He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
I’ve been switching back and forth lately between reading Psalms and Proverbs, which has made it alarmingly easy to read a psalm – a cohesive and intentional work of lyrical poetry – as if it’s simply a chapter of Proverbs. The chapter and verse distinctions in the Book of Proverbs are arbitrary to its meaning; the order of the proverbs can seem arbitrary as well, since Solomon’s wise sayings are sometimes presented without any notable strands of theme. Yet to read a psalm in the same way, as if the different verses were placed back to back devoid of purpose, would be a crime to the text, both for its inspired nature and its literary nature.
This bad habit of reading is exactly what threw me off when I encountered the third and fourth verses of Psalm 147. There’s a clear juxtaposition here, as first we’re told that God heals the brokenhearted, and then we’re told that God created and named the stars. Is this a random change in subjects? Is this a list of different things God does? The idea that the juxtaposition here is incidental is precisely what I decided cannot be the case; nothing in God’s Word is random.
Then the thought hit me: what if the psalmist was trying to tell his hearers that God accomplishes both tasks with equal amounts of power and authority? Could it be that God heals the brokenhearted with the same power and might by which He determined the stars? Laying aside all conjecture and hopeful guessing, this conclusion is exactly what verse 5 suggests: “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” Great is our Lord, abundant in power to make the stars; great is our Lord, abundant in power to heal the brokenhearted.
The next stanza follows a similar train of thought, beautifully describing—from the heavens, down to the clouds, down to the hills, down to the beasts, then down to man—how God provides for and delights in His people. Everything, from the minutiae of our daily lives to the billion-trillion stars, is upheld by God’s wise and powerful care and control.
So, what does all of this mean for the brokenhearted? After all, this psalm was written not for the benefit of inanimate bodies of gas but for the benefit of the afflicted, the fearful, and the outcast. It means, quite frankly, that God is able. God gives himself a job description in verse 6: “The Lord lifts up the humble; He casts the wicked to the ground.” Take comfort in the present tense, brothers and sisters: lifting up the humble and binding our wounds is not something God can do or might do. It’s something God does. For those of us in the household of God by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, we can look forward not only to a present-day healing of our spiritual afflictions, but to an eternal healing of all things — spiritual and physical and emotional.
However, there’s an arguably more important question that this psalm makes no attempt to answer: how does God heal the brokenhearted, exactly? While I feel woefully inadequate to do justice to this question, a few things come to mind. First, every Christian can look at his or her heart as a gift from God. Our adoption as sons and daughters began with the miracle of God removing our hearts of stone and giving us hearts of flesh (Ezek 36:26). If you are brokenhearted, it is a brokenness that God intends to heal because He did not gift you your heart in vain (Phil 1:6). Alongside your new heart, you were given the indwelling Holy Spirit, our Helper and Comforter; He is the ever-present manifestation of phrases we should hold dearly, like “God with us” and “union with Christ.” Scripture leads me to believe that the biggest factor in our healing process is this very fact, that God is with us through it all. God very well can heal you de facto of your cancer or your depression, but we can also have a confident hope that God has a purpose behind our cancer or depression. His specific purposes might be different in each case, in the same way that healing will look different for every person, but this one purpose (at least) is universal: our brokenness positions us to rely on God’s strength. When we need healing, what we really need is the power of God – the power that “determines the stars.” As said in 1 Peter 4:19, “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.”
The opening of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians might be the place I go to most often when I need healing for a broken heart:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too… Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Cor 1:3-5,9)
A distinction I have been struggling with recently is wanting God to be my fixer instead of my healer. I want my problems and my sins to evaporate, but healing takes time. Notice that God “binds up” our wounds; He doesn’t make them disappear. To participate in this sort of healing takes more than just patience, it takes faith. Faith that God is good. Faith that God keeps his word. Faith that God knows the plans He has for us. Faith that God understands our pain and meets us in our broken-heartedness, for He sent His son to suffer with us and die for us. Thankfully, this is exactly the God we have, and we can submit to His healing with full assurance that God knows what He’s doing. And we can take comfort in the fact that He’s healing us with the same power by which He spoke the universe into existence, not to mention the same power by which He raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Isn’t that incredible? For all these reasons and more, I say we take a cue from the psalmist when he said, “A song of praise is fitting!”