14th March 2012
The healing ministry projects the Minister or Christian Carer into a sensitive role that exposes them to the personal and emotional needs of those who are sick and vulnerable. In addition to this the healing ministry has sometimes been overshadowed by, sensationalism and controversy. How do we relate to chronic illness, to those who share a crippling condition or who have been diagnosed with a terminal condition beyond medical answer or cure.
As people we need at least two kinds of hope to function well. A present hope for life, a reason and purpose for the here and now and a hope for the future, a possibility and expectation that the best is yet to come.
From the outset we need to be honest by declaring that there is much about life, suffering and sickness that is beyond our understanding. We must stand with Paul the apostle when he writes "For now we see in a mirror dimly,---now we know only in part" 1 Cor. 1:12 --- yet through this mystery some things are clear.
(1) In the search for a present hope the person diagnosed with a terminal or non curable condition can easily be overcome by a sense of hopelessness. Out of desperation people can try to create hope by seeking radical cures or by living in a state of denial based on false hope or wishful thinking.
(2) When we consider Jesus ministry in the Gospel accounts, it is clear that Jesus called people to surrender themselves in repentance, to trust and follow him in order to enter the kingdom and to receive a gift of life.
(3) At the same time two thirds of the Gospels comprise of Jesus healing ministry where both the salvation of the soul and physical wholeness are inseparable and are clearly upheld as God's will for us.
(4) It is also clear that both spiritual and physical healing require a step of faith in Jesus. This ethos or environment of faith is important. Mark 6:5-6. It has been said that today the church to a large degree has left the Healing Lord on the shores of Galilee instead of inviting Him into every part of its ministry. This means that we need to intentionally spend time revisiting the stories of the Gospels to get to know Jesus, to build faith and confidence in Him.
A Present hope.
When a doctor says something is incurable, what is being said is that science has not found an absolute cure although there may be treatments available. Jesus did heal "incurable" leprosy during his earthly ministry and we are told he healed "every disease and sickness". (Matthew 7:11). A legitimate part of our present hope is found in the confidence of knowing that God wants our healing and well-being. This means we should lay hold of all the healing available from reliable sources including medical science, lifestyle, prayer, meditation, serving others etc. This is important because we know that medication, our emotions, mental attitude and our spiritual condition all influence our health and offer present hope to those who are ill. We know that God often uses a doctor and the medical profession as a channel to restore a patient's body. We also know through the evidence of the Gospels and experience that just as Jesus brings all the benefits of our salvation and forgiveness to us now,-- in a similar way, through a prayer of faith, when the sick are lifted to God in prayer and surrounded by love and faith, God can intervene to bring physical healing.
The Two Views
At this point there are two main views within the Christian community.
The Pentecostal view often looks to select parts of Scripture such as Isaiah 53:6 that says, "By his wounds we are healed." This view claims that healing is universal and immediate for all who believe in Jesus. It says that in Jesus death on the cross, not only are we forgiven and restored to God spiritually but Jesus also took our sickness and promises, that by faith, we can claim and be assured of physical healing and restoration now. (Healing in the Atonement)
The Evangelical view draws on both Scripture and experience and says that what Jesus did in his death on the cross is much more profound and far-reaching. As important as a person's immediate need is, it goes well beyond that. While agreeing that it is only through Jesus death that we can be made whole, an Evangelical perspective points out that Jesus took our entire, sick, human nature into his death and that his death was a corporate act, that is, it was also our death. In Jesus resurrection, we were also actually raised up with him, restored in newness and wholeness of life. In the resurrection God clearly shows us his ultimate plan for humanity. So we pray for both, that people will come to trust Christ and we pray for healing. There are special times when God does intervene to bring healing and it is as if he opens a window and we glimpse his gift at work in the present but we also know we cannot go on being healed for ever in this life. Experience tells us that perfect health is not always possible so there is no place for reckless promises or guarantees for healing now.
Focus on the Cross
Rather than focusing just on our need or on our degree of faith to receive healing, the New Testament leads us to the cross and resurrection. In his Gospel Matthew quotes Isaiah 53 when he says of Jesus, "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases." This means that God does not watch a persons illness or suffering as a distant observer. It is clear here that God actually gets involved and deals with evil and our brokenness by taking it upon himself and letting it do its work. By a costly identification he takes and delivers us from our dreadful brokenness. In his self-giving love God pours himself out for those who suffer and in this way he brings healing and hope. His love is encased in weakness and this is also the way of healing. A healing begins when we take our bearings from the cross and we encounter an unselfish love. This love penetrates deeply into the things that would destroy us so that healing does not come through a technique or our love of power but through the power of God's love.
The immediate consequence of Jesus death for us can be known as we open ourselves to him. In fact we come to share in the gift of God's self-giving love. By the Holy Spirit we receive this new life that is in Christ. (Romans 5:5.) To rest in this love that the Spirit brings and to allow it to permeate every part of our being takes the focus beyond our physical condition. It is the beginning of a healing that restores and brings with it a new wholeness.
