by Melissa Taylor (Forward by Dave Y. of TruthForFree.com)
The following article is written by Melissa Taylor. It was a term paper for one of her classes. She chose the subject because it “touched home” for her. As she put it, “I’m amazed at how many Christians believe our illnesses are the result of sin or not having enough faith. I’ve provided this as something to get you thinking, even if it doesn’t change your mind on the issue.” I wanted to share her article as I found it encouraging. All of us have experienced some measure of hardship and suffering and many of us have heard a lot of “religious” responses to our circumstances. One of my biggest personal pet peeves is with the so-called “faith healers” we see on television and the kind of twisted doctrine they espouse and promote that infects countless numbers of people with a distorted view of the Gospel, of the subject of healing, and of God’s love and grace (as well as His attitude toward us, especially in our seasons of suffering and the very difficult things we sometimes have to battle with in our physical bodies on a daily basis). I have not met Melissa, but I want to say thanks for writing this article. I hope it encourages others. -Dave
In 1928 the famous faith-healer Aimee Semple McPherson, in long, white, flowing clothes, proclaimed to the residents of Muskegon, Michigan that she had enough faith to walk on water. With full confidence she stepped out…
…and fell right in. (“Unfortunately, the person who had been paid to submerge a row of pilings forgot” (Around Lake Michigan, 343).)
This humorous story is an interesting way to introduce a controversial topic. There are some who will say that in all likelihood Aimee was not a Christian and was corrupt, and not a typical faith-healer. There are others who would no doubt believe she was truly going to walk on water and whoever wrote this account was biased in believing she was going to have human help in her miracle — perhaps she just lacked faith at that present moment to walk on water, and had done it other times for real. There are still others who would believe Aimee was like all other faith-healers — duping people of their trust and their money. Just as this story and its account may appear to have more than one possibility, so does the subject of faith-healing overall.
Many people point to health-related miracles that have happened today as a result of the prayer of believers.
For example, a recent study showed that hospitalized people who were anonymously prayed for by a church were quicker to recover. This seems to be present-day proof that prayer can result in one’s health improving. I have personally experienced a faith-healing after suffering from a painful lymph-node swelling in my neck for weeks. While watching The 700 Club Pat Robertson received a “word of knowledge” about someone with a strange swelling in the neck, and within that day the bump in my neck receded; by the end of the week it was gone.
I recall being in a chapel service where a student got up and proclaimed how she was healed from a disease and how God would heal everyone who had enough faith. I left more irate than anything else. My brother and his pastor friend were confused at my anger. They asked me if I didn’t believe that she was actually cured from her disease in a miraculous way. No, I told them, I believe she was cured, but I don’t believe that God offers this to everyone, or that it happens all of the time when we come in faith, which is what she had implied.
There are many examples of faith-filled Christians who are not cured today.
In his book Miracles or Magic? author Andre Kole says “…Friends fervently prayed that my…wife would be healed, yet despite our faith, she died” (162). Joni Eareckson, a Christian quadriplegic and painter, had the elders of the church pray over her and anoint her with oil. She was not healed, and this led to her initially questioning whether she had a lack of faith (A Step Further, 125). Tim Hansel, a man whose climbing accident resulted in a painfully compressed spine, said he prayed “hundreds, if not thousands of times” for healing, yet he was not healed. (You Gotta Keep Dancin’, 123). My father, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, was anointed with oil by church members and was also not healed. Glaphre Gilliland, a woman with a progressive deformity, was led to question whether or not God had enough love for her when she wasn’t healed (When the Pieces Don’t Fit, 99). All of these people are professing Christians who prayed for healing and did not receive it.
What these people did experience, however, was contentment in their present state, some claim as a result of their prayers. An eight year old child, blind since she was a newborn, wrote the following poem, showing her contentment in her condition:
Although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t;
To weep and sigh because I’m blind,
I cannot, and I won’t.
The child who wrote this poem grew up to be the beloved writer of more than 8,000 hymns. Her name was Franny Crosby (101 Hymn Stories, 167).
Joni Eareckson said, “[Jesus] once suffered, too. And because Jesus could turn His cross into a symbol of hope and freedom, can I do any less? My wheelchair is the prison God has used to set my spirit free!” (Joni’s Story (brochure)).
Tim Hansel wrote of his need to be healed: “He finally healed me of the need to be healed…I had discovered a peace inside the pain. I finally came to the realization that if the Lord could use this body better the way it is, then that’s the way it should be” (You Gotta Keep Dancin’, 123+124).
