Thus far we have looked at the four senses of sight, taste, smell and hearing. In this article we will consider touch which differs from all the others because it is a “two-way” sense. By that I mean that each of the previous four senses detects things coming inward, but when we touch, it can both help us to detect things that are touching us and enable us to touch others.
Feeling Our Way
Like all of our senses, touch has positive and negative aspects. We all know what it is to feel good and what it is to experience pain. Up until now, we have looked at senses from a spiritual and a physical perspective but these senses also exist within the realm of our souls too.
As humans made in the image of a triune God, we are made up of three parts: spirit, soul and body. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul writes, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Let’s consider touch, as an example, from each of these perspectives – physical touch is easy to comprehend: the smoothness of silk or the roughness of a pineapple’s skin; in the realm of the soul, consider being touched by a story or a poem compared with being falsely accused; spiritually we are either touched by God or by the power behind the occult, the Devil.
Senses are given to help us feel our way through life at different levels and sometimes we wish their input wasn’t so strong.
The Part of Experience
There are countless ways in which we can get distorted views of touch. In our sex-charged societies many people are grasping at an illusion of intimacy through extra-marital sex. Along that line, I have come back numerous times to a quote by Derek Prince which goes as follows: Any people who allow themselves to have sexual relationships without first making a covenant commitment are really prostituting their personalities. This goes deeper than terms of sexual morality. I believe in actual fact that person is desecrating the most precious thing that he or she has: their personality. They are exposing their entire personality to someone who is not willing to pay the price that God requires.
Of course, not all experiences are negative – there are a great many positive experiences too, but an important thing to recognise is that past experience plays a significant part in how we think about touch.
If those previous experiences of touch are still so influential in our lives, it seems obvious that we need to seek God’s intervention and healing for every past negative encounter. In the following fairly long excerpt from Derek Prince’s booklet, The Divine Exchange, he helps us to recognise the problems and the glorious solution to shame, a key issue for those who have suffered themselves or abused others in this area of touch:
The exchange at the Cross covers also the emotional forms of suffering that follow from man’s iniquity. Here again, Jesus endured the evil that we in turn might enjoy the good. Two of the most cruel wounds brought upon us by our iniquity are shame and rejection. Both these came upon Jesus on the Cross. Shame can vary in intensity from acute embarrassment to a cringing sense of unworthiness that cuts a person off from meaningful fellowship either with God or with man. One of the commonest causes – becoming more and more prevalent in our contemporary society – is some form of sexual abuse or molestation in childhood. Often this leaves scars that can only be healed by the grace of God.
Speaking of Jesus on the cross, the writer of Hebrews says that He “endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Hebrews 12:2).
Execution on a cross was the most shameful of all forms of death, reserved for the lowest class of criminal. The person to be executed was stripped of all his clothing and exposed naked to the gaze of passers-by, who jeered and mocked. This was the degree of shame which Jesus endured as He hung on the cross (Matthew 27:35-44).
In place of the shame which Jesus bore, God’s purpose is to bring those who trust in Him to share His eternal glory. In Hebrews 2:10 the writer says: For it was fitting for Him [God] … in bringing many sons to glory, to make the author of their salvation [that is, Jesus] perfect through sufferings.
Aspects of Touch
Touch has a very important and far-reaching place in each of our lives. There are many different angles that we can look at it from – all of which can teach us something of the spiritual realm.
Touch As Defilement
Under the Old Covenant, there were many laws given about touching unclean things that would bring defilement. One side of this is highlighted in Leviticus 5:2-3:
‘If a person touches any unclean thing, whether it is the carcass of an unclean beast, or the carcass of unclean livestock, or the carcass of unclean creeping things, and he is unaware of it, he also shall be unclean and guilty. Or if he touches human uncleanness—whatever uncleanness with which a man may be defiled, and he is unaware of it—when he realizes it, then he shall be guilty.’
On the other side, we have the fact that when someone who was “unclean” touched something, then that object would become defiled. Numbers 19:22 says, “Whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean; and the person who touches it shall be unclean until evening.”
