The love language of touch

In my high school youth group, it was customary to greet everyone with a hug. You would not be interrupting to approach a group, hug the five or six people standing there, and then continue on in conversation. You would think intruding in a large group like this would be an introvert’s nightmare—but in my experience, it was not. 

Personally, I would feel more insecure searching for a circle of people to enter only to stand quietly, uncertain of whether my presence has even been acknowledged. I would wonder if it was my responsibility to make myself known, or if it would be more courteous not to disturb the flow of conversation. 

Walking into a hug relieved me of these anxieties and made me feel seen. I found beauty in this ritual. Maybe the hugging meant different things to different people, but to me, it meant:

Hello, I see you, you are here, you are human, I acknowledge your existence, I appreciate the space you take up, and I embrace your presence with me right now.

It put me at peace to know with certainty that I had been seen. I was not ghostlike—transparent and barely present—but I was flesh and spirit. The first thing that my presence evoked was an embrace: an act of connection and love. 

Touch is murky water. It is governed by laws legal, social, and personal alike. We guard our bodies fiercely, not just because evil touch is real and all too pervasive, but because our bodies symbolize vulnerability. They encapsulate our humanity, our autonomy, and our individuality. When we allow someone into our space, it’s because we trust them to treat us with care. Touch is a defining aspect of an intimate relationship.

And because Jesus promises us an intimate relationship with Him, He reaches out to touch us… which, given His holiness and our filthiness, is more radical than we may realize.

The Touch of Heaven

The Gospel of Matthew recounts some of Jesus’ miracles during His earthly ministry and takes care to record the moments when Jesus places His hands on others. Matthew 9:20-22 records how a woman who was suffering with the discharge of blood for twelve years followed behind Jesus just to touch the fringe of His garments as He walked, desperate and hoping the touch would heal her. When Jesus noticed, He turned to her and said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well,” and she was healed.

In Matthew 9:23-26, Jesus arrives at the house of a girl who has just passed away, and something amazing happens: “He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.”

In Matthew 9:27-30, Jesus passes two blind men on the road who plead for healing. When Jesus asked if they believed in His ability to heal, they said, “Yes, Lord.” Then He touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And they were healed.

One of my pastors pointed out the fact that all of these miracles involve an act of touch: the woman touching Jesus’ garment, Jesus taking the hand of the deceased girl, and Jesus laying His hands on the eyes of the blind men. It was Jesus, who is God, putting His holy hands on these people to heal them—not from afar as a wizard might cast a spell, but in an intimate, personal way, a way that acknowledged you are here, you are human, I appreciate the space you take up, I embrace you. Think about how much these people needed an act of love from anyone, and they received it from the Savior of the world. 

And He didn’t stop at healing their bodies—He healed their sins and restored their souls. Jesus doesn’t just lay His hands on us, but touches our hearts. To Him, it is not solely a physical sign of affection, but one that recognizes all of who we are. 

Unwriting Impurity

Touch is about trust. We trust that whoever is granted that privilege will not violate our boundaries or our trust. We trust that their intentions are pure. There is risk involved when we let people in. Jesus understood that, too.

Those healed in Matthew were ones that others deemed unclean. Menstruating women were considered unclean by the Mosaic law, so the woman who was bleeding for twelve years would have been completely ostracized from society (Leviticus 15:25). Corpses were also considered unclean, as was anyone who touched them: “Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean for seven days” (Numbers 19:11). The same went for menstruating women. 

Yet, Jesus did not flee. He didn’t treat them while keeping His distance. He risked uncleanliness for them. He unwrote their impurity and subdued it with His own purity—a foreshadowing of His sacrifice on the cross where He substituted His own cleanliness to save our dirtied, stained souls. 

We are often tempted to view God as impersonal and distant. Yet, in His incarnation, He shares in our flesh and blood. “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). He understands what it is like to be made of flesh, to have a heart and have a heart burdened, to have hands and have hands pierced. Jesus’ practice of touching those He heals proves His shared humanity with us.

Another thing: think of the faith that these people must have had. They were willing to trust a man that had become the subject of gossip around Israel, someone condemned by their religious leaders. Yet when Jesus asked them if they believed He could heal them, they all responded, “yes.” They may not have known exactly who Jesus was yet, but they had enough faith that He would perform miraculous works if they asked, and He did.

Redeeming Touch

Faith can be grasping and reaching. We are not waiting for God to suddenly direct His attention to us; He has already met us and touched us. He does not speak commands to crush us like boulders from above; His law is there to bring us closer to Him, a law that has been placed in our hands to study and interpret (1 John 5:3). He has power in His hands, hands pierced for our transgressions that still reach for us. Hands just like ours have met those like us and healed them, and through the Holy Spirit, we are intimately tied to God and able to experience Him. Though others in Scripture may have felt the physical touch of Jesus, we are not excluded from feeling His presence. 

The purity in touch has been corrupted by sin. People abuse our trust and our boundaries. Things are stolen from us. It’s difficult not to see touch as predominantly transgressive. 

But I want to see the beauty in touch again, or at least what it can be. I want to remember how my Savior loves up close and personal. I want to practice intimacy and community with God and fellow believers. 

I’m not too sure what touch will look like in New Jerusalem with our new bodies. My guess is that, like all things, it will be made perfect and pure again. Or maybe, because our relationships with God and other believers will be reconciled—perfect koinonia—intimacy will no longer be defined by touch. But seeing Jesus practice the love language of touch gives me a framework for understanding how He longs to be close to me. More and more clearly, I hear Him say…

I see you, I embrace you, I love you.

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