Humans have an innate need for contact--for physical touch. But is there greater spiritual significance to touching?
Humans have an innate need for contact--for physical touch. But is there greater spiritual significance to touching?
MODERN LANGUAGE contains many expressions that convey the importance of touch. We speak of friends and acquaintances "staying in touch." We describe some people as being "out of touch." We sometimes say that a tactless person has "a heavy touch."
Yet many of us live in societies that shun actual physical touch. Sociologist Ashley Montagu observes that we in the Western world "have produced a race of untouchables." He sees this as a sign of the "impersonality of life."
Others agree that the Western world suffers from touch aversion and believe that part of the cause is our addiction to gadgets such as computers and television.
A Touching Need
The most basic element of love is physical touch. Typically, the first action a mother takes toward her newborn is to pick up her infant and hold it close. This is vital to the baby in that it triggers the crucial bonding process for the newborn. As Montagu says, "Among the most important of the newborn infant's needs are the signals it receives through the skin, its first medium of communication with the outside world."
As the child grows, one of its greatest needs "if it is to prosper...is to be handled, and carried, and caressed, and cuddled, and cooed to..." A child who is completely deprived of such loving treatment may not survive.
This was illustrated in a 1945 study conducted by René Spitz of children in an institution. "A group of children--all under three years of age--were fed and clothed adequately but, because of too few nurses, given very little personal attention," wrote James McKee in Sociology, The Study of Society. "No one talked to them, carried them around, or cuddled them. The human results were devastating; within two years fully a third of the children had died and the rest were mentally retarded... The conclusion seemed to be clear: loving attention is as essential as food for the human infant."
This finding was recently confirmed in Romania, in "the early 1990s, when thousands of infants warehoused in orphanages--some of them virtually left alone in their cribs for two years--were found to be severely impaired" according to an article in Life.
The social and psychological development of a child deprived of proper touch may be hindered also. Montagu believes such a child will develop into someone who is "physically awkward in his relations with others, but also psychologically, behaviorally awkward with them." In short, he or she will lack tact, a word which is derived from the Latin tactus, which means "to touch."
Parents' Role in Touching
What can parents do to help their children? Parents should shower their children with loving physical contact. This includes not just hugs and kisses but a touch on the shoulder, a pat on the back, a tousling of the hair.
In our modern society, it is particularly important that we make a point of expressing love to our children through physical touch. In days gone by, children received more physical contact with parents because of nurturing practices common in more traditional societies. One example of this is breastfeeding. Breastfed babies abundantly receive the benefits of physical touch while nursing.
Physical touch is important especially for difficult children. Parents who are attempting to correct certain behavioral problems may find that touching provides benefits. For example, taking an overly rambunctious baby or toddler into your arms may help calm his or her temperament.
When they are ill, children particularly need the comforts of physical touch and holding and the reassurance that brings.
Touch Between Couples
In some marriages couples have an active sexual relationship, but seldom demonstrate other signs of affectionate touching--holding hands, a touch on the shoulder or a warm hug.
Young couples naturally tend to demonstrate affection through these actions, but as the years go by such expressions may become less common. Affectionate touches, however, remain important throughout life and we never outgrow our need for them. They help provide reassurance of unconditional love.
Physical touch is good therapy in times of difficulty. Studies performed at the University of Miami Medical Center indicate that physical touch reduces stress. "A simple touch--a hand on a shoulder, an arm around a waist--can reduce the heart rate and lower blood pressure... Touch also stimulates the brain to produce endorphins, the body's natural pain suppressors" according to an article in the August 1997 issue of Life.
Many marital relationships suffer from not enough touching. In the hectic pace of our busy culture, we too often neglect to practice these simple acts of affection. Husbands and wives need to go out of their way to convey fondness through touch. Touch maintains the vibrancy of a relationship. It is a means of communication. There is "a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing" (Ecclesiastes 3:5)
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;). For many husbands and wives, the times they refrain from embracing are too numerous for their own well-being.
The Hand of God
Even more important than the touch of human beings in our lives is the touch of God. He, being in the spirit realm, does not physically touch us in the same way people do. But His hand of intervention and comfort is available to those who seek a close relationship with Him.
The concept of touching is so significant to God that He instituted a specific ceremony--called "laying on of hands"--for certain special occasions. Laying on of hands is a key teaching of the Bible. It is listed among several basic doctrines of the Bible in Hebrews 6:1-2
Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
The primary purpose of placing hands on a person was to impart a blessing. It is interesting to see how the Bible directs God's servants to perform this ceremony at key times in human lives. Let's notice some examples.
