“Is there no balm in Gilead?” Jeremiah 8:22a
The prophet, Jeremiah was in a dark place. He was discouraged and mourning for his people for he feared God had rejected them due to disobedience and worship of idols. He cries out: “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of my poor people been restored?” Howard Thurman writes that Jeremiah is searching his own soul for an answer and “is actually saying ‘there must be a balm in Gilead’” for he has found it as the core of
his own faith.”
The spiritual “There is a Balm in Gilead” takes the question raised by Jeremiah and turns it into an affirmation of God’s presence even in the midst of discouragement, trouble, and illness.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.
Sometimes I feel discouraged,
and think my work’s in vain.
But then the Holy Spirit
revives by soul again.
Don’t ever feel discouraged,
for Jesus is your friend,
and if you look for knowledge
he’ll n’er refuse to lend.
If you can’t preach like Peter,
if you can’t pray like Paul,
just tell the love of Jesus,
and say he died for all.
When and how has God’s presence helped you deal with the tough realities of living? How has Jesus been a friend in time of trouble and in time of joy? Note that in stanza three everyone has a responsibility to share the story of Jesus. The ability to preach and pray may not be yours, but you are to tell “the love of Jesus.” How do you share the love of Jesus within your family, among your friends, and in the community?
Howard Thurman, a grandson of a slave and a noted theologian, says about this spiritual: “The basic insight here is one of optimism – an optimism that grows out of the pessimism of life and transcends it. It is an optimism that uses the pessimism of life as raw material out of which it creates its own strength.”
Jeremiah affirmed God’s presence. The spiritual affirms God’s presence and healing powers. In the midst of your own struggles, remember always that God is with you. May your hope and faith be grounded in a God that can and will “revive your soul again.”
Joyce D. Sohl has been Laywoman-in-Residence since 2009 as a full-time volunteer. She retired as CEO of United Methodist Women in 2004. She is the author of 4 books, a teacher, retreat leader, writer and non-professional musician. Here at the Center her work is in the area of Spirituality & the Arts with such programs as Tuesdays in the Chapel, Vespers & All That Jazz, Poet’s Corner, and quarterly retreats and art exhibits.