He added this:
If a scar is a healed wound, a wound that the body has marvelously managed to rescue and restore — then in some way, Christ’s entire bodily form, having suffered the ultimate injury of death but having been rescued and restored, is that of a scar. He will be worshiped, the book of Revelation (5:6) says, in the form of “a Lamb looking as if it had been slain.” Perhaps our scars, which are so often a source of shame and regret, are the truest clues we have to the full form of our resurrection bodies.
These observations echo those of St. Augustine, who speculated that we shall see in the bodies of martyrs the traces of the wounds they bore for Christ’s name “because it will not be a deformity, but a dignity in them; and a certain kind of beauty will shine in them.”
Philip Yancey, in responding to my query about why the glorified body of Jesus would be disfigured by scars, said, “Jesus’ retained wounds stand as a visual proof.” Mr. Yancey, whose books include “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” and “The Jesus I Never Knew,” added:
He could have had a perfect body, or no body, when he returned to splendor in heaven. Instead he kept a remembrance of his visit to earth, and for a keepsake of his time here, he chose scars. The pain of humanity became the pain of God.
By now answers that had eluded me were coming into focus. “That Jesus’ wounds are also seen in his resurrected body underscores that the suffering love that led Jesus to a cross and to wear a crown of thorns is part of God’s eternal redeeming love for humanity,” Mark Labberton, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary, told me. “The scars witness to God’s suffering, resurrected hope.”
Beyond that, Dr. Labberton said, the fact that the traces of Jesus’ wounds aren’t simply wiped away allows us to “make meaning of our losses, and to make meaning of our lives.” In other words, an essential part of what happened to Jesus shouldn’t be forgotten — it cannot be forgotten — even in eternity.
In this way, it is similar to the situation facing victims of trauma, according to Dr. Labberton. To recover, they shouldn’t be told to forget their trauma; they need to find ways to re-contextualize and integrate it into their life stories. It is part of their story, never to be downplayed, but it need not define who they are in perpetuity. “The wounds of Jesus are not the final word,” according to Dr. Labberton, “but they are meaningful.”
Or, as Cherie Harder put it to me, “Healing requires seeing.”
Scott Dudley, the senior pastor at Bellevue Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Wash., told me that when he’s counseling or mentoring others “often the most helpful thing I bring is my wounds.” He added, “Everything important about being a pastor I did not learn in seminary.” He learned it through the pain of a personal loss that will never completely fade. “Wounded people make the best healers because they know what it means to be wounded,” Dr. Dudley said. “I’m a better healer not in spite of my wounds, but because of my wounds.”
“All that to say sometimes the most helpful things we bring is our wounds, which is another reason Jesus kept a reminder of his,” he added. His point isn’t that Jesus’ wounds were flaws; it is that they were wounds that left scars, and that not hiding them from us is a great help to us.
This hints at one of the most important human (and divine) qualities: empathy. “If Jesus showed us his scars, even after his Resurrection, then maybe we can learn to integrate pain and suffering into our lives in a way that frees us from wasting energy spent in denial and shame,” Peggy Wehmeyer, a former religion correspondent for ABC News, told me. She knows of what she speaks, having poignantly written in these pages about the suicide of her husband in 2008.