When we minister to or have contact with people who are still in, or those recently rescued from the occult, we need to be aware of this matter of defilement. Let’s remember to continually pray for cleansing of ourselves, our families, our homes, our land, our churches, our offices etc. from every occult influence.
Touch As Anointing
In his message entitled Transmitting God’s Power which deals with the laying on of hands, Derek Prince says the following: The function of laying on of hands in commissioning people is used to recognise but not appoint, the persons of God’s choice. It is used to set apart a person to a certain task or ministry. It is used to endorse a person with authority. And it is used to equip a person with all the spiritual authority or gifts that person will need.
We have examples of this in both the Old Testament and the New. In the Old Testament, we remember the stories when Jacob (Israel) blesses Joseph’s sons (Genesis 48) and when Moses anoints Joshua (See numbers 27:18-20 and Deuteronomy 34:9).
The New Testament records for us that Paul said to Timothy: Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of hands of the eldership. 1 Timothy 4:14
Touch As Strengthening and Encouragement
There are a number of passages where the Lord or His angels touch His servants to give them strength and encouragement. Here are some examples.
In Jeremiah 1:8-9, we read “Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,” says the Lord. Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.”
Daniel experience this sort of touch more than once: “Now, as he was speaking with me, I was in a deep sleep with my face to the ground; but he touched me, and stood me upright.” (Daniel 8:18) and then again in chapter 10, “Suddenly, a hand touched me, which made me tremble on my knees and on the palms of my hands.”v10 …”And suddenly, one having the likeness of the sons of men touched my lips; then I opened my mouth and spoke, saying to him who stood before me, “My lord, because of the vision my sorrows have overwhelmed me, and I have retained no strength.”” v16 … “Then again, the one having the likeness of a man touched me and strengthened me.”
Following the Father’s audible endorsement of Jesus, Matthew records in chapter 17 verses 6 and 7: And when the disciples [Peter, James and John] heard it [the Father’s voice], they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.”
John experienced this sort of strengthening again in Revelation 1:17 where it reads: And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.” Although we may not all experience these “open” visions of heavenly beings, we all need the Lord’s touch to strengthen and encourage us. This leads us to a related yet distinct purpose of touch…
Touch For Healing and Grace
Too numerous to list are the times in the Bible where touch is used for healing and to impart grace. Jesus goes before us where He touches the infirm and even the dead and brings wholeness and life. Sometimes we think of a healing touch as putting a hand on a shoulder and praying, but Jesus shows us a different way – He put His fingers in ears, spat and touched a mute tongue, reached out in compassion and touched the leper, spat on blind eyes and Mark tells us that “And as many as touched Him were made well.”
I’m not advocating a new ministry programmes for “spitting healing” and such like, but just like Jesus we do need to be following the Father’s lead in every situation.
The other side of Touch for Healing and Grace is that because of the creative and healing power flowing from Jesus, Luke tells us that, “the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all.” (Luke 6:19). There is also the beautiful story of the children being brought to Jesus “that He might touch them” because the parents recognised that His touch conveyed blessing and grace.
When we consider ourselves, what are our views on healing? Do we seek healing primarily from God or the doctors? Health care professionals offer a wonderful service to society, but we must remember to keep our eyes on the Lord and let Him choose whether He heals us directly or through doctors. For a warning in this regard, read the story of King Asa in 2 Chronicles 16:12. When we do seek God, do we limit Him in the methods we will accept or do we cry out for mercy no matter how the Lord chooses to send it? Are we like the multitude who press in to Jesus to touch Him, or do we watch Him from afar? When we press in, let us remember that the number one reason that we should be pressing in is not just for a gift of healing or provision, but because it satisfies our deep need for relationship.
Touch As Relationship
This aspect is perhaps one of the most obvious, but possibly also the hardest to do well. Different relationships require varying measures of touch to remain appropriate and when cultures collide, there is sometimes awkwardness when a genial handshake from your culture is met with a kiss on the lips from another culture – and that between men!
