A good question: Divine healing – is it real?
Each month we ask one question and get four answers. This month: Does God heal people?
‘Being sick, or well again, isn’t binary for many of us’
Back at the end of the 20th Century, when the transplanted kidney I’d had since 1979 went into freefall, a well-meaning Christian friend suggested I pray for its healing. Which might have made sense had not the organ in question (donated by my father) been by then in its 70s and gasping for its bus pass, yet stuck in the body of someone half its age. Why on earth would I have wanted that kidney to kickstart again?
Of course, I’d rather not have been born with dodgy kidneys – they have shaped my entire life – but mine is not a condition that can be healed just like that, whether via spiritual or medical intervention. I received “get well soon” cards from friends when I had a second transplant in 2002 – as if I would go into hospital, have the operation, and be fixed. Only one friend with her own long history of chronic ill health proved circumspect with her good wishes. She understood from experience that being sick, or well again, isn’t binary for many of us. (As it happened, the new kidney never took, and six months later I was back on dialysis.)
I certainly believe in healing. I have seen a man who was very ill indeed get up out of his bed a few days later and walk. God works via medical research and the skills of doctors and nurses. I will never stop thanking God that I was born in a country with a National Health Service: A Filipino dialysis nurse once told me: “In my country, you would be sent home…”
‘We should expect that God can and may do miracles’
Divine healing is real, and can be an aspect of Christian worship; but, wholeness and healing is distinct from “cure” and “magical thinking”. When healing takes place in the context of worship, it needs to be regarded as a sign of the Kingdom of God, and not as the purpose of the Kingdom of God. We should expect that God can and may do miracles; but, God is looking for us to become whole and holy, and suffering and illness may sometimes play a part in our path to becoming whole or healed. The final healing is death. Consideration of our own death, and what it means, ought to be a part of our growing in wholeness.
I once laid hands on a dying man. He asked for a miracle. We prayed for one – for life for him – and he died. Just before he died, he said to his wife: “Don’t worry; I’m going to my Lord.” That man received healing. We must allow the Lord to work in the way he chooses, and not in the way we would like him to.
I remember hearing a story told to me by a man in a wheelchair. Some enthusiastic Christians prayed for him and then pulled him out of his wheelchair, attempting to force him to stand up. He fell, injuring himself quite badly. The group of Christians compounded the matter by telling him that it was his fault – he did not have enough faith! Clearly this kind of insensitive behaviour must be avoided. Thank God his faith was not destroyed by this act…
‘Healing may not be as straightforward as we might like’
Divine healing is real because Jesus is real. The Bible clearly reveals that Jesus came to bring healing, forgiveness and transformation, and, as Christians, we believe that his mission remains the same and that he is still alive and active today.
However, this does not mean that Jesus does whatever we want. It is so easy to make the mistake of thinking that all Jesus had to do was “click his fingers” and miracles happened – rather like a divine Superman – but perhaps it wasn̕t quite like that.
The well-known story of the four friends lowering their disabled friend through the roof in Mark 2:1-12 is interesting. Clearly the man could not walk, but, before healing his legs, Jesus addressed something quite different and spoke to the man about forgiveness. On another occasion, in Mark 8:22-25, healing did not take place immediately – but only after Jesus had prayed more than once. In John 9:1-7, rather than praying for healing, Jesus smeared mud on a man’s eyes and made him walk through the streets to wash in a certain pool. Healing may not always be as straightforward as we might like…
‘For some people, divine healing will never be real’
Yes, of course it’s real. I wouldn’t be writing this – and you wouldn’t be reading it – if it wasn’t. We’re part of a world eternally being healed, thank Christ. But, for some people, it will never be real; not even when it’s really staring them slap-bang in the face.
Here’s a true story: The father and mother of my ex-husband described themselves as “non-churchgoers”. (They were stating a position; people who have no stance about church don’t style themselves non-churchgoers, they say they don’t go to church.) My mum-in-law once described their position thus: “We’re not do-gooders or God-botherers.” So, the family was accepting of people who went to church, although puzzled about why anyone would wish to. They didn’t see God as relevant. Thus, whether God existed or not was also irrelevant.
So, it was highly unlikely that they and I were ever going to get on to the subject of healing – but we did. It was during one of the evenings when my mum-in-law used to recount the ups and downs of bringing up the boy who would one day be my husband. This time she began to describe the agony of a certain night when, already weakened by polio, her boy was dying of rheumatic fever; how the doctor had made his evening visit and had despaired of him lasting the night…
This is an extract from the June 2014 edition of Reform.