Glaphre Gilliland exclaimed, “I was whole! Inside I was healed. I sat in God-hushed stillness…and, oh…the peace!” (When the Pieces Don’t Fit, 108).
Churches that believe lack of faith or committance of sins is a precursor to physical affliction are apparently not following what the Bible teaches us.
Job 1:1 tells us that “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” Jesus, who had to face the pain of death on the cross was also sinless. Jesus was faith-filled and blameless. “In the Psalms we’re told that God does not deal with us according to our sins and iniquities. My accident was not a punishment for my wrongdoing…” (Joni, 225).
The Bible does, however, have a lot to say on the subject of being for faith-healing. “…The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up…” (James 5:15), and “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick… and all of them were healed” (Acts 5:16) are just two of the verses that are supposed proof that Jesus will heal anyone who comes in faith. Proponents of faith-healing point out these verses and the “key word” they mention is “all” — that “all” who came in faith were cured.
However, there are also many verses that deal with pain and health problems as being normal for believers in God. Moses had a speech impediment, Solomon suffered from depression, Stephen was stoned to death, John the Baptist had his head hacked off, Jesus was hung on a cross. No doubt they all felt pain. Paul spoke of his problem (believed by many to be a physical disability) by saying “…there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Many people believe that Jesus had to come to earth to face pain in order to fully feel human. Thus it wasn’t until He came to earth to experience the pain and weight of sin on the cross that He fully knew what it was like to be a human.
Pain is also mentioned in Revelation. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more…pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). If we are not meant to be subject to pain on earth, it would not be one of the select earthly grievances mentioned in this verse as being erased after our time on earth is through.
“…Jesus healed the sick. But consider all the people, even in His own country, whom Jesus never met and never healed, let alone those in other parts of the world. And those He did heal grew old and died later on. Jesus stopped the storm, showing His power over sin’s results in the realm of nature. But does that mean all the catastrophes of nature were forever erased? Absolutely not” (A Step Further, 132).
Therefore, we are not meant to believe that Jesus will heal everyone who comes in faith, nor that it is a result of sin that we are given afflictions.
People who do believe in faith-healing may be putting themselves, and others, in danger in a few different ways.
First of all, they may forgo medical treatment, trusting completely in God for complete healing. However, Jesus Himself proclaimed that the sick need a doctor (Matthew 9:12), and Luke, an early Christian, was a doctor. In his book Miracles or Magic? Kole relates a story of a man who believed so much that he was cured of diabetes that he changed his own medical treatment despite his doctor’s advice.
Christians may also develop a “holier-than-thou” attitude. I have noticed this in churches, although many times it may be unintentional. They do not realize how they may be directly alienating Christians who face pain, perhaps even pushing people away from the Christian church. Joni Eareckson has received various letters implying that she lacks faith. “‘I believe you could be healed…I’m not sure what you’ve been taught…’ ‘John 10:10 says we are to have an abundant life. Being paralyzed, can you honestly say you are having an abundant life?…[you are] broken and helpless…'” (A Step Further, 120). This type of commentary from Christians is very disturbing, especially for those who know that a lack of faith is not what caused their illness or keeps it from going away.
The girl that I heard speak said that God does not select people to cure, but that He will cure anyone who has enough faith. Her impression was that we are meant to be well on earth as Christians. I was greatly troubled by this since it seemed to be implying that she had more faith than others with diseases who have not been miraculously cured, including myself. “When people share dramatic testimonies, they often imply that they were healed because they had exceptional faith. This can cause those who aren’t healed to doubt God…We need to understand that God sometimes chooses not to heal” (Miracles or Magic?, 174+175).
Aside from hurting others, Christians who believe in faith-healing may also develop the mind-set that God is some sort of genie that will grant our every whim.
“We live in a world of instant solutions…When we have a problem, we expect God to just hand down our prescribed answer easily, immediately, just the way we ordered it…Proponents are positive the formulas work, validating them by true stories and Scriptures…” (When the Pieces Don’t Fit, 89). Gilliland goes on to say, “…The formulas don’t always work. The very people who insist they do either have not yet experienced personal trauma, or are denying the difficulties in their own lives” (90).
