Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Problem with Healing


A couple days ago the 700 Club ran their segment on the story of my healing from Lyme disease once again. I must say, they’re certainly getting some mileage out of that segment. I think this is about the fourth round of its showing since it first aired last fall.

I never know when it will be replayed. Someone usually alerts me that they’ve seen the trailer for the upcoming show. When I hear this, I know I will once again receive numerous e-mails from watchers of the show.

This time I received an e-mail from someone who had contacted me the first time. I’ll call her Mary. I remembered her because of how struck I’d been by her first e-mail to me. She is really suffering from a chronic, painful disease and has been praying for a long time to be healed. Mary’s church teaches that Jesus wants to heal everyone, and if someone hasn’t been healed, bottom line, something is wrong with the way that person is practicing his/her faith. Mary asked me to pray for her because she was struggling so much. She was trying to ignore the pain and claim her healing, but it just wasn’t there.

My heart went out to Mary so much. I thought, “What a burden for her.” Not only to be sick, but to carry guilt over not being healed, as if she’s to blame. I just couldn’t accept that somehow my faith was “right” so I’d been healed, while hers was apparently “wrong.” I was completely unworthy of the healing I received. (Aren’t we all completely unworthy, when it comes to God’s gifts?) I prayed about an answer, then wrote her back, trying to encourage her. Telling her that apparently God doesn’t always choose to heal when we ask for it, and that this is not her fault. It’s not because of her lack of faith.

I never heard a response—until this week. After seeing my segment a second time, Mary wanted to reach out to me again. She is still really struggling. After an email or two back and forth, it was very apparent that we still look at illness/healing in completely different ways. She still firmly believes, as her church teaches, that God wants to heal all. I was grateful that we could have a discussion without arguing. I wanted to better understand this belief. So I asked Mary—what about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh?” What about wonderful Christians whom we all know who die? Answers: according to her church’s teaching, Paul’s “thorn” was not a physical ailment. And if Christians die, then something, somewhere was not quite working right with their faith. Mary is absolutely emphatic about this belief and, through passionate argument, implored me to embrace it.

I just have a hard time with this. I want to ask Mary a hundred more questions. But I can’t. Mary is struggling and in pain, and she doesn’t have the energy to continue the discussion right now without becoming too emotional. I can understand that—I wouldn’t have had the energy four years ago either. She was honest enough (I’m so glad!) to tell me that I’d hurt her with my very first e-mail. (And here I was trying to encourage her.) She did not read my words as a way to lessen the guilt she carried. Rather, she read them as my saying that the blessing God had decided to give to me was not one she was going to receive. She was left wondering why she wasn’t worthy of a similar blessing.

Well, first I apologized. I felt horrible. Thank goodness she was honest enough to tell me so I could set things straight. But I am left with much confusion after our e-mails. It seems to me the belief that one’s lack of faith is to blame for no healing focuses on unworthiness and blame. This is why I think Mary read my opinion the way she did. It was still through those eyes of self-guilt. Mary found it easier to believe she is somehow lacking in her faith—in other words, blame herself--than to believe God has chosen up to this point to say no to her healing, because apparently He’d be saying no due to her unworthiness.

There does not seem to be room in this belief that God sometimes does choose to allow us to suffer. I wonder how people who believe this explain babies born with birth defects. Or explain why some fall ill in the first place and some do not. Is this because those of us who become sick are lacking in faith?

My main problem with this belief (besides the guilt trip is lays on people) is that those who are not healed can never learn to accept a “no” answer as part of God’s plan for their lives, however difficult. They are left in a state of flux, always hoping, never getting, and inevitably self-blaming. I still say whether Paul’s “thorn” was physical or not, God clearly said no to his prayer. And whatever it was obviously made Paul’s life difficult. A “thorn in the flesh” is not comfortable. And what about when God said “no” to Jesus’ own prayer for a way out of the cross? God apparently had a higher plan, and that plan involved allowing suffering.

But you see, I can also really understand where Mary’s belief comes from. “By His stripes we are healed,” the Bible says. That verse doesn’t say “sometimes.” It says “we are.” And Jesus, while on earth, healed everyone except only those who did not believe. According to those stories in the New Testament, it was their fault. So Mary asks me, how do you explain this?

