As a child, I played with GI-Joes. One brand of GI-Joe that I especially favored was Hasbro, the flexible, high-quality, and close-to-authentic replicas of military soldiers.
Genuine Hasbros were distinctive for many reasons, one of which was a cheekbone scar cast into each model. When my younger siblings and I searched for models at garage sales, we scanned each carefully;
“Does it have the Hasbro scar?” we asked.
If the GI-Joe had the scar, we knew that it was a Hasbro and eagerly added it to our collection.
Scars are identity marks.
Every person has scars, internal and external. Scars are from car accidents, broken hearts, fights, traumatic falls, sports games, wars, beatings, lost hopes, and destroyed relationships. They tell stories that most people don’t readily share.
But like it or not, scars form who we are.
Jesus has scars. His scars identify Him to us as our crucified Savior and Conqueror of death.
Before his crucifixion, Jesus was beaten to an unrecognizable pulp. During his crucifixion, Jesus was nailed to the cross, and following his crucifixion, Jesus was stabbed in the side to prove his complete death. This horrible, grotesque death left Jesus with scars post-resurrection for a reason.
One of the greatest individual confessions in the Bible comes from Thomas, who personalizes his shaking faith when he identifies the risen Christ and declares;
“My Lord and my God!”
How did Thomas recognize Jesus? By putting his fingers in the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and by touching the spear wound in Jesus’ side. Jesus’ scars were meant to be purposefully shared with the world.
“Well, I’d rather wear my scars than cover them.”
I used to tutor a man who was open about his past. He praised God’s grace in his life, emotionally recounting various stories. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the way parts of his past reminded me of mine. When he asked me about my past and God’s changes in my life, I mumbled something about not being ready to share or about how we should discuss his upcoming papers.
He sighed in frustration at my closure;
“Well, I’d rather wear my scars than cover them.”
That phrase stayed in my mind for so long that I eventually added it to my quote book. At first, I assumed he was cocky because nobody actually wants to display their scars.
Except Jesus did. Jesus invites Thomas to see and feel his scars, a very intimate experience. Thomas’ response is an incredible increase of trust and assertion of truth. Jesus let his scars be instrumental in Thomas’ whole-hearted confession and surrender. He didn’t hide them.
I know about hiding scars; I struggled with cutting.
I’m not writing to explain why I cut – I’m not sure I understand why – but I knew that I should be ashamed of the struggle, so I wore an armful of bracelets.
I thank God for ending that struggle. But even after meeting Him, I wasn’t very open about the experience. In college, I normally wore an armload of bracelets to hide the couple lingering scars I had.
I only have two scars I can still see now, but to me, they remain embarrassing signs of weakness, of things that went wrong without my understanding, of my struggle with depression. One man’s bold encouragement and honesty didn’t change my perception.
But Thomas said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails … I will never believe.”
And Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands, and put out your hand and touch my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:25 & 27). He recognized Thomas for seeing and believing, but blessed those who believe without seeing.
We want everyone to be in that “those-who-believe-without-seeing” group. It’s comfortable to us if we don’t have to share raw, painful wounds or embarrassing scars within our faith conversations. It’s easier if I don’t have to show people, “Look who I was. Look what God changed. I was as good as dead, but He picked me for love.”
“Look who I was. Look what God changed. I was as good as dead, but He picked me for love.”
Many Thomas’ are in the world. People won’t trust us and our God unless we are honest about what we’ve experienced, inviting them to see our injuries and believe. Our scars mean that God’s grace brought us to the other side of whoever or whatever wounded us – even if it was ourselves.
Now, I’m not putting the scars I gave myself as the result of my depression on the same level as the scars Jesus received to purchase the salvation of the world; that’s blasphemously degrading to what he suffered as my innocent, perfect Savior. However, I think there is a point to sharing the stories behind scars, no matter how they are received, in order to open a conversation about God.
We live in a society where experience is one of the ultimate authorities. If we haven’t suffered and we can’t share our experiences, people assume that our faith, that our God, doesn’t work in the real world.
No scar is coincidental; scars are gifts that contribute to the testimony of God’s grace, help, strength, saving power, and protection in our lives. If we don’t share our scars, fresh or ancient, we’ve lost a part of the beautiful story God entrusted us to tell a world of aching sufferers.
I chose Kahlo’s “Wounded Deer” (above) because of how much I admire her artistic self-portraits of personal reality. The Las Vegas Informer magazine states that “her pain and suffering is shown through her paintings which have bold and rich colors and outstanding symbols and animals.”
Check out this anti-self abuse website which was part of God’s gift of grace helping me as a non-Christian to resist cutting.