A person may deal with a minor setback in their dating life by shedding a few tears and going off their diet with a dish of ice cream, but the breakup of a marriage is a deeper hurt that needs much deeper healing.

If at my annual checkup the doctor uses the words high cholesterol, I might feel a little anxiety; but if he uses the words stage-four cancer, my whole world is likely to change in an instant. The first diagnosis may be addressed with a simple prescription, but the second would require my whole person — body, mind and spirit — to commit to the healing process. Deep hurting needs deep healing.

All of us hurt, and we spend a lot of time and energy trying to heal our hurts. Usually, our attempts at healing are too superficial. People with addictions to alcohol or other drugs have found a habitual way to make the hurt go away, but they discover over time that the surface healing of their feelings is only a temporary solution. Others put salves on their infected wounds by binge-watching television, or frantic partying, or harmless but fruitless hobbies. The pain is still there.

At a critical time in Israel’s history, when they were threatened by the powerful Babylonian Empire that would soon overwhelm them, destroy the Temple and take many leaders into captivity, the Prophet Jeremiah tried in vain to call the nation to repentance. Unfortunately, there were other false prophets who reassured them that their situation was not all that bad and the future was rosy. Jeremiah wrote of them,

They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, Saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ when there is no peace. (Jeremiah 6:14)

That’s the familiar King James Version. In the New International Version, the first line reads,

They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. (NIV)

Jeremiah could have said, “They offer superficial healing for deep hurting.”

I remember reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when I was in college.* This is the dramatic story of human suffering in an African country under the rule of the Belgian Empire in the late nineteenth century. It focusses on one ruthless manager named “Mr. Kurz,” who has spent his entire career extracting as much ivory as possible from an interior region, at the expense of the local population and the wildlife. As he lays on his death bed, he is sharing some important documents with Marlow, the leader of the expedition sent to rescue him, and he suddenly exclaims, “The horror, the horror!” Then he dies.

In an anticlimactic episode toward the end, Marlow reports back in Europe to government officials and other interested parties. Among them is the woman Mr. Kurtz had referred to as his “intended.” She is anxious to know what his last words were, and Marlow lies, “It was your name.”

If we’re really honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that, beneath all the deep hurts we experience in life, there’s another, even deeper hurt that we can’t explain or express. It seems bottomless, and we don’t have a clue how to begin to fix it.

Christian theology calls our hopeless dilemma Original Sin. This phrase doesn’t come from the Bible, but the Apostle Paul seems to identify it with an event in the early history of the human race, which has become known as “The Fall” and is usually identified with Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden (Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). We can all picture the two of them, the snake and the apple, but we seem to sense intuitively that this imagery represents an even bigger and deeper drama. For some reason we can’t quite understand, the human race and each of us as human persons** are seriously out of tune with the design God had in mind for us, so much so that Paul can refer to us, in our natural state, as God’s enemies (Romans 5:10). That’s the ultimate source of our profound painful disease, and no earthly medication can heal it.

When we confront this, we respond with Mr. Kurz’s “The horror, the horror!”

The deep healing for our deepest hurting can only come from something just as horrible. That’s why so many of us find comfort in The Cross where Jesus suffered and died. That’s how much horror the Son of God was willing to embrace to heal our deepest hurting.

– Pastor George Van Alstine

* The 1979 film Apocalypse Now recreates Conrad’s story in the context of the Viet Nam War.

** As well as the whole created universe