I can’t answer Mary’s questions to her satisfaction, nor can she answer mine. We didn’t really expect to change each others’ minds anyway. But I must admit, I come away from our conversation with more questions than before. (Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.) I can see how my belief is a slap in the face to her. How much it hurt her to hear that God has chosen up to this point to not heal her. Either way, her belief or mine, this problem of suffering is difficult. Either God wants to heal, and our faith doesn’t cut it; or God chooses not to—which doesn’t exactly feel all that great either.

I don’t expect to solve the problem on this blog, but I do think it merits discussion. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Perhaps some of you other there share Mary’s belief and can help me better understand.

17 comments:

sbaar said...

Brandilyn, this is a wonderful blog because I know many people struggle with the same thing.

Christ heals us all. As humans, we're just focused on the wrong ailment. Because we're wrapped up in the physical world, we always think of healing as a healing of our bodies. But Christ heals our souls.

Check out the story of Bartimaeus in Mark 10. Jesus heals a blind man. The story says, "he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road." He received and followed Jesus. Doesn't that sound more like a faith conversion and not a check-up with your doctor? :-)

So often, we think of God as a giver of things, when really, he is a giver of Life. He doesn't always heal the dying man of cancer, but whoever believes in him shall not perish, but receive eternal life.

Just a few thoughts. I'll shut up now. :-)

Sarah

C.J. Darlington said...

I'm not into debating theological issues and stuff, so I'll just share a few things I believe.

I do believe God's will is to heal all. I think that's confirmed in the Scripture through Jesus' example. "...he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him." The KJV says "healing all who were oppressed of the devil", meaning those who were sick were oppressed by the devil.

Regarding Paul's thorn in the flesh, the Bible says what that was too, "...there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me."

Again, it wasn't from God.

I think of healing like I do salvation. God provided for both when Jesus died on the cross--whole salvation. For our minds, bodies and spirits. And it's to be received the same way. With simple, childlike faith.

Why do some people not receive? I don't know. But I'd rather question my faith than God's faithfulness.

There's so much to this issue I don't think can be discussed in blog comments, so if anyone would like to dig deeper, I'd highly recommend the following books:

Christ the Healer by F.F. Bosworth


Healing the Sickby T.L. Osborn

Patricia W. said...

I don't know that we'll get beyond seeing "through a glass, darkly" but I believe discussions like these are healthy for the body of Christ.

Remember when Lazarus took sick? Jesus said "this sickness is not unto death", which suggested that not all sicknesses fall into the same bucket. Some lead to death; others may be healed or simply linger chronically.

Is faith a strong component of healing? Absolutely. By not being healed, does that mean a person is not of strong faith? Not necessarily.

Lazarus went on to die, despite what Jesus said about his sickness, not because Jesus lingered for several days before arriving at Mary and Martha's home, but because as He had originally told them, so that God might be glorified.

God has plans and purposes beyond our understanding. Wouldn't it be awesome if all Christians automatically were healed of all disease? Seems like this would be a great witness before the world, an incentive of sorts. But then wouldn't more people accept Christ for what He might do than for who He is and what He's already done? Beyond my capacity to reason and understand the ways of God.

I pray that the woman can release herself of the guilt that burdens her because that guilt limits her ability to revel in God's love for her. I know. I lost a child to a birth defect and struggled with similar guilt. God delivered me.

Michelle Pendergrass said...

Well, you sparked a small fire. I posted on my blog.


Here's a good article as well: http://www.wcg.org/lit/spiritual/trials/healing.htm

Anonymous said...

Mark 1: 34-29

33 And the whole city had gathered at the door.
34. And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.
35. In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.
36. Simon and his companions searched for Him;
37. they found Him, and said to Him, "Everyone is looking for You."
38. He said to them, "Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for."

While it's a common argument that Jesus never turned away anyone who approached Him to be healed, I think these verses contradict that. Jesus clearly walked away from a crowd of people, who by all appearances were there to be healed, because it wasn't the Father's will that He remain there.

