Monday, March 10, 2008

Thoughts on healing and prayer

Recently I have been thinking a good bit about healing and prayer, and how God acts. I touched on it previously here and here, and provoked a firestorm of controversy. Oh well. I guess I don't learn, because I'm about to do it again :)

Last week Guy Muse on the M Blog had a post on prayer in his area. I quote from the relevant parts (although the whole thing is excellent):

This past Saturday I was out to lunch with Geovanny (our team leader), his brother Marcos, and a visiting missionary from Mexico. We were downtown standing in line to get our rice, beans, plantains, and meat when my cell phone rang.
Hermano Guido...ORE!!! Pedro está grave. Parece que está teniendo un ataque cardíaco!!! (Brother Guy, PRAY! Peter is very ill. It looks like he is having a heart attack!)
My response?
Call an ambulance, get him to the hospital as fast as possible. It is critical that someone take him NOW!
Their response...
Pray for him, please! He is very ill and is struggling to breath...
I insisted...
Get Pedro to the doctor ASAP!
The four of us sat down at a table and began to pray for Pedro. The two missionaries prayed that the Lord would help the family get the medical attention Pedro was needing. The two nationals prayed that God would heal Pedro.
After a few minutes Pedro's wife called back.
Pedro is fine, thank you for praying. A bunch of the church and family arrived in the nick of time to pray over him. We prayed for his healing. God once again graciously intervened. He is now resting.

<idle musing>
Where to begin? I think part of our problem in the U.S. (and probably the western world) is that we have relegated God to the “gaps.” God is there where we don't understand, or where we are unable to do it ourselves. If science has explained it, we take God out of it. For example, gravity. Gravity is a “law” of science; drop something and it falls. No need for God.

We have lost touch with the reality of the intimacy of God with the world—he sustains all things by his powerful word as Hebrews 1:3 puts it. C.S. Lewis talked about this in his book Miracles; isn't everything a miracle? God is at work making the flowers grow; it is a miracle. God is at work making the planets go around the sun; it is a miracle. But we have lost the ability to be “wowed” by nature.

I submit to you that as we have lost that ability and that understanding of the intimacy of God with creation, we have also lost the ability to let God do things that medical science, or botany, or whatever, can do. We get sick; we go to the doctor. We don't even consider that James says (no, not me, the apostle!) “Are any among 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. The prayer of faith will save the sick... (James 5:14-15 NRSV).

Or how about this, Paul is on a missionary trip and he comes across a guy by the name of Aeneas who needs healing. What does he do? Luke the physician is there; does he call on Luke? Of course not, you say (because you have already read the book of Acts). Right, he calls upon the power of Jesus to heal. But what about today? Same God, same Jesus, same Holy Spirit! But, we call 911 and depend on humanity, effectively giving God's glory to man.

What about little June bug? Well, according to Psalm 139: 13, it is God who is forming her, so all I am asking is that God form her in such a way that her heart works properly. Is that too difficult for God? Well, if you see a baby as something that just happens because of nature, it might be. But, if you see God as intimately involved in the creation of that little baby, no way! If you start saying something like, “Well, that is just a poetic way of saying things. The ancient Israelites didn't have the benefit of medical science like we do. Don't be so literal!” Then you won't see many evidences of God's intervention. And I submit to you that in this case the “benefit” of modern science is anything but a benefit to faith.

I've noticed something over the years: those who expect God to intervene generally have their prayers answered quite frequently. On the other hand, those who pray general “feel good” prayers or “God help” prayers see less divine answers.

I may cause another firestorm of controversy here, but I will take my stand with those who expect God to do something. Otherwise, we have relegated him to the status of an idol, or at least that is what Isaiah says when he confronts the idols: “...that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be afraid and terrified. You, indeed are nothing and your work is nothing at all...” (Isaiah 41:23-24 NRSV). So, what will it be? A living and active God? Or, an idol that we call on from afar, but don't really expect to receive an answer from? A deistic God who might have set the world in motion once upon a time? Or, a loving, living, intimate creator who cares for the sparrow—and June bug?
</idle musing>


Eric Rowe said...

Pardon my minor nitpick, but in the case of Peter healing Aeneas, the text says nothing of him praying. He simply commanded the paralytic to get up, apparently having a spiritual gift that authorized him to do that, and whether Luke or any other doctor was near the text doesn't say. Of course when an apostle who was gifted to heal did so it was always true that God was the one causing the healing to happen, just as it is God causing the healing to happen when a doctor is his agent, or when we pray and he heals, or when we don't pray and he still heals. Utilizing the gifts God has given us in science is not mutually exclusive with relying on Him to work in miraculous non-scientific means as well. And I certainly wouldn't want to be the one to dissuade someone from getting needed medical attention as quickly as possible on the grounds that doing so leaves God in a gap somehow.

jps said...


Not a nitpick; I blew it on the example. Yes, it was Peter and Luke wasn't there. That's what I get for not checking my stories.

What my point is, and was in the previous two posts, is that in our culture we automatically revert to medical science; we don't even consider going to God first. That is what I am objecting to. If we seek the will of God and he says go to medical science, that is different. But, I fear many do not even believe they can hear God...