Another danger is that faith-healing can be false, and the result of corrupt ministers who want to make money, as we saw in the story of Aimee Semple McPherson. “Some…television evangelists are not demonstrating God’s power. Rather, they have used trickery and deception to produce cheap imitations of the supernatural. As a result they have attracted thousands of followers and millions of dollars” (Miracles or Magic?, 162+163). Kole explains in his book that a study conducted by a friend of his revealed that all three faith-healers investigated used research means to learn the names and ailments of people present. They were given notes or audio feed in order to receive their messages “from the Holy Spirit.” In addition, these pastors fabricated stories of healings (168). These “cures” can also be completely psychological (171). Kole estimates that only 5% of faith healings are legitimate (173). “Faith-healers like the excuse ‘you lack faith’ when a person is not healed. That takes the healer off the hook. But God doesn’t make excuses. Our lack of faith never negates his power” (Miracles or Magic?, 174). And do people even have the power to heal? Joni Eareckson makes the interesting point that only the twelve disciples and people they prayed over were the ones who possessed the power to faith-heal. “It seems that those receiving [the gift of healing others] were not able to confer the power to others without the aid of the apostles themselves” (A Step Further, 189).
Faith-healing believers are also in danger of not giving credit where credit is due. If they pursue a faith-healing while also being under the care of a physician and get well, they may attribute something to God that was a direct result of medical science. Even more frightening, Joni Eareckson points out in her book A Step Further that the Bible indicates that some miracles, including faith-healing, can be done by messengers of the devil (Matthew 24:24; II Thessalonians 2:9; Matthew 7:22+23). What we may believe to be a faith-healing could actually be the results of medical science or perhaps even the forces of evil!
I believe that as Christians with health problems, we are called to help others rather than to wallow in self-pity while questioning our faith.
If Christians were always well and never sick, everyone would want to be a Christian and would become a Christian for the wrong reason. Furthermore, we would never be able to show non-Christians empathy for what they may have to face.
Billy Graham said of Joni Eareckson, “Joni can touch so many lives we can’t, because of the pulpit God has entrusted to her…The radiance of her own Christian faith and her deep compassion has been combined with a God-given imagination how to contact the disabled…” Joni has used her condition to reach out to the paralyzed, wheelchair-bound, and the physically handicapped with the message of her Savior, just because she is like them!
Would a perfectly healthy person know how to sympathize or show empathy for someone who was sick? Would a sick person respect and listen to someone who was completely well? Most people who experience good health rarely think about diseases, if at all, and don’t think about helping those who experience them. Joni Eareckson said, “I was one of those who insisted, ‘Handicaps happen to other people, other families” (Joni’s Story (brochure)). People who have not faced physical problems do not know how to relate to those who have. In explaining my disease to others I have gotten sympathetic looks, but deep inside I know that only those who have the same problem can really, truly, sympathize with me. The Bible gives us instruction to use our problems to help others. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3+4). Those with diseases are entrusted with a unique gift — the gift of being just like those who may need to hear the word of God and need to hear it from someone just like them.
In conclusion, I believe that the miracle of faith-healing does exist, but that faith-healing is rare. I believe it is much more of a miracle when people with diseases and health problems can have faith in God and trust Him despite their problems. To me it requires much less faith to believe all of our problems will be whisked away, as if God held a gigantic broom and dust-pan. The truth is that many faith-filled Christians have life-long diseases, even if they have faith enough for God to take them away. Many of these people have used their infirmities to reach out — even if paralyzed like Joni — to touch others and to bring them to Christ. To me, the fact that Christians can love Christ despite having debilitating health problems is much more of a miracle than a faith-healing, which only takes a moment — not a lifetime — of faith.
Eareckson, Joni and Musser, Joe. Joni, 1976 by Zondervan Publishing House
Eareckson, Joni and Estes, Steve. A Step Further, 1978 by Zondervan Publishing House
Gilliland, Glaphre. When the Pieces Don’t Fit, 1984 by Zondervan Publishing House
Hansel, Tim. You Gotta Keep Dancin’, 1985 by Life Journey Books
Kole, Andre. Miracles or Magic?, 1987 by Harvest House Publishers
Komaiko, Jean R.; Barsy, Beverly H.; Mackelmann, Ruth S. Around Lake Michigan, 1980 by Houghton Mifflin Company
NIV Bible, Zondervan Publishing House
Osbeck, Kenneth W. 101 Hymn Stories, 1982 by Kregel Publications
Tada, Joni Eareckson. Joni’s Story, brochure by Joni and Friends
“Are you afflicted and suffering, precious child of God? Then remember — your Father still knows best…Grapes must be crushed before wine can be made. Unless the violin is stretched until it cries out in pain, there is no music in it. Wheat must be broken to make bread. We may not know what God is doing now, but someday we shall understand…” (Broken Things, Discovery House Publishers, 1988, pp.44,91).
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