I’ve been waiting for a Lore Ferguson Wilbert book for many years. I read an advance copy, but then I held the hardback copy. It was then that I realized how much her book had already changed me - I found myself thinking about touching.
From the very start of Handle With Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry, Lore opens the readers’ eyes to their bodies. Her goal in publishing this book is not to provide a guidebook on “how, who, why, where, when, or what to touch” (p.31). The purpose of this book is to help us think about touch. How we think about touch is affected by our past both in positive and negative ways. But instead of a list of “thou shalts,” Lore provides a theological framework for touch. And who does she look to for our example? Well Jesus, of course!
Don’t so many of us, when we hear about “touch” blush a bit at the thought of an entire book on this subject? “It’s as if we cannot separate good, healthy, normal human touch from what we envision to be its most intimate case scenario - or its most perverted forms,” Lore writes (p.5). Jesus touched those who were deemed untouchable by the watching world. He allowed others to touch him in a brutal, painful way, and his touchable and touching body hung on a tree so that we might one day have a redeemed and perfect body to worship God with forevermore. It is impossible to say that the Bible says nothing about touch, and Handle With Care walks through how we might be transformed in our thinking about touch if we really looked at God's Word.
Setting the Stage For Right Thinking
In the first two chapters of Handle With Care, Lore provides a framework. She emphasizes the importance of having healthy categories for touch so that we can care. “We need to teach how to touch with true care. Care for our own bodies and for the bodies of others, because those bodies were created by a good and caring God” (p.39).
She explains that touch is not morally wrong or always sexual. Touch was made by God. After all, the world we live in is a physical one. Yet touch, just like all other things in this world, was and is affected by sin. Touch is meant to be caring, but we've distorted it. It is also complex - we come from various backgrounds and experiences that shape our understanding of touch. To help bring understanding, Lore provides three categories of touch: platonic, sexual, and professional. Each form of touch has both positive and negative ways in which it is used. But in all forms, touch should find its origin and purpose in God.
The book of Genesis shows us how the world was formed - by God’s spoken word. But “God chose His first act with man and woman to be touch, to use His hands. Why have we in the church diverged so far from His example?” (p.56)
We did so by taking what God has called “good” and allowing sin to redefine it. We struggle to know what the difference is between good and bad touch. We have all sinned in the way we touch, and we have been hurt by the way others touch. Because of our sin, we’ve overcorrected, especially in our churches, and we can be tempted to withhold touch all together. We touch or don't touch out of fear.
“Most of us have felt this electricity in contact with another’s flesh, but because touch is so uncommon in our culture - and in the church - we immediately associate the electricity we feel with illicit touch, instead of ministering touch. We assume if we feel felt or if we have felt others, then it must be wrong” (p.58).
How do we know what ministering touch looks like? We must look to Jesus as our example of redemptive touch. Lore walks through Matthew 9 and Mark 5 to show ways that Jesus’ life on earth teaches us about touch and why the church must strive to “bring both our souls and our bodies forward to ‘be served and to serve’” (p.84). It is through Jesus' example in these passages, and in many others, that we see God-glorifying touch on perfect display.
Touch is often understood as something between ourselves and another, but Lore also addresses how we think about our touch of self. This form of touch can either bring about good as we care for the bodies we were given, or we can use this for harm. She moves from this to addresses touch for the person who is single. She graciously counsels the person who is single through what touch means for them. The absence of touch can emphasize loneliness and isolation that one can feel when they are not married. But Lore calls the church to care for those who are not married and offer caring touch to the ones who may need it the most.
If we can reframe how we think about touch and avoid fear of man, we can love our brothers and sisters by touching them in a holy, loving way. This applies to platonic friendships between men and women, dating relationships, marriage relationships, and experiences of touch as children. Each of these relationships is addressed at length, and even though each chapter may not seem to apply to the married or unmarried, these chapters are beneficial for all. The whole church must pursue a right understanding of touch in every relationship represented in the church. We are all part of Christ's body, and by the Holy Spirit we can grow as the body, touching one another in a way that honors God and serves one another.
As Lore concludes this book, she looks to the story of Jesus and his disciple, Thomas. What does Thomas’ touch of Jesus’ wounds say to us? How can these few verses in John 14 inform our theology of touch? “Jesus made His wounds available to Thomas, proof not only of His resurrection, but of the lengths to which He’d gone to show Thomas the love He had for him. Thus Thomas’ eyes were open to the Risen Lord - he could finally ‘see’ Him - through touching Him” (p.222). At this point in the book (as with many other points before), I felt my eyes well with tears as I imagined how sweet the hugs will be in heaven - how firmly our Savior will grasp our necks when we're finally home with Him. Won't he touch us with such magnificent care? I look forward to that day.
So where does this book leave us?
We must remember that God formed us in bodies, and that “Christ came in a body for my body” (p.230).
Touch and being touch are a topic that the church hasn't said much about. I am thankful for Lore’s work to provide conversation starters that help us be mindful of touch as we love one another with our hands. And maybe the next time you hold a book, feel a book, flip through the pages of a book, it should be a book about touch, and one that you Handle With Care.
Lore Ferguson Wilbert's book, Handle with Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry, is available now for purchase at Amazon and wherever books are sold.