Ron Estrada said...

Oh, goodness, the burden the church places on the very people that are there to be lifted up. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Mt 11:28-30)

Mary's church is adding burden. Too often we hear about liberal churches who drift away from the Truth, but the legalistic churches are just as damaging.

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Thanks so much to you who've already commented. I really appreciate the thoughts. Mostly I am grateful that we can have a discussion in which we might not all agree, but we can hear each other and love each other in Christ.

Lynette Sowell said...

I think it's not so much that some of us struggle with the idea of not being healed, but just like children we sometimes see the inequalities (or what seems like inequalities). It doesn't seem "fair" when one receives their answer to prayer and another doesn't get the answer. And when we can't find a satisfactory answer as to why, we might blame ourselves...or God. Either choice is dangerous.

For example, I've prayed for healing for my corneas for the past year, which hasn't happened yet. Can God heal them? Of course. The price has been paid. Will He? I believe so. If not right away, then why not? I know He is far more concerned with the condition of my heart. All I can do is maintain my focus. I don't suffer like some, so I can't complain.

I recommend C.S. Lewis's book The Problem of Pain.

Karen Wevick said...

Physical healing is really no different than answers to any prayers. You can have all the faith in the world, and sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is not yet, sometimes the answer is no, and sometimes we don't hear the answer because it's not what we expected. Some people are healed who don't even believe in God. To paraphrase a verse, 'the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike'.
Can lack of faith be a hinderance to answered prayer, yes at times. Is it always a hinderance? Of course not, otherwise no prayer would be answered because we always have some level of disbelief (once we're more than about 5 years old). It's akin to people saying prayers aren't answered because you didn't pray it right. Our God is not a God of semantics, he hears our hearts.
Why do some prayers get answered and others don't, when they are all good and faithful prayers? We won't know until we get to heaven in my opinion. I have had many, many prayers answered, both for healing and other issues both for myself and others. Some times I've prayed in great faith or been prayed for in great faith and other times, not that great. I can't tell you that I've seen a pattern that favors one or the other. I do believe though that it will be crystal clear when we get to heaven.
That's my 2 cents worth.
God Bless,

Becky said...

Perhaps Mary needs to study Scripture with the context in mind.

Is. 53:5 (But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed ) and I Peter 2:24 (Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed) in context seem clearly to refer to the healing of transgressions, iniquities, sins.

On the other hand, the context discussing Peter's thorn in the flesh gives no indication this was something other than physical.

I can only conclude, we can be blinded to what the Bible tells us.

That being said, I also think there is an error we don't often talk about--that we can put faith if faith rather than in a sovereign God.

Just recently my pastor said, Christ does not provide what I need. He is the provision.

From my own experience in combination with Scripture, I conclude that God does not always spare us from walking through the valley of pain and certainly not through the valley of death, but He is always with believers. He never leaves us or forsakes us. He didn't forsake Stephen or John the Baptist or any of the heroes of the faith listed in Heb. 11. Even though they faced persecution and death.

Why would "natural causes" be any different?

Becky

Kjersten said...

I don't want to offend anyone, but having personally been "in" one of those Churches, there was no grace for me or others to be found. I was there for a year.

I also have RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy)Arthritus and Lymes disease. I've done everything according to scripture; going to the elders for healing, annointing of oil etc. God has (for now) said "no". He has chosen instead to glorify Himself in and through these diseases.

It is certainly not because I lack faith. God has been working in the family I live with doing amazing things in their hearts and faith as well as mine own.

God has brought about much good in my suffering. I'm not no Miss "halo". I have horrible days where I feel alone and like I can't go on....like today. Nightmare on Elms street with 3 hours in a dentist chair, and several more visits that I'm dreading this summer.

Even with tears streaming my face His grace IS sufficient and there is no lack of faith.

On the days I'm able to go to church, I've had total strangers come up to me telling me how God has been working in their life because of my suffering. My mouth just drops open, I'm humbled and filled with praise for our LORD...and encouraged to go on another day.

Oh dear, touchy subject! God bless!

Dineen A. Miller said...

