When I was in high school, doing impressions of highly animated faith healers was wonderful sport. Perhaps my favorite sport. I remember watching television as people threw away their crutches, ripped out their hearing aids, sprung from their wheel chairs and testified of miracle cures. When a few of the more visible but unprincipled conduits of healing power got sliced, diced, simmered and fried by the media, it was just all the more funny. Faith healers were cartoons in a cartoon graveyard for me. I believed in God but I did not believe in them. They stood on shaky ground.
Conversely, I observed that “in church” prayers for healing were conducted by far more believable servants of God. They would pray for folks but always ended with the phrase, “Your will be done.” That bugged me. It seemed like a bit of a cop out because if God didn’t heal the pray-ee, the pray-er could always invoke the “will of God” clause and move on without blinking. It seemed this approach was tentative; and frankly, I thought expectations were low. This was unduly dry ground. Parched really.
I determined back then that if I ever needed someone to pray for me, I would want someone who actually believed God could heal me. Keep the faith healers and tentative preachers; bring me a child who just heard the story of Moses parting the Red Sea and is planning to go home, raise a stick over the farm pond, command the water to part, walk across on firm ground and pick up the flopping catfish. Let that kid pray for me!
After high school, I briefly explored a tradition that believed God healed people most of the time (not some of the time or almost never) and went at prayers for healing aggressively, rather than passively. Clearly not everyone for whom they prayed got healed but results seemed better than with the “thy will be done” method. Though I struggled with (and later rejected) significant hunks of their theology, I really liked being the arrow and not the target when it comes to prayer. Still do.
When you toss all this in a blender, I guess that is how I came out a Methodist. The Wesleyan tradition offered me a theological place that respects the will of God without giving away the power of God. This is firm ground. I can stand here.
There are three questions we must ask concerning prayer and healing:
1) Does God care about our physical illnesses? The answer is, “Yes.” Though I believe God constantly asks us to pray beyond “us and ours,” God still loves us. I care about global injustice and people dying but I also care when my grandchildren scrape their knees. With God it is not “either/or,” it is always “both/and.”
2) Does God still heal people today? The answer is, “Yes.” Jesus healed people and empowered and entrusted the church with the ongoing conduct of his ministry. Physical healing has always been a calling card of both Christ and the Spirit-filled church that bears his name. If God healed then, God heals now. I have simply seen too much for anyone to convince me that miracles don’t happen.
3) Why is everyone not healed? We must realize that everyone is going to die of something. Biblical healing was not seen purely as physical; it was spiritual as well. Physical healing is temporary even when it comes. Spiritual healing is eternal and comes every time we ask.
“Are any of you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. And their prayer offered in faith will heal the sick and make them well and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.” -James 5: 14-16
I often pray for people to be healed. If you ask me, I will pray for you anywhere, anytime. I have seen miracles. I don’t always know how to talk about them without you thinking I am three fries short of a Happy Meal but I do believe. I believe like the kid picking up the catfish off the bottom of the pond. Like him, I am standing on firm ground.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois