Tuesday, July 17, 2012

God is not a genie : God is not obligated to perform

Is healing dependent on the faith of the receiver, or is it purely a sovereign act of God? What, if any, are the pre-requisites for receiving healing?

Faith Healing is a controversial subject not just in the church but in the world. When discussed, it touches on painful stories of children dying as their parents gather prayer groups, and, of miraculous acts where people walk out of wheelchairs. There seems to be a great gulf between the miraculous and the negligent as the pre-requisites set forward within scripture are taken to the extremes of hyper-christianity or atheism. Is there more to healing than the miraculous and the tragic? Are the common views of healing, faith and of God's sovereignty unable to lend a perspective that allow us to accept both situations and still not blame someone when the supernatural fails to materialise?

Three Case Studies
To begin, there are three cases of bodily illness and the actions of the people involved to consider.

Joni Eareckson Tada is a well known name in christian circles and her struggles with the health of her body is well documented. Her battle with quadriplegia, chronic pain and recently breast cancer have her described as a modern Job. Today she is still in a wheelchair and is receiving chemotherapy (Bailey, 30-33 : 2010).

George (real name withheld) was diagnosed with Leukaemia. His Oncologist gave little chance for him to survive it at all. George's Psychologist, Pastor and Oncologist worked together with his family and did the best they could. People eagerly prayed for healing of his body, yet, this did not happen. George died at home in the arms of his wife and with his children around him. His Psychologist, David Aldridge author of “Spirituality, Healing and Medicine: Return to the Silence” declares that George was healed in his life, in his relationships with his family and in himself. Healing occurred, just not the bodily healing that people prayed for (Aldridge 11-12 : 2000).

Dean Michael Heilman died of complications due to undiagnosed haemophilia after cutting his foot in his back yard. He was twenty two months old, his parents we part of a church that emphasised faith healing as set out in James 5. Dean Michael died while his family prayed for him in the church building (Peters, 1-5 : 2008).

After the emotional stirrings and the accusations have died down and after each of us has decided where we stand on this issue, only then is it possible to look at faith healing and the sovereignty of God.

James 5 and the How to of Healing
Scripture talks of healing and the miracles of Jesus and the Apostles. The blind saw, the lame walked and many were healed of other ailments. James 5 sets out a “how to” when it comes healing ecclesiastically. After taking into account James 5 and the acts of healing in the scriptures, the process of healing can be broken down in to the following. Identification, Petition and Action. Identification is realisation of the absence of order. This can be sickness, illness, malady of an individual, a community, a nation, or all of creation. Petitioning of the deity for remedy, to bring order to the malady that has been noticed and seen for the injustice that it is. Action is the miraculous part when God in his divine wisdom moves, intervenes, restores order to bring about healing. James 5 speaks of the identification (“is there anyone sick?”), and the petition as actions for the community to do, in faith (the elders to pray and the oil to anoint). The action is to be expected and we are to wait for it. The Old Testament gives insight that God approves of the desire to be healed. King Asa did not look to God for his healing like King Hezekiah did and Asa was condemned for it. The situation is that healing can come, even when faith is scarce, but, that there are those who are healed and those who are not (Schwab & Monroe, 126 : 2009). People prayed for Joni, George and Dean Michael, yet their bodies were not been restored to perfect health. In fact all three suffered and God did not do what was asked of Him. This leads us to question either God or the supplicant.

Option 1 : Blame the Supplicant
Despite similar faith in the healing power of God Joni, Gorge and Dean were not healed physically. The deaths of George and Dean were not what the honest petitions were asking for, but asking is only the second step and it needs to be done in faith. What is required is the belief that God has the ability to bring healing. Not an ultimatum or a surety that God will heal all sickness now! The example of the leper in Matthew 8 who asks if Jesus is willing is the state of faith required. The weight is not to be placed on the supplicant's faith, but, should be a confidence that God in his compassion and goodness can do. With the understanding that God may not (Deere 125-127).

