I’ve never met a person ill or in pain that cared how their affliction was resolved. Yet many (healthy) “christians” today communicate in their words, attitudes and behavior that it is “biblical” and preferred to be healed directly by God through prayer and that human, medical intervention is a lesser and last resort. They number in the millions and they also teach that all christians should be “whole”, healthy and prosperous if they are walking by “faith”.
History, the Bible, observation and experience reveal that God can be quite creative in how He creates and sustains life and in how He provides for those He loves. Why is it then, among those who claim to “love” the ill and afflicted, that so often a medical resolution is neither appreciated nor regarded as a gift from God (from whom all good things come)? What is the difference between a thirsty man receiving a glass of water, a hungry family receiving some rice and beans and a man with an infection receiving an antibiotic and counsel? We know Jesus‘ opinion of someone who gives a glass of water. His story of the Samaritan also indicates His pleasure in the simplest effort to practically help someone with a need.
Many people in ministry believe that preaching, teaching and evangelizing are our priorities and that we address temporal needs to get people to listen to us so that they will be “converted”. I’ve been there. This was NOT Jesus’ attitude. He demonstrated pure love and compassion without ulterior motives when He healed so many without conditions.
What excites us is a pretty good indicator of where our heart is. I have seen more “applause” and wonder for the questionable healing of a 2 cm “leg-length discrepancy” and subjective back pain at a “healing service” or for stories of miraculous healings in Africa than for a definitive life-saving intervention such as a Cesarean, a cardiac bypass, or an appendectomy. There is more excitement over the temporary resolution of arthritic pain at a “prayer meeting” than the same result with medication or the permanent resolution of the same through a joint replacement surgery. Must the method of healing entertain and amaze us in order to provoke in us gratitude to the Giver?
Is medical healing as much of a gift from God as a miraculous healing? Is it appropriate to be grateful to God for a new house even though it was built by a carpenter, plumber and electrician? Is our food a gift from God even though many people (and machines) were involved in getting it to us? Is something from God only if it is happens like it did with Jesus and the apostles 2000 years ago? Do we go fishing to pay our taxes, “beam” around like Philip, feed 4,000 people with scraps, alter the weather, move a mountain, kill trees with a word, or walk on water and yet many christians think that we should always be healing and living “healed” because this is God’s way, as demonstrated in the Gospels and Acts. And this despite the inevitability that each of these people will die of illness in a few short years.
While working in an ED, I have seen countless people arrive in significant distress and near death, only to survive and be in no distress an hour later – because of the action of an appropriately used tool (medication), efficient service from those on a skilled team and the granting of life by the only One who can. This beautiful, “non-miraculous” healing of human beings happens many times every hour of every day in thousands of medical centers around the world.
It has been said that we must experience the opposite or lack of something to recognize its value. A truly thirsty man appreciates water and a hungry man, food. Those who haven’t been seriously ill perhaps can’t fully appreciate the absence of illness and pain. Christians who have never experienced significant pain or illness are blessed indeed, and yet they are often both unappreciative and arrogant enough to think that all people should be healthy like them. Instead of living in humble gratitude, they take credit for their good health, discounting the sovereign hand of God and stealing glory and “credit” from Him.
Many (healthy) christians even think that medications are “unnatural” and better avoided. They say we should live and care for our bodies “naturally”. Can they at least be consistent? Do they drink only river, well or rain water? Do they use their hands instead of an unnatural shovel? Do they abandon their unnatural cars and walk (in their natural shoes)? Do they obtain information with (natural?) books or internet? What about their (naturally?) treated water, waste and processed food? Virtually nothing in their lives is natural and without human, un-”natural” manipulation. Other silly examples of their hypocrisy would fill pages. They are the deceived victims of a grand and very successful (“all-natural”) marketing scheme.
Would these christians condemn as unnatural the daily healing of millions of men, women and children (made and loved by God) through the use of medications? With medications, how many malaria parasites have been killed, how many HIV/AIDS deaths have been delayed, how many heart attacks have been reversed, how many asthmatics have been given back their breath, how much polio and tetanus has been prevented, and how many life and limb-threatening infections have been killed? Millions daily, and with little marvel, wonder or gratitude among these christians.
These people benefit from something in epidemiology called the “herd” principle. If one or two people out of one thousand refuse vaccination, these one or two will likely remain disease-free because of the vaccinated “herd”. Because these “naturalist” christians benefit from generations (the herd) of improved, “unnatural” technology and knowledge, they can do a few unhealthy things without detriment. For example, in comparison to the rest of the world, the people of the United States live in an almost sterile environment because of the modern (unnatural) cleansers and sanitation treatment, and the water and food treatment and preparation. These prevent so many diseases that are common in the rest of the world now and have been throughout history. In this palatial environment, these people can spout risky philosophies (i.e. not take medications) that would kill them outside of the “palace”, though they can survive within. By the way, there are some Indian tribes in the Amazon living completely “natural” lives and it is far from pretty, “pristine”, or healthy. They have a life expectancy of less than 40 years.
