11 July 2009

On Healing

Since shortly after the birth of my son I’ve found myself on a kind of extended quest to explore, critique and even to experience the phenomenon of miraculous healing in the context of modern Christianity.

It’s been a heck of a ride.

Healing touches on a lot of different things in our lives and there’s no space (or desire) for me to write a book here. But I did want to create a kind of summary for what I’ve come to believe on the topic since I know several people who read this blog have been part of my journey. And to give the punch line away at the very beginning, I’m convinced beyond my own reasonable doubt that God heals people today – and He likes it.

I know that my first impulse on this journey was to do a lot of reading because the most obvious thing to me when I started was the glaring hole of stories. If something like this were going on today then it should be something I’d have heard about. I mean sometimes that crazy stuff maybe happens in distant exotic lands, but not here – right? Well one of the most shocking things I found, and it still blows my mind, is that the reliable records of healings are massive and always growing. I mean serious and voluminous medical record stuff, newspaper stories, video, on and on and on. It’s staggering. But is equally staggering how quickly some people dismiss this evidence because they really don’t want to know about it or simply don’t know what to do with it.

The truth is that I’ve never seen a topic with so much potential to divide people, particularly inside the church – something I found rather shocking. For me, I was doing research but I really didn’t have a dog in the fight so the often extreme reactions I saw from people really took me by surprise. I think I understand some of that in hindsight, but it remains shocking to me that something so obviously present in Jesus’ ministry could be so volatile to the folks who follow him lead.

After and during the search for evidence, I was reading a lot of books, listening to a lot of sermons, even visited several places in person to try and get my head around this thing. To be candid, I’d say that the slight majority of folks seem at least slightly unbalanced in one direction or the other. But there is a group of folks who strike me as comprehensive and thoughtful, able to successfully walk the uneasy seam between mystery and knowledge, theology and common sense observation – there need to be more of these people. But as noted before, healing has a way of making people rabid.

There’s an old saying that a man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument. As I read more and listened more I started to think that knowing was one thing – experiencing was another so I made it a point to start praying for the sick people around me and ask other to pray for me when something was wrong. I’m no John Lake, but I know that there are now multiple times when I prayed for somebody and they were immediately helped. Likewise I’ve seen my own pain and illness respond to the prayer of others. (Just to be clear, the majority of my prayers have gone unanswered in this regard. I’d say something like 25% get answered these days, but I only note that as a point of reference)

Anyway, those are the ‘summary’ results of my journey, but I also wanted to share a few thoughts on what I’ve seen. I expect I’ll continue to reflect on these things, and this list is by no means exhaustive, but here it is if you’re interested.
But It’s So Unfair
In our limited vision we can’t help but have a sense of priorities when we see suffering around us. It’s a kind of built in triage system that we all bring to the table. As a result, healing has a tremendous potential to offend our sense of fairness when it doesn’t happen the way we want it to, or doesn’t happen at all. For example, we can easily find ourselves saying, ‘If God feels like healing, He should head over to Ronald McDonald House.’ It’s very difficult to keep our hearts humble here and keep ourselves from accusing God of being fickle or mendacious. Because in all honesty the whole thing does look unfair from my perspective, or at least to display a set of priorities so different from mine as to be unrecognizable...and I think that’s the way off the dilemma. God’s ways are higher than my ways and as a necessary result...I don’t get it.

The thing here is to accept the enigma of it all in a way that refuses to judge what I am patently incapable of understanding. I don’t demand that God do it the way that I would do it. I don’t take offense at how it happens and instead I watch to see what God is up to in the hope that He’ll reveal his face in this, not just that he’ll solve a physical problem or ease a physical pain. The ‘unfairness’ of healing is entirely an issue of my own limited and biased perception.

That Long River in Egypt
God never asks us to lie and call that faith. The person who gets prayer for their illness and then ‘claims it’ when there is no evidence that the prayer was answered...nine times out of ten, they are simply in denial and in time risk great damage to their walk with God, and often make the whole topic of healing look silly for their obviously false claims. Don’t get me wrong here, there is clearly a place for faith in this and I know many cases where healings take some time to work out (they aren’t all instantaneous) - that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the person who many of us have seen on TV – the person who wants it so bad that hey have a kind of “fake it ‘til you make it” kind of air about them and an enthusiasm that we can sense is an affectation.

