reached any other way.
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