On the ‘Big Question’ on Sunday morning TV last week the topic of healing was being discussed.
The question was, ‘Can illness be cured by prayer?’ That certainly is a big question, with few clear answers.
I remember when my late wife was terminally ill it seemed that half the world was praying for her.
That was before the days of Facebook and other forms of social media, but there was the view that the more people we got to pray the more would be her chances of experiencing a miraculous healing - which never came, although that might depend on our view of healing.
Doesn’t that sound a bit like a petition to be presented at the gates of heaven? Is it emotional blackmail, twisting God’s arm?
One unfortunate unintended consequence was that there were some well-intentioned individuals who were so convinced that they had successfully coaxed God to ‘do the right thing’ that they came to see us with a prophecy; my ailing wife and I would ‘live a long and fruitful life together and would die peacefully in our old age.’
The sad upshot therefore when she did pass away, it was my fault all along for not having enough faith, or worse, there was some hidden sin in my life - at the time, that was very painful.
I knew John Wimber in the early nineties, founder of the international Vineyard Church movement.
John was a charismatic character who led hundreds to faith in Christ and who saw many folk dramatically healed; odd though that he died at the tender age of 63 of a heart attack, but once when I asked him to explain why some were healed and some were not, his answer was a simple, ‘I don’t know.’
I don’t claim to know very much about the subject either. I have prayed for many people and have seen most of them disappointed and a few pleased, but allow me to quote an example from my professional experience as a debt advisor.
A man came to see me whose business had collapsed, he was facing financial ruin and he didn’t know that he could cope. As a result he was drinking too much, wasn’t sleeping at nights, rarely ate a decent meal and in such circumstances his marriage began to crumble.
Debt advisors think strategically, compassionate but emotionally detached and can therefore analyse the situation and present a way forward. I drew up an action plan and sent the man away to do what he had to do, and arranged for him to return to my office when he had his task accomplished. When he came into my office, I can say honestly that I did not recognise him. The pain and the stress were gone, he had reduced his drinking and his marriage back on track.
That man was one of many I have dealt with through the years whose life was on a trajectory to destruction, now there was hope, a solution, a way ahead.
Now, don’t tell me that such people have not been healed in every sense of that word, but was anyone praying? Probably not, and even if there was, their prayers were more likely to be something like, ‘Please God, make these debts disappear!’So, what is healing? What is prayer?
Not easy to define, are they?