Facing the pain
When consciously or unconsciously we believe that only physical cure can make life worth living, a longing to be cured can trap us into wanting to cling to false hope. This denial is a natural sign of self-protection so people can want to live in it for as long as possible. The Christian carer however can be an objective sounding board that reflects reality back to the patient. Great sensitivity needs to be exercised here to gently discern the readiness of the patient to face the pain of that reality. Being realistic when we pray for someone's healing (in the context of faith mentioned earlier) may mean carefully raising the question, "What if you are not healed?" "What if God does not set you free from this disease?" In being willing to face that question acceptance becomes reality. In some cases, over years, a person's condition can grow worse so there are no obvious new horizons. Death will heal the pain but that can be years away and all we can do in our weakness is shed our grief and sorrow onto Christ a day at a time.
Now and Not Yet
There is a now and not yet. A final destruction and release from fear, sickness and death will finally happen when in the Last Day all things that Christ has made new will be made obvious. For now a present hope is seen in the love shown by those who care. This is evidence that points to the Living Christ and the kingdom of God being among us now.
The question then arises, "When should longing for a special, immediate healing end? Is it right to go on pointing to hope for a cure when for years none has come? When is it right to stop hoping for a cure and to encourage preparation for dying? There are no easy answers to these questions and it is not easy to come to a place of acceptance but we know that at some time both the sick person and those who care for them will have to face reality. Although we don't escape grief, preparation for dying need not be morbid if it is seen as a preparation for what is real life. It is only in recognizing the situation for what it is and in expressing those deep feelings of anxiety associated with it that people move on. Owning grief, fear, frustration, disappointment, loneliness, anger, and what is in us is very important.
There will be times when we do not know what to say. In her book "Sharing the Darkness", Sheila Caffety suggests that when Jesus cried from the cross "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" that Jesus friends standing at the foot of the cross had no answer. All they could do was stand, watch and pray. There will be times when the healing we offer will be the healing presence of those who watch and pray. This is an important way of identification, a way of saying, "I'm in touch with you and your illness. I will not forsake you" It may hurt not being able to answer questions but what we know is that Jesus has been there before us.
New Horizons of Loss
Is a persons condition declines through the "not yet" stage so in the grieving process one discovers new areas of loss. Rev Dr Tom Brown has said, "The sufferer learns that each new discovery is not the summit but only part of the journey. The reality of dependency on others can lead to grief, withdrawal and negative frustration, resulting in abrupt, cruel comments to those who seek to support. When anger is understood by those who care, it can be a force for change, an opportunity to deal with feelings of rejection, guilt, false guilt or unresolved issues. Like Abraham we have to be ready to place all we hold dear upon the altar if we are to know the freedom we have in Christ."
Future Hope Now
Jesus promises to everyone who follows him, "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full (John 10:10.) The eternal life of the Bible is not something that begins at death. It is a new presence and quality of life that begins now when we come to know the Living Christ. This is a gift not something we earn. This means we are ready for life or death. We live in a hope that spans the present and future and so the promises of God need to be read and heard over and over again. (Hebrews 6:19.)
At the foot of the cross Mary was alongside her suffering son. She was not thrust into doing something for him. As it has been noted often our response will be in silence, in the presence of the cross. We cannot change people but we can offer a love that is of God. In the cross and resurrection Jesus himself moved from feelings of helplessness to giving us great assurance. The God who has taken our suffering and pain upon himself in his Son, is the God of self-giving love. The hope he offers is found wherever God's people, in the power of the Spirit meet and minister to the needy. Sometimes it seems we feel bruised and we bleed but a self-giving love gets involved. C.S. Lewis said,
"Miracles are for beginners. This can mean when we are in the early stages of the Christian life, when faith needs to be confirmed or built up. Where the church is young or impoverished God is more likely to show himself as the rescuer. When we are stronger and more mature then he can trust us and honour us, not by giving us the deliverance we ask but by calling us to experience Calvary love in the dark places where no relief comes---leading us on to the hope in the new life which lies on the other side of the suffering and affliction we have to cross."
To stop fighting illness and to face impending death is not to abandon the desire for healing but to be open to the will of God and an ultimate healing that may mean death earlier than we would like. Often as we identify with the suffering of Christ in the chronically ill person we will encounter a mature faith that ministers to us out of the patient's real future hope.
It is when those around the sick person are at peace about death that the patient is assisted to approach death with dignity. This need not be overshadowed by gloom but with a "shalom peace", a deep sense of fulfilment and blessing.
God's self-giving love makes the present journey possible but it is also the process that gives us the evidence we need for what we do not yet see. It assures the person united to Christ that through long suffering the final end of being is a release and a beautiful wholeness in the presence of God. (Rev. 22)
Reference: "There is Hope" Robert J Hillman, "Wholeness for the Uncured" Rev Dr Tom Brown, "Divine Healing: Fact or Fiction?" John Pitts, "Healing Adventure" Anne S White
E. A. (Ted) Curnow
8 March 2012