Lydia Prince once remarked that when she read John’s writings, she felt as if she were reading a love letter. John refers to himself as “the one Jesus loved” and he tells us that he leaned on Jesus’ chest at the Last supper. He describes Jesus in the beginning of his first letter as: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life”
When we love someone, we can demonstrate our feelings through physical affection. I love it when my children bowl me over when I come in the door after being away from home. They love to curl up on my lap as I read to them. It is wonderful to be able to hug a dear friend or family member whom you haven’t seen recently and often the memory of a parting touch lingers long in our memories.
Husbands and wives have a deeply special privilege of touch through sexual intimacy to the exclusion of all others, but if the relationship is not healthy, touch is diminished and both parties suffer. A lack of touch, not just amongst couples, but throughout society is known to cause separation, loneliness and even pre-mature death.
Owing to its power, we need to be careful whom and how we touch because it has tremendous ability to beautify but also to devastate relationships.
Touch As Sanctification
The expression to sanctify means to make holy. The writer to the Hebrews says that we should “pursue… holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
We know that under the Old Covenant, the Israelites were made holy through the sacrifices which covered over their sins. In the New Covenant, Jesus, the Lamb of God was slain to wash away our sins.
In the book of Isaiah, he relates a story where God brought conviction that he was “a man of unclean lips”, but God also provided a remedy:
“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said:
“Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” Isaiah 6:5-7
Personally, I have experienced a similar thing in the presence of the Lord and He is taking a “spiritual audit” when He puts His finger on a certain issue and says, “It’s time to deal with this now”. The remedy is always the same, the cross of Jesus, and as I repent and ask for forgiveness, His blood washes away the sin.
Hebrews 9:12-14 juxtaposes the two covenants beautifully: “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
Touch As Ministry and Service
As with most good things, there is a potential that we expect them for ourselves, but fail to give them to others. In his booklet Orphans, Widows, the Poor and Oppressed, Derek Prince says: “The key to happiness is not being loved, it is having someone to love – that’s what makes life exciting!” We shouldn’t just hope that others will touch us in ministry and service, but be the first to do it to others.
In many cases, loneliness can be removed from us by finding people to serve and to love. If anyone had the right to be separated and superior, it was Jesus and yet He chose to minister and serve people and as He did so, He touched them at every level. It is not always easy to be warm with people whom you are serving if you don’t ever touch them. Having said that, if you still need healing in the area of touch, then it is better not to touch than to do so insincerely or inappropriately.
Touch As Discernment
In 1 John 1:1 which we looked at earlier, part of John’s evidence for the truth that Jesus was who He claimed to be is “That which…our hands have handled”. I don’t know if you have ever considered buying something, perhaps seeing it being demonstrated at a show, on TV or on the internet. You think that you have found what you are looking for, but before you are content to pay the money, you want to touch it, feel it, handle it.
When a doctor does an examination, he shouldn’t just look at you and ask questions, he examines by touching so that he can discern a lump, a swelling, a break and so forth. Touch is a form of testing and discernment that helps us to make better informed decisions.
Touch As Evidence
When a parent says that they love their child, but they seldom touch them, the actions don’t fit the words. When a mother rubs her baby’s back to help break a wind or a father holds their child’s hand as they cross a road, their touch is evidence of their love and care. When words and actions don’t correlate, we lack integrity because we aren’t the same all the way through.
Following Jesus’ resurrection, John relates how Jesus used touch as evidence for Thomas: And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” John 20:24-27
Touch can be powerful evidence which backs up what we are saying. Touch as evidence is a safety net that helps us to test our beliefs. It also helps others to test us to determine the genuineness of our faith.
Loving Father, thank-you that you have touched my life and brought me into relationship with You through Jesus’ death and the power of Your Holy Spirit. Please forgive me if I have ever touched anyone inappropriately (knowingly or unknowingly) and enable me to be sensitive to others.
Help me to give and receive touch in my body, soul and spirit to Your glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen
– Peter Lindop