I can imagine some the questions you're having, Brandilyn. I have two issues in my life, one physical and one spiritual (emotional) that I've asked for healing. I'm still waiting. One I felt God tell me is for his use. I hate it, but if that's what he wants, well, what can I do but pray for the right attitude? The other, who knows.

Sometimes I wonder if we're healed and we don't know it. Like a bird whose been in a cage all its life fears that open door more than spending life a prisoner.

I think what this woman describes isn't just an aspect of her church. I've had similar feelings, wondering if I'm not healed because I "didn't get it right." Performance is so ingrained in our society. How can in not overlap into our faith?

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Kjersten, I join with you in praying for your healing, dear one!

Brandilyn, I can't help you understand Mary's thinking, because I follow your train of thought. but one thing I might add, is that when Jesus healed everyone we were not in the present age of Grace. That came about when Jesus died.

Now, "His grace is sufficient for thee!" Like Kjersten, above, her continued suffering is such a testamony to so many others. God always has a reason for what He does. If we could see the answers in hind sight, it would make things easier.
But God doesn't work by suppying us with his reationale all the time.

For example: 15 years ago, a man's son was killed by a drunk driver.

The man was not a Christian at the time.

He became a christian.

He went to school and became a Pastor.

Literally thousands have come to the Lord thru his ministry.

He is my Pastor and the person who guided me back into a relationship with the Lord 10 years ago!

God always has a plan. We just have to wait until we get there to understand the reason.

Anonymous said...

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame . . ."
Which requires "more" faith: to believe in a risen Jesus, to believe when we ask for more faith, less unbelief, He will meet our need, or to be healed mentally, physically, and/or spiritually?
Sin entered this world. It runs in our blood. We will always have to contend with it. Forgiveness, cleansing for our life on earth. God knows this. What is our call? To tell those that we can reach about Jesus Christ.
Suffering is a deterrent to almost everything. Supreme and supernatural grace is required to get through a 24 hour day.
Jesus still heals, and people still die. Sin is the reason we still face these struggles, but Jesus is the way, the hope, and the life. Perfection is only found in Him.
More questions than answers sometimes.

Kjersten said...

AMEN!

Sally Bradley said...

Brandilyn, thanks for the blog about this. I thought "Mary's" use of Jesus healing those He came in contact with was interesting. Someone said it well already that Jesus came to heal us of our sin sickness, not necessarily our physical sickenss. And those miracles of healing that He did may very well have been signs to show that He was no ordinary man, that He was the Messiah. Who else can go around healing people but God Himself?

Just this past year, at 33, I've been diagnosed with a chronic disease, something I'll have to live with for the rest of my life because there is no cure for it. I have asked God to take it away, but at the same time I have had a very strange peace about the disease I have (a nice version of Chrone's). Strange as this sounds, I feel special that God has picked me out for something that will force me to cling to Him. I've already seen changes in my life for the better that would never have happened had I stayed in perfect health.

But again, part of my ability to look at it that way is from years being taught that like James says we will suffer trials throughout our lives. It's a given. And it shows how important it is that we not just take what our church says or what we've been taught forever as fact, but that we search the Bible ourselves, like the Bereans, and make sure the teachings of leaders matches the teachings of the Bible.

Kristy Dykes said...

There were once two sisters. They were pillars of the church. The church was Pentecostal and believed in divine healing. Sister #1 was so dedicated, she went to the missionfield in her old age. She stayed in a Spanish speaking country for 14 years and built buildings and saw many souls won to Christ. Sister #2 taught Sunday school for decades, was No. 5 in the nation in the Henrietta Mears Sunday School Teacher of the Year Contest, and won and influenced many for Christ. As they aged, Sister #2 wisely had medical checkups and learned she had glaucoma. Sister #1 proclaimed to all that her doctor was Dr. Jesus, that God healed everyone, and she ignored eye symptoms. Sister #2 applied her eye drops faithfully, kept her vision, and was the adored life of the party at all church and family fuctions. Sister #1 lost her vision, which made her lose her mobility, which made her lose her mind to dementia. I still cry over her; I lost her last May. Sister #2 was my beloved mother.