Placing the fault at the grieving family members and the deceased over a lack of faith is only adding insult and shame on top of their grief. Joni offers hope that suffering is not connected to sin. Her discovery is that there is no shame in being not healed. Suffering may be part of peoples lives, but, to not have suffering denies the fact that this world is difficult and not just a soft ride (Bailey, 31 : 2012). Monroe and Schwab in “God as Healer : A Closer Look at Biblical Images of Inner Healing with Guiding Questions for Counselors” point at the western concept of healing which denies suffering, where the modern motto of a healthy body is everything. Their view is that this motto has influenced peoples understanding in thinking that God wants all of us to be well. This is not a biblical concept, as there are times when God denies healing (John 9, 2 Cor 12:7). God's reason is that suffering will benefit the individual (Schwab & Monroe, 126 : 2009). Joni agrees with this quoting 1 Peter 2:21 that God calls us to suffering, that, in her own suffering she has learned much about God's character. Her belief is that it is an issue of perception that on this side of eternity we do not clearly see God's design (Bailey, 30 -31 : 2010).

Option 2 : Blaming God
If the supplicant's faith is not the culprit, then surely God must be. If God chooses who gets healed God is merely capricious, if God is using suffering then perhaps God is malicious. Conclusions such as these play into the hands of the cynical who paint God as either not powerful enough or not good because there is suffering. The unfortunate reality is that this is what is thought and said. Thinking about such suffering and the lack of God's intervention has lead to Bart Ehrman's de-conversion. Ehrman went from believing that God acts in the world to not being able to conceive that God could exist because of suffering. He cannot see good in God when so many people suffer while so few get healed at all (Ehrman, 126 : 2009). Ehrman's argument is similar to those who attest that God heals all the time. The expectation of total healing and the absence of suffering is not consistent with our world. Both extremes expect an absence of suffering and that God is obligated because of his power and goodness to make this happen. There is a reciprocal expectation that because the steps of healing in James 5 were performed exactly then God will act. An occult rite is seen in this fashion, where the right actions performed compel the entity to act. Barry Chant writes about the James 5 order explaining that the three steps of Identification, Petition and Action should be done as part of regular church life. Chant also adds that healing is not just a bodily healing, but, an holistic healing of the entire person. That healing deals with the emotional and spiritual scars not just bodily illness (Chant ,72 : 1993). Aldridge agrees pointing out that George whose body failed because of Leukaemia was healed in his family relationships and in himself. That despite his body failing, George was healed (Aldridge, 12 : 2000). There is more to this than blaming the faith of the supplicant or calling God weak or malicious because of suffering.

Just What is Healing?
“The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology” describes healing as the “restoration of health, whether physical, metal and spiritual.” (Erickson, 86 : 2001), this is followed by Healing, the gift of. Erickson makes a distinction between the two and he is not the only one. Chant points to a difference between the gift and the petitions that should be a normal part of church life (Chant, 72-73 : 1993). Boa tells us that the miraculous gift of healing is given by God as he uses his people as the instrument to bring healing.They are conduits not specialists who decide who is healed or not (Boa, 2001 : 308). How do we compare this to the sad situation of Dean Micheal? Why did God not bring about healing for this child? How can we look at miracles and suffering declaring that faith and the sovereignty of God is required?

Healing is a gift given by God as a sign to what will come. Healing is there to point those who require a demonstration of power to God. Kraybill, in “The Upsidedown Kingdom” explains the healing ministry of Christ was a sign that the favourable year of the Lord had come (Kraybill 212 : 2011). Glasser in “Announcing the Kingdom” writes that healing is there to point to the glory of God and to the future fulfilment of the Kingdom of God where all sin, sickness and even death will be done away with (Glasser, 206 : 2003). That the mission of Christ and the church involves these signs and wonders to amplify the words and actions of ministry in power (Glasser, 341 : 2003). To this Glasser warns that healing and the other gifts should not be sullied by thinking it is God magic. God cannot be bound to our will, it is us who must submit to his (Glasser, 342 : 2003). As Mr. Beaver says to the Pevensies in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” “He's not a tame Lion.”(Lewis, 166 : 1968). Or, as God asks Job “Where you there when the foundations of the world were made.?” (Job 38:4). To blame God, or, to treat Him as an entity that can be manipulated by performing a rite is to not understand what healing is. Healing points to a time when even death is dead. Where, if we believe the promise of scripture Joni, George and Dean Michael will enter into the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God and suffer no more.

