Friday, March 4, 2011

The Problem of Healing

*Forgive my delay in posting. I've been otherwise occupied with a slew of freelance work and home improvement projects. Although I missed Tuesday, this post uses a terrible t-shirt to illustrate its point. I hope that this hits home with some of you, because it was/is a very defining part of my exodus from Evangelicalism and I can only assume that of many others.*

From C28 Christian Stores

One of the most common sources of emotional pain I hear from people who left American Evangelical Culture centers around failed healings. If you were raised Catholic, Lutheran, or in some other liturgical tradition, you've probably never had someone from your church attempt to heal you. Certainly, illness or injury would have been the focus of prayers, but in many Evangebapticostal arenas, it takes on a much more hands on approach. In those circles it is not uncommon for people to not merely pray for you to be healed, but to attempt to be the instrument through which God divinely delivers such healing.

This is a very popular activity in Pentecostal circles. Since God is sovereign over an injury or illness, they simply lay hands on the afflicted and pray to cast such a problem out. So far, so good, right? But what if this doesn't result in healing? Once the intended effects aren't realized, everyone has to scramble to explain why it didn't work and that's where the real problem begins. Too many people, when there are healings are not realized, are told they must not have had enough faith or that perhaps they haven't properly repented of some sin. In doing so, those who initially sought to heal them have now inflicted emotional/spiritual wounds in addition to the physical/mental ones they were already experiencing.

As I've previously stated, I have permanent injuries as a result of a severe car accident. It was in that time immediately following the accident that I noticed a distinct difference in the approach that my Evangelical and non-Evangelical friends took to the matter. Although they were all kind to me, they seemed to have a different goal. My non-Evangelical friends asked how I was feeling, what the next steps would be, and how they could help me. My Evangelical friends also inquired as to my well-being, but from there they offered their own theological theories as to why God would allow such things to happen, and then insisted that I be healed. It really was that sudden. I heard theological theories within the first week following the accident and my bruises hadn't even faded before I became the focus of healings.

Let me stray from that for a second. When you experience a physically traumatic event, it is hard in every sense imaginable. It is difficult physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It can result in sudden changes of plans (school, career, etc.), the inability to do things you used to enjoy, and a long time of having difficulty with simple tasks (some examples in my case: walking, kneeling, bathing, sleeping in a proper bed, etc.) The difficulty of all these things increase tenfold when someone tries to force your experiences to fit into their narrow theological framework.

The most common theories I heard were that God had allowed this to happen but didn't cause it, that God was testing me, and that it was an attack from Satan in order to prevent me from doing the Lord's work. Do you see how I found none of these comforting? Would you?

And then there were the healings....oh, the healings. First of all, let me just say that I take issue with exclusively using the term "healing" to refer to instantaneous faith healings. Healing is always occurring. It just occurs in a longer, slower, more involved process. Early on, I felt like that process would be an important one for me. I knew that I had friends that would want to pray over me for healing, so I told them that I did not want that. They did not listen. They would ask to pray for me (in a general sense) and slip in some healing. Did they think I wouldn't notice? Or that I secretly didn't mean it and really wanted that? I can only assume that in their minds, God will bring glory to Himself in the most sudden and noticeable way possible (in this case miraculous healing). I probably don't need to tell you that nothing happened. Instead of just being physically hurt, I was now hurt when I realized that my Evangelical friends had little respect for my own personal wishes. I felt like I was now part of their agenda. "Monday: Eat breakfast. Go to gym. Lunch with mentor. Mission trip planning meeting. Dinner with prayer group. Heal Jen. Catch a movie." I was something that they needed to fix. And once I was "fixed" I would be one more shining example of God's work in their testimony.

Although no one offered me any direct opinions as to why I wasn't healed, they made enough general claims about the issue of healing. I had heard them say on more than one occasion that people aren't healed if they don't have enough faith to believe that they actually can be healed. Regardless of what they believed the reason to be, as time went on, we hung out less and less. I had no desire for continued attempts at "healing" (which were ironically setting back most of my healing in other regards) so I withdrew. And I believe that they had no idea what to do next when that didn't work, so they stopped initiating as well.

That is the real problem of healing. When those engaging in faith healing see the results they desire, it becomes a joyous moment they tell everyone about. Those who are healed have a new lease on life and share as well. The problem is that no one knows how to handle the "healings" that don't see such results. Those who attempted them may now view the afflicted as spiritually lacking and those who are not healed are often more deeply wounded than when the process began. Take a look at the t-shirt at the top of this post. Some may see it as a hopeful message. But imagine seeing someone wearing that t-shirt if you have a loved one who has lost their battle with breast cancer. What does that message imply? If Jesus is the cure and they were not cured, what conclusion do such claims lead to other than that they must not have truly trusted Jesus?

Maybe we need to reexamine our approach to the whole issue. Jesus offered healing in a day and age when medical advances weren't anywhere remotely close to where they are today. Many of us who wear glasses/contact lenses would have been considered blind in that day and age. Look at the medical issues that were healed in the gospels. Many are issues that would have led to completely immobility and/or an inability to earn a living in that society. Today that isn't the case for those who are blind or paralyzed. We have the means to help them live a productive life in our society. That isn't to say that God can't heal people. But what if that's not his #1 agenda? Did Jesus frequently command us to heal one another? Or did he constantly command us to love one another, to be generous with others, to help one another, to encourage one another? Which should take the place of prominence in our theology?

I think the greatest theological difference I have with many of my Evangelical friends is that they look for miracles of God that are impossible to miss, whereas I look for the everyday miracles of people living with compassion and grace. I often think of Elijah when he fled to the cave and sought the presence of God. He did not find God in the wind, in the earthquake, or in the fire. He found God in the whisper. This doesn't mean there isn't the possibility for big miracles, but in looking for them, are we missing all the small ones? Perhaps the greatest evidence of God isn't in His prevention of tragedy or the miraculous healing of illness. Perhaps the greatest evidence of God is in how we respond to one another in the face of such hardship.

The greatest evidence of the love of God I saw was in the people who would wait for me when I couldn't walk fast enough to keep up with them. In those who sat patiently and listened when I broke down under the frustration of not being able to do what I once could. In those who offered to help me complete the mundane tasks I could no longer do on my own. In those who offered advice on pain management techniques based on their own experiences. I would take just one of them over ten people trying to heal me any day.

Have you been in this situation? What is your story?

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