There is also a disturbing christian philosophy that praying for someone is the best thing we can do for them. James specifically addresses this and calls it dead faith. “Bless you, be healed, go in peace.” We pray for their “delivery” (often at the “altar”) and let them go their way, offering no ongoing relational comfort, love or practical support for their emotional or physical pain. Let us rather ask God to heal them AND ask, “Father, what would you have me do?” Unfortunately, there is some truth in the following absurd illustration:
A house is engulfed in flames and someone might be inside. A christian who lives next door arrives and begins to fervently pray and tell God to put out the fire and to rescue the resident. He yells commands at the fire and casts out the evil that caused it and that is sustaining it. He paces and prays, citing various verses and bible “promises” to convince God to do as he says.
A “stranger” walking by hears about the possibility that someone might be inside and storms into the house through the flames. Several minutes later he emerges with a 79 year old woman, still alive but with a broken hip. The christian lays hands on her, tells God to heal her and tells her to get up and walk “in faith”, while the stranger gently puts her into his car, asks her if she can be made more comfortable, and transports her to the hospital.
One of these loved the woman, taking the personal RISK and putting forth the EFFORT necessary for HER benefit. The other took no risk, was no practical help in his lack of effort, and did not love the woman, though he would vehemently claim otherwise.
Sadly, the church’s primary means of communicating and demonstrating love and faith today is the spoken word.
There is no love without personal risk or cost. “Greater love has no one than this…”
Christians so often behave as though God is incapable of acting independently of them and their loud, arrogant and commanding prayers. Completely lost on them is the Father’s compassionate heart for the wounded woman and that the whole scenario is actually within God’s good purposes. Suffering and illness ARE part of our Father’s plan for our life and for the life of every person that He loves (which is every person). The question is, “How will we respond?”
In Mt 25:35-36, we don’t see, ”You laid hands on me and prayed for me.” This generation of christians is so much like the children in the market place of which Jesus spoke. If we sing, God will dance. They pray for miracles while hurting people continue to hurt without friendship and love. As the deer panteth for the water, so they “pant” for the miraculous, seeking the gift rather than the giver. This world is a mess, and always has been, yet these christians pray, like the man in the above “absurd” parable, with no intention of lifting a finger to help the desperate or sending a dime to help those who do.
I’ve seen enough in my life to recognize that every human breath is a gift, that it rains on the just and the unjust, and that ALL people experience sickness and death, whether Christian, Hindu, Atheist, etc (all dearly loved by our Father). Can we trust His purposes when we suffer and reach out to humbly serve and comfort our suffering “neighbor”? Or must we only seek healing and blame any illness, affliction or “rain” on the enemy?
Our Father loves every humble request for help and He will always hear us and respond (He knows what we need before we pray). In honor and humility, however, we must allow God to be God and realize that we are not gods with an all-powerful genie waiting to jump at our beck and call (these christians so lack humility but will be quite humbled one day when they see their genie in His glory). And He will likely allow someone to participate in his answer to our request.
God heals, comforts, loves, and serves man primarily through His people (we are His body) and occasionally in a manner that we would call miraculous. He is far more interested in using us to comfort, serve and love than to put on some sort of miracle show. Jesus said that His followers would be known by their “signs and wonders” or by their love?
Many christians don’t see the Kingdom value of (unnatural, “non-miraculous”) medical care and counsel but I am so blessed to be in the Amazon being used many times daily as the simple hands and voice of the Great Physician, Healer, Comforter, and Counselor. And I am here because many of you are our Father’s feet, bringing me here. All parts of His body are of equal importance and share a role in fulfilling the tasks chosen by the Head. You and I believe that the provision of clean water, medication, and instruction (on how to care for one’s spiritual and physical health), are Kingdom works and part of the love tapestry that our Father is weaving into each person’s life. It’s all part of the Father’s pursuit of His beloved. That we value these Kingdom works is demonstrated by how we spend (and risk) our lives and our money, not by what we say.
As I write, our Thirst Relief Water Filter Team (after a long week in the deep interior swatting mosquitoes, delivering filters and treating people medically) is transporting to a hospital a man with a nasty, close range, shotgun-shot wound to his hand. It happened accidentally after hunting (for food, not sport) and he lives seven hours from any town or city. We “happened by” on our return trip and I was able to stop the bleeding, treat his pain, give him an antibiotic, clean and immobilize his hand, and pray for him prior to transporting him to the closest “city” for surgery. I also had a very nice conversation with him about how his Father must love him…
There will be a day when sickness, accidents, pain, and death cease, and we live forever (still humbly grateful for each moment) with our Savior, Lord, Head, Comforter, Counselor, Provider, Friend, Father, Judge, the Beginning, the End and the Giver of Life. But until that day…
…I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… Mt 25:35-36
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Col 3:12
The laborers are few…