Thursday, February 18, 2016

My Complicated History With Divine Healing

Let me begin by saying that I realize that people of all religious traditions, and some with no religious tradition at all are reading this blog. I have everyone from atheists to agnostics to evangelical pastors among my friends, and I love you all the same. So I'll try, in this entry and others, to avoid the use of "Christianese." Or if I feel the need to use a term that people not of my tradition might not understand, I'll try to explain what I mean.

I was raised in a church, the Nazarene church, that believes in divine healing. Not just the kind of belief where we think if enough people are praying for someone, maybe God will heal them, but the kind where people come to the front of the church, the pastor anoints them with oil, people lay hands on them and pray, and just expect them to come away 100% healed. I can remember many instances in church services where people were anointed with oil and people laid hands on them and prayed for their healing. All my life I heard testimonies from people who were healed of illnesses when they were supposedly incurable.

The problem is, for most of my life I had never actually seen anyone be divinely healed in an unmistakable way. I'd never really seen anything that I could point to and say, "That couldn't have been anything but God." But I thought I believed in divine healing. I said I did.

Then, in the 1980's, my dad started having problems with vertigo, terrible dizziness, and tinnitus. It's caused, not by Meniere's disease, like many have, but by pressure on the 8th cranial nerve, which controls balance. He had six neurosurgeries in the 80's to try to solve the problem, and had some good results afterward at times, but ultimately, the surgeries cannot be said to have been successful. In addition, during the week following his third surgery, his doctor told him that afterward, he would have headaches for the rest of his life. And she wasn't lying. My dad suffers from pounding, debilitating headaches every waking moment.

Let me tell you something else about my dad. No one has more faith. There is no one I admire more, spiritually. So if anybody should be healed when they pray and believe, and have lots of people praying for them, it's him, right? Not so much. He still suffers to this day, with no end in sight.

Naturally, I struggled with this for many years. Then, in the mid-1990's, I actually saw a miracle of healing. A friend of ours fell from a tall ladder at work and had severe brain damage. Some of the elders of our church, along with members of our Sunday School class (he was president of our class) went to his hospital bedside, anointed him with oil, and prayed for his healing. He was not expected to ever be able to function normally on his own again, but he was miraculously healed, and as far as I know, is fine today. I haven't seen him for many years.

When that happened, all of our friends who knew him were rejoicing at this miracle we had witnessed, but not me. I got mad at God. Why would God heal this guy, but not my dad? To this day, no one has been able to answer that question to my satisfaction. Why does God heal some but not others?

And what about the "blank check" verses in the gospels, like Mark 11:22-24? For the Bible-impaired, those verses read, “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And there are other, similar verses in the gospels where Jesus seems to give us an unlimited ATM card. What about those? After much study, I've come to the conclusion that in those passages, Jesus is talking specifically to the Apostles, not to us. He was conferring authority on them so they could establish his church. And they did many miracles just like Jesus did because the Holy Spirit gave them a level of power that few have seen since.

As much as I love doctrine, I don't want this to turn into a theological treatise. It's just that I have a lot of people praying for me right now, and I'm very grateful for that. And please, keep right on praying for my healing. And please pray for my dad also! But after many years of thinking and praying about this, here's where I'm at with regard to divine healing. On the one hand, I not only believe it happens, I know it does. But on the other, I also know that it doesn't happen for everyone. I don't believe that faith is believing that a particular thing I prayed for will happen. My faith is in God, not in my own prayers, or anyone else's. Jesus himself, in the garden, could not claim what he was praying for. He had to simply say, "not my will, but yours." If Jesus had to do that, what makes me think that if I just have enough faith, God is obligated to do whatever I ask?

I led music at a seniors retreat last fall, and once while people were asking for prayer for different things, one dear lady said she was suffering from some type of cancer. I don't remember what kind. Her doctors wanted her to go through some radical treatments, but she refused. She said, "Either God's gonna heal me, or he's not. And I'm OK either way." That made a big impression on me, and I came away hoping that if I were ever in a similar situation, that I would have the same attitude. And now that I'm here, I find that I do have that attitude.

Not that I'm refusing treatment. Have I whined about the Lupron lately? But if God heals me, I will give him the glory. If not, I'm ready to go home. I'm OK either way.

(From Comments)

Thanks again for your kind comments, thoughts and prayers! That's a statement I've wanted to make publicly for a long time, but never had the chance. I don't really talk about my life or express my opinions on social media, and until now I've never had a blog where I talk about myself. And ladies, you know how much we men love to talk about ourselves! So this was my first chance to talk about this subject that's been such an issue in my family's life. The fact that I'm thinking about myself in that context now brings it home all the more. "It's not my brother, nor my sister, but it's me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer."

In case you're wondering, yes, I have been anointed with oil (just a dab) and prayed over by a pastor for healing from my cancer.

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