When faith-talk wounds instead of healing...

Error message

Over on his FB page, Graham Roberts posted this short piece by Dad Bayly, and I repost it here for our readers. There are a couple problems with the view that Christians should squeeze every last bit of faith for healing we can marshal from ourselves until the moment our loved one's heart actually stops beating and he is pronounced dead.

First, God often shows us that in this particular case He is not going to heal our loved one. Are we not to listen to Him and submit to His will? Is it godly to demand otherwise?

Second, if we refuse to stop "believing" or "having faith" for our loved one's healing until he's dead, how do we ever begin to do the work of preparing for death? For that matter, how does he himself do the work of preparing for death when all his loved ones surrounding him are...

intensely working to put any thought but faith and healing out of their minds?

I once listened to a Zambian pastor ask the principal of his pastors college how he should handle this mania over faith and healing among those of his congregation who were dying. He was ministering in the midst of the AIDS epidemic shooting through Zambia at the time and he told of a youngish woman of his congregation who was dying in the hospital and asked her family members to leave her room so she could talk to the pastor alone.

When they'd left, she expressed her exasperation and grief over not being able to talk and prepare for death because of the intense fixation all her family members had on her healing. She wanted to prepare to die, but she couldn't do it with her loved ones present. How very sad!

Third, there's no Biblical or logical reason to stop exercising faith when the loved one is pronounced dead. God can raise our loved one from the dead as easily as He can heal them, so why stop exercising faith ever? Last night during devotions, one of my grandchildren prayed asking God to bring a tiny baby girl of our congregation named Anastasia back from the dead. We buried Anastasia a couple days ago and this little one's prayer was the most natural and faithful prayer in the world for him to take to God. Should his father or mother stop him from asking this of God by explaining that Anastasia is dead, so there's no reason to ask God to heal her any more?

No, he's not asking God to heal her anymore. He's asking God to raise her from the dead, and doesn't Scripture say "is anything too hard for God?" This sort of prayer for the dead is perfectly Biblical despite the fact that only little children are simple enough to see it.

But actually, this sort of prayer is not limited to little children. One day, a man who had attended worship a few times dropped dead on the campus of Indiana University and I went to the hospital to care for his relatives who had just arrived from out of town. I felt something was awkward when I sat down in their little circle. I'd not met them, but clearly they were in a hunker-down position that excluded outsiders, and as a pastor, I was an outsider. It took a little while to get my mind around it, though, and about the time I could verbalize to myself what I was feeling, the hospital workers came and told the family they could go back to see their loved one, now. At this point, the deceased's older brother (in his early thirties or so) turned to me and said that, in behalf of the family, he had to ask me a question: Did I have faith for his brother to be raised from the dead? If not, they didn't want me coming with them to see their brother (no parents were present) because I would be bad karma for their prayers.

They left me behind and went back to pray for their brother to be raised from the dead. He wasn't, and to the best of my memory, I didn't see them again.

With those comments, here's what Dad wrote:

* * *

by Joseph Bayly

Excerpts from a chapter with this title in a book entitled "O Love That Will Not Let Me Go," edited by Nancy Guthrie.

Many Christians believe that God has power to intervene in any illness, bringing healing. The miracles of Jesus Christ are examples of such intervention up to and including death, the funeral procession, and the grave itself.

The healing movements of recent years within most denominations and other groups find their basic authority in James 5:14-16. (V.16 "Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.")

But is the promise absolute, committing God to heal every sickness for which his intervention is sought in conformity with the terms of this passage?

Yes, say some, adding that lack of faith is the only obstacle that can block God's healing activity. Others believe that the promise of healing is not absolute , but conditional. The condition is God's sovereign will.

According to those who hold the first-mentioned view, this sort of praying is self-defeating, since it implies doubt. For doubt is the enemy of faith.

But Jesus responded positively to at least one request for healing that involved an honest admission of doubt. (See Mark 9:23-24.)

What are the effects of prayer for healing on a terminally ill person? Tranquillity usually follows, because God can be trusted to do what medical science admittedly is powerless to do.

If close relatives of the ill person share his Christian convictions, a sense of God's control, love, and oversight permeates family relationships. A hopeful attitude replaces the black curtain of despair that fell when the medical sentence was pronounced.

What happens if the prayer for healing is based on belief that God's promise to heal is unconditional, that lack of faith alone can circumvent healing?

If healing is not immediate or dramatic, depression may overtake the sick person. Normal discouragement over the physical condition may be heightened by a new dimension of self-blame and guilt for not having enough faith.

He may decide that it is necessary to declare that he is healed, in spite of no evidence, or even of evidence to the contrary.

This declaration of healing leads to unreality and death-denial in which husband or wife must share, or appear to share, along with other members of the family. All relationships of the ill person are strained to a certain extent by this announcement of healing, relations with friends as well as with family.

As a result, life's final months are turned into playacting instead of a mature, deepening experience with God and loved ones, based on a recognition of the possibility (if God does not heal) of separation by death. Heaven recedes as a symbol of hope. Death becomes faith's defeat instead of heaven's door.

In the New Testament, healing was immediate. Neither Jesus nor the apostles kept people hanging in order to prove their faith. Nor did they ask them to make a verbal acknowledgment of healing in the face of no evidence, or contrary evidence, as a sign of faith.

The attitude of New Testament Christians toward impending death was acceptance, not prayer for deliverance. Faced with imminent death, Saint Paul wrote to a godly young pastor, Timothy. In the letter he did not ask Timothy to pray that he would live rather than be executed (see 2 Tim 4:6).

I do not mean to imply that prayer for prolonged life is wrong when a situation appears to be terminal. No indication of this sort is given in the words of Saint James, quoted earlier. The opposite seems to be true.

But if such praying obscures the reality of heaven and its joyful prospect for the person who is ill, making it appear that only in prolongation of life on earth may satisfaction be found, it is less than Christian.

A pattern for communicating conviction about divine healing and deliverance from death may be found in the Old Testament account of what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said when King Nebuchadezzzzar sentenced them to be executed. See Daniel 3:17-18.)

"But if not ..." Here is an admission that we are fallible, that we may be wrong in our conviction that God will heal and thereby postpone death.

What we declare in these words is that our faith is in God, not in healing. Whether we live or die does not affect our bedrock faith in Jesus Christ. And death, not healing, is the great deliverance from all pain and suffering. Death delivers God's people from the hands of persecuting governments, from the ravages of disease, and from every evil affliction.

There is always the danger that a person who is zealous for healing will try to take the place of God in other people's lives. One man stayed at the bedside of a dying Christian leader for many hours. While he was out of the room for a brief period, the leader died. He blamed his absence for the death.

A month or so after our five-year-old died of leukemia, the same man - a sincere, well-educated Christian - told me that our son need not have died, if we had only possess faith.

"Do you really believe that?" I asked.

"Yes, I do," he replied.

"Do you believe it enough to pray that your own child will become sick with leukemia so that you can prove your faith?"

After a long silence, he replied, "No, I don't."

I do not object to such zealots when they are dealing with other adults. I do object to the traumatic effect they may have on children and teenagers.

The summer after our eighteen-year-old son died, our sixteen-year-old daughter was at a Christian camp. A visiting minister, in the presence of and with the silent acquiescence of the camp director, told this grieving girl, "Your brother need not have died, if your parents had only had faith for his healing. It is not God's will for one to die before the age of sixty."

When our daughter told us this in a letter, I thought about One who died in his early thirties, One who loved children enough not to hurt them.

* * *

For the record, our elders and pastors regularly anoint and pray for the healing of souls in our congregation.

Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. (James 5:14-18)

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!