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.