There’s also the other side of this coin that looks at healing prayer with a kind of polite tolerance that I think mostly comes out when folks have seen to many of the people above. One place I see this is when I pray for somebody, let’s say for a sprained ankle, I’ll ask them right away, “Any better?” Many times I get this shocked look from the person like, “What? You want to know right now?” Yes, I want to know right now – if your ankle gets gradually better over the next three weeks, that’s not a miracle, that’s what happens to anybody with a healthy body that repairs itself. And to call that kind of thing a ‘healing’ is disingenuous and often misleading. Yes, I know the human body is ‘miraculous’ in many ways, but I think we all know that that is not what we’re talking about here. We don’t help the faith of Christ’s body by calling a natural healing by supernatural names.

Healing and Medicine
For some folks there seems to be a built in tension between the notion of God healing and going to the doctor...honestly, I just don’t see the tension here. Medicine is a blessing from God that saves and improves countless lives. That said, it is by definition a work of man’s hands and clearly incapable of curing everything. If we fall into the humanistic trap and wind up thinking that doctors take God’s place...well that’s just folly. But to shun doctors and medicine and insist that God heals us miraculously or not at all...that’s again trying to force God to operate on our terms. Odin lives today because of a long series of medical blessings. And I don’t thank God any less that his life was saved by talented and gifted doctors and nurses anymore than if there was a magical poof of healing.

For myself, I want to make sure that God get’s first dibs on everything to act in his own special way. If the prayer for healing fails (and typically I try several times) then I have no problem going to the doctor and seeing what they can do. I always want to make room in my life, and invite God to act supernaturally – but if He declines that invitation I see no problem in looking to the other opportunities and blessings that He’s given us in skilled medicine.

Anchor Point: God is good.
This might seem a strange place to wrap-up this post but I’m convinced that this one statement does more to clarify the topic than any other. It’s contrary, though never actually spoken, rests at the center of many of the doubts folks have on this topic. To expand on this we might add, ‘The devil is bad’ and ‘mankind is fallen’ - There is a necessary tension between these statements that does magnificent work to clear so many theological fogbanks, but maybe here most of all. Always keeping God’s goodness in mind helps keep me from the major pitfalls here like blaming God for the healing that doesn’t happen or saying prayers like “If it’s your will God...” that actually belie a deep doubt that he wants us healthy.

I’m convinced that God heals primarily and simply because He’s just that kind of guy. He loves us so very much and wants to see us thrive. And I must say that the most common reaction from folks who are healed of something is the far more potent awareness of His goodness and His love.

In the spirit of full disclosure I should mention that I write this post from a hospital room. My unborn daughter is in significant jeopardy because her water water broke when she was only 24 weeks old. The truth is that I really want a miracle to restore what’s been damaged and allow her to come to full term. As such, we are praying all the time for this pregnancy to be restored. But we are also in a hospital like 30 feet from a top-notch NICU. I want to give God all the room in the world to heal our daughter’s amniotic sack, but I bear no animosity or disappointment if modern medicine saves her life as a preemie – either would be a blessing and I’ll shout ‘praise the Lord!’

Still – I’d prefer a miracle because my experience to date is that they are incredibly fun and I hear God laugh when it happens.


Michael Slusser said...

Thanks for this: it's good to see at least an attempt at a comprehensive view of this issue—one that your journey has had me thinking about quite a bit in the last few years. I think you have a gift in being able to walk that tightrope better than many, or at least with more willingness than many, and it's a testament to those of us with less sense of balance sometimes.

Silverback said...

Thanks Mike. less than 60 seconds after I posted this I was thinking of so many other things that really need to be spoken to - but alas time is short and it's hard to compress two years to a page. :)
Thanks for bearing with me.

DonnaT said...

omg! mendacious! Who knew you were such a great wordsmith??? I should have been more respectful!

Thanks for this post. Your openness equips the rest of us for the day when we pace those same hospital corridors at midnight. You have reminded us that His presence is near, His power is unequalled, His love is limitless, and His goodness is assured.

Gary Gilliam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gary Gilliam said...

A couple of typos in the previous post.... as usual.

Here you go.

Transparency, I love it. This is a great blog – I have been camped out here for two days! Thank you, bro.

Silverback said...

typos...i guess i dont have the 'clerical' gift. ;)

Michael Slusser said...

Oooh—I've got the clerical gift!

It isn't all that great, actually. Just makes you sanctimonious and nitpicky. Or maybe those are additional gifts. :)

Gary Gilliam said...

Just thinking about you, brother. In Eph 6 tonight and wanted to shoot some encouragment your way!