Tooth pain this past month has prompted reflections on why those disaffected with the Church can’t perceive good or appreciate positive changes.
This month one of my molars started hurting. Badly. The dentist referred me to an endodontist for a root canal. But it turned out only one of the three roots could be “canaled.” So my dentist referred me to an oral surgeon for tooth extraction.
By the time I sat in the oral surgeon’s chair, the infection had been causing pain for over two weeks. He numbed me up, but the local anaesthetic wasn’t able to reach the infected tooth. Several more attempts were made to stop the pain locally before they put me under nitrous oxide, an anaesthetic that affects the entire body.
As I sat there feeling pain the surgeon was trying so hard to take away, I thought of people who have felt pain because of Church. And I understood in a new way how their pain blocks their ability to appreciate attempts to make things better.
Sometimes there is a unique wrinkle that makes the situation more fraught. In the case of my tooth, the infected root had a hooked end, which prevented simple extraction. In the case of someone disaffected with the Church, there can be connections with believers or conflicts over policy that make the pain more intense.
After the problem tooth was gone, its neighbors took a while to return to their former state of painless function. The ordeal had pushed them slightly off kilter so that every bite was painful and somehow wrong. In similar fashion, those who are close to someone who has been disaffected can experience pain and dislocation, even though they themselves are strong.
Any time one who had been in the Church leaves, it is painful. The one leaving knows their pain, but may not realize the pain felt by those who remain.
People are not bad teeth. They don’t need to be cracked apart and thrown away. Unlike bad teeth, people who were once disaffected can heal and return.
The Church teaches that we all, before this life, desired to be part of God’s covenant people, what Paul called the body of Christ. Before experiencing the pain and joy of this life, our intent therefore had been to be united to God’s word or at least ultimately reunited with God.
The Church also teaches that our bodies will be restored in the resurrection. In like manner, I suggest that all willing to be united to the covenant (or body of Christ) will be restored to the hope that was theirs from before the foundation of the world.
While God will force no individual to heaven, those willing may return, all pains and hurts healed for those willing to throw themselves on the sacrifice of Christ.
My faith is in a loving God and Jesus Christ, who stands ready to save us. My hope is that God has prepared a way for all willing to be healed and return. And my love is for all who I believe I knew in that time before this life, every man, woman, and child who will ever have been born.
As Thomas Moore wrote:
“Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish;Hymn 115
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts; here tell your anguish.
Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot heal.”