and a healer. Not a teacher who occasionally did some healing. Not a teacher who healed to draw attention to and authenticate his teaching, but a healer and a teacher. Indeed, Peter’s message to Cornelius was that Jesus “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:38). In Jesus, words and deeds are integrally incarnate, for healing.
When I was converted at the 1968 Billy Graham Crusade in Sydney I was given the Gospel of John. Ten years later, this was the Gospel included in the Year 12 Biblical Studies course I taught; John Marsh’s commentary was the secondary text. Perhaps this influenced me to regard Jesus’ miracles – including the miracles of healing – as signs rather than substance, pointing to something else, namely, Jesus’ teaching. Given the environment in which my faith was initially formed, it is not surprising I should come to think words more important than deeds. Sydney Anglicanism was staunchly evangelical (in that context, Calvinist). By my time, this was evangelicalism in which doctrine, piety and evangelism were prized and social engagement limited severely.
I was once told by the diocesan evangelist that pastoral ministry is but preaching one-on-one. This cannot be. Pastoral care is meant for healing. It complements teaching, but if teaching is for healing, one must not merely broadcast, one must know and speak into the lives of those for whom one cares. One must have wisdom, not just doctrine, to care aptly: one must act for and with those who suffer. This goes to the core of what ICS stands for, I believe: words in service of justice and mercy, scholarship in service of and accountable to everyday people living everyday lives. Lives in which suffering is all too prevalent.
I was born in Sydney – and born again, by God’s “amazing grace”, in John Newton’s words – because of one basic circumstance: my forebears were convicts on the First Fleet, among the reluctant founders of the British penal colony in 1788, on that “fatal shore”. Rev. Richard Johnson and his wife Mary were also on board, largely because of Newton (no longer a slave-trader but rector of Clapham) and William Wilberforce. Wilberforce, who fought tirelessly to abolish the slave trade and then slavery itself, was also a member (and often founder) of more than fifty societies dedicated to social betterment, mission and biblical literacy. He was of the privileged class, a close friend of Prime Minister Pitt the Younger, and before a dinner party he would prepare what he called “launchers”, designed to initiate a conversation about the gospel.
For Johnson too, conversion and social action went hand in hand. Not surprisingly, he was the colony’s first schoolmaster. When the Johnsons had a daughter, they gave her an Aboriginal name, Milbah. Even more tellingly, they welcomed an Aboriginal girl into their family. Governor Arthur Phillip prohibited slavery in the colony and refused retaliation against an Aboriginal who had speared him in the shoulder (and in later life, he was a lay preacher). These men were for mercy. Yet this “proto-neo-Calvinism” of the “Clapham Sect” soon withered in New South Wales, rehabilitation often giving way to retribution, amity with Aboriginals overtaken by colonising acquisitiveness (despite the King’s decree that they should, as his subjects, be treated fairly and equally).
It has for a very long time struck me (yes, twice stricken!) that Jesus chose not to give content to the “Kingdom of God” when he began his ministry with a call to repentance. He assumed his hearers should know, for had this not been proclaimed for a millennium? The good news was that this Kingdom was “at hand” (Mk 1:15). God’s reign, through God’s people, God’s kingdom come, his glory filling the earth. A kingdom of justice and peace, a place of healing.
I took great inspiration from a book by Henri Nouwen, lent to me many years ago by dear friends, parents of a child born with spina bifida. They have said I could mention Iain by name, reminding me that this Scottish variant of “John” means “gift of God”. They testify to learning much about themselves, their faith, and healing, through Iain and his suffering, and their own also. When Nouwen set to write what he thought his final book, the Apostles’ Creed was to be his template. He changed his mind. He wrote instead about the man with severe disabilities for whom he had been caring many years at L’Arche, not far from here in Toronto. This book was Adam: God’s Beloved, structured so Adam’s life parallels the life of Jesus. The Lord spoke profoundly to Nouwen through Adam Arnett. The Lord speaks indeed through the weak and hungry, the imprisoned and the homeless, “the least of these”. He speaks through those who suffer. If we have ears to hear.
My hope is that the scholarship of ICS will be of service to those who yearn for healing, for themselves and for others. For our words – our theorising, teaching, learning – are authenticated by healing, though not in the way I first thought. Healing is the desired outcome of teaching also, for mind, body and spirit, for our whole selves.All suffer in this fallen world. Some suffer mightily more than others. Jesus’ promise is that all may be healed. I bore the brunt of a (well-meaning) joke in an English church(!) about “the stain” I bear because of my reprobate ancestry. But redemption has been possible for Australian convicts and their heirs, as for Israelite slaves. Exodus may be the route to new life. May God’s Kingdom come in its fullness.