The first crucial stage of human life is infancy. We have noted the importance of adults showing attention to little children through physical touch.
Jesus Christ, too, recognized this need. He set an example for us by taking infants and little children into His arms, laying His hands on them and blessing them (Mark 10:13-16 And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them.But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them). Through this act He demonstrated that God is delighted to be involved in the lives of little ones. This event was so significant that three of the four gospel writers noted and recorded it (see also Matthew 19:13-15 Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.; Luke 18:15-17And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.).
Following Christ's example, elders in the Church of God today pray for and ask God's blessing on little children of those parents who desire it. However, they recognize that it is not the elder, but rather God, who provides the blessing.
Other Milestones in Life
Another important juncture in the life of a Christian is the commitment of baptism. At that time a Christian makes a lifelong commitment to serve God. It represents the beginning of a new spirit-led life (Romans 6:4
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life). Scripture shows that after baptism an elder is to lay hands on the new convert. God designated the performing of this act to signify imparting His Holy Spirit to the believer (Acts 19:5-6 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.).
The example for this is given in Acts 8. Philip went to Samaria to preach. Many responded to his preaching and were baptized. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard of this, they sent Peter and John, "Who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet [it] had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:15-17 Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:(For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost).
God also uses touch to convey His power to heal us. Jesus, for example, placed His hands on people when He healed them (Mark 5:23 And besought him greatly, saying, My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live; 6:5). He later instructed the disciples, as His representatives, to do the same (Mark 16:18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover). In the book of Acts, Ananias laid hands upon Saul (who was later called Paul) that he might be healed. Paul had gone blind. The laying on of hands and healing assured Saul that he was in God's hands.
When we are ill and want to ask God to heal us, we can go to an elder and ask him to pray for us. Scripture shows that today the elders are to combine laying on of hands with anointing the ill person with a small amount of olive oil (James 5:14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:) representing God's spirit.
Physical contact, through laying on of hands, can assure us of God's touch in our lives, because it is God's Word that we are obeying. The elder has no power in the matter. He is merely a human being given this responsibility to carry out God's instructions.
The marriage ceremony, uniting a husband and wife in a lifelong relationship, is another significant event in the lives of human beings. Though the Bible does not command it, it is the practice of elders of the United Church of God to lay hands on and pray for a couple during the marriage ceremony, asking God to bless the union. God designed marriage to be for life, so when a couple embarks on this journey, God's blessing is of utmost importance to its success.
"I Am With You Always"
The laying on of hands is a formal ceremony that is reserved for important moments or occasions. But by no means are these the only times God is involved in our lives. His hand will constantly guide you if you seek Him and welcome His involvement in your life.
David well understood the need for God's involvement in his life: "I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.). David's close, personal relationship with God gave him peace during every crisis. He walked with God and knew God always walked with him.
David said of God, "You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me" (Psalm 139:5
Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me., New Revised Standard Version). He had this confidence because he obeyed God. He said, "Let Your hand become my help, for I have chosen Your precepts" (Psalm 119:173 Let thine hand help me; for I have chosen thy precepts.).
The perfect example of God's closeness is the relationship that Jesus Christ had with His Father. The Bible records this close relationship in one of Christ's prayers: "Father, I thank you that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me" (John 11:41-42Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.).
Just before Jesus died He said, "Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit" (Luke 23:46)
And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.). Death is one of man's greatest fears. But Jesus Christ did not fear it, because He knew that His entire life was in the Father's hands.
Faith in God's Care and Concern
The disciples of Jesus had a similar faith and trust in God. We see this faith in the life of Stephen, one of the first martyrs of the Church. As Stephen was being stoned to death for believing and teaching the truth, he cried out "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.). He was confident that God's intervening hand was present for him just as the Father's hand had been there for Christ.
When the apostle Paul was being tried in a Roman court that had the power to execute him, he did not fear. He said "the Lord stood with me and strengthened me" (2 Timothy 4:17 Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.). You can have assurance that God will be with you in the travails of your life.
We live in a world of great uncertainty. Ours is an age of worry. Much of our anxiety results from not understanding God's purpose and our lack of a close relationship to Him. But it doesn't always have to be that way. If you would like to know God's purpose and have His intervening hand in your life, you must seek Him. God is seeking people to worship Him (John 4:23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.).
If you respond to God's call, you can have assurance of His presence. You can experience His touch in your life. Jesus said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him" (John 14:23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.).
To have this kind of relationship with God, you must respond to Him and seek Him with all your heart.