Two ways to see God, not just one.
How did the understanding of healing as a sign change into a form of God magic? One way of looking at the problem of how to see healing, involves how we attempt to understand God. Shawn Wamsley points to the difference between the “mystical and the intellectual” or the Apophatic and Katapahtic (Wamsley np, 2009). The modern kataphatic way of thinking and reasoning downplays the mystical or apophatic. Our faith becomes what we know about God and these gifts of God are closer to faith than knowledge. The experience of healing is a mystical one, where what is seen and known logically is surpassed by the gift God bestows. When you try and take away the apophatic of God he becomes something less than the amazing God who made all things, he becomes a tame lion you can order around. This is not to cast off the known and defined, to ignore scholastic endeavours for a mystical faith. We require both the known and the unknown together to gain an understanding of God that is tangible and intangible, mysterious and defined.

The Importance of an Eschatological Hope
The modern hero of eschatology, N.T. Wright has his own view on the issue which explains healing as part of the future then, that is brought into the now. Wright's argument in “The Road to New Creation” is that the belief that “IT”, is all about the individual draws us away from the fact that “IT”, is about God. We are not the centre of the universe, this is the rightful place of God. By taking our eyes off God as the centre we loose the great promise of the future he has prepared for us. Heaven is transformed into an escape from the material into the spiritual. The material world we exist in now is of no consequence. Revelation talks of the great joy coming when creation will be fully restored (Wright, 1-3 : 2006). Jesus was the first fruits of this promised day that is waiting for all of us. It is this promise that the sign of healing points to, “it is a little bit of new creation, coming forwards to meet us in the present.” (Wright, 3 : 2006).

To give an answer to the question of whether healing is dependant on the faith of the receiver or depends on the sovereignty of God, it would be yes. Healing is dependant on the faith of the receiver, the believers are to identify the malady and to petition God for the healing to bring restoration. Healing comes from God because God is sovereign and in control, able to act in his creation anyway he deems necessary. This is not because God is capricious but because God's plans are beyond our expectations. God's plan is complete and involves the restoration of ALL of his creation not just the healing of those who ask by following the correct pre-requisites. God uses suffering to his purpose in our lives. The death of Dean Michael cannot be seen as anything but tragic, but, there is hope in God's complete plan. Healing is a gift, a sign, it comes from the future where illness and suffering are no more. A material future where Dean Michael runs and plays without fear. It heralds the power and love of God giving notice that there is more than the world in which we live now. What we know and teach is only part of the amazingly deep and mysterious God that we worship and praise. He is no tame lion and to restrict our understanding to a reciprocal deity who complies to the performed rite is not a God but a genie.

Aldridge, D. (2000). Spirituality, Healing and Medicine: Return to the Silence. London : Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Bailey, S.P. (2010). Something Greater Than Healing. Christianity Today. (54)10 : 30-33.

Boa. K.D. (2001). Conformed to his image: Biblical and practical approaches to spiritual formation. Grand Rapids, MI : Zondervan.

Chant, B. (1993). Spiritual Gifts : A Reappraisal A Biblical and practical handbook. Sydney, Australia : Tabor Publications.

Ehrman, B.D.(2009). God's Problem : How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer. NY: Harper Collins.

Erickson, M.J (2001). Concise dictionary of Christian theology. Wheaton, IL : Good News.

Glasser, A.F. (2003). Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God's Mission in the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI : Baker Academic.

Kraybill, D. B. (2011). The Upside-Down Kingdom.. Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA : Herald Press

Lewis, C.S. (1968). The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Middlesex, England : Penguin Books.
Peters, S.F.(2008). When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law. NY : Oxford University Press.

Schwab, P.G. and Monroe, G. (2009). God as Healer- A Closer Look at Biblical Images of Inner Healing with Guiding Questions for Counselors. Journal of Psychology & Christianity. (28)2 : 121-129.

Wright, N.T. (2006). The Road to New Creation. Available Internet (http://www.ntwrightpage.com/sermons/Road_New_Creation.htm) (20th May 2012)

Wamsley, S. (2009). Toward a Pentecostalism We Can All Practice: