Not far from where I am writing there is an up-to-date Presbyterian hospital. In the adjoining parking-lot is a long line of doctors’ cars each with a caduceus—the common emblem of the physician. Atop the tower of a not-distant Presbyterian church is a cross, the recognized emblem of Christianity. The cross and caduceus are seen in open alliance.
Within a mile of my residence stands a church of another major Protestant body which supports no local hospital but maintains a tepid and innocuous interest in the ministry of healing by sharing in the support of a hospital chaplain.
Within a wider radius one of the newer denominations has a church. It teaches that the prayer of faith is all that is required for complete healing and definitely opposes the employment of doctors and drugs.
The three examples indicate that evangelical Christianity presents no unified and consistent answer to the problems of healing.
RECONCILIATION AND HEALING
Does Christianity need to reappraise and to restate the relationship between the gospel of reconciliation and the gospel of healing? Without softening the Gospel’s “joyful sound which conquers sinners and comforts saints,” should we not be able to suggest a message of healing to augment the church’s spiritual witness?
When Jesus commissioned the twelve, the record says, “he sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:2). There are those, of course, who claim that this was a special commission to preach and heal in order to meet an emergency. If so, when was the commission revoked? Could the commission be half revoked and half retained?
To be sure, when given, the commission meant something different from what it means today. In Jesus’ day there were no hospitals, no medical specialists, no trained nurses, no clinics, no laboratories. Christ’s field of service might be likened to that of Schweitzer in Africa or Grenfell in Labrador where the only hope of the sick has been to get in touch with the missionary. Undoubtedly Schweitzer and Grenfell were moved by the need in these far-away fields much as Jesus was moved by the needy multitudes of his day. Even today in America, despite our many facilities to care for the sick, there remains an appalling need for a healing ministry. To meet this need the faith-healers and Science cultists broadcast the alluring message that God will heal everybody who has the right attitude of heart and mind.
FAITH THE ONLY CRITERION?
The Bible gives numerous examples of men in dire need who possessed faith and prayer and consecration but failed to be healed. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” is, of course, a classic example (2 Cor. 12:7). But we must not forget Timothy’s stomach trouble (1 Tim. 5:23) and Trophimus, left sick at Miletus, (2 Tim. 4:20), and Epaphroditus, Paul’s “fellow-soldier,” who was “nigh unto death” (Phil. 2:25–27). Why was it that Paul could heal the demented slave girl at Philippi, the lame man at Lystra, Eutychus, the young man who fell out of a third-story window, and yet did nothing toward healing these others?
Was he empowered just on special occasions? Was he enthused with a sort of divine frenzy or ecstasy when he performed these miracles, like Samson when the “Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him” (Judges 14:8)? Was Paul at other times as powerless as Samson when his locks were shorn? We know that the disciples, being men, were not always able to remain at the spiritual pitch of the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:4–9). But to think that the power of healing appeared and disappeared without rhyme or reason in a man like Paul would force the conclusion that our God is capricious. At times he would seem to hear Paul’s prayer for healing, while at other times he would be deaf to all entreaty.
Some other factor must condition the problem of healing. We cannot support healers who state, “It is a mistake to teach anyone that God ever wills us to suffer,” or “I believe and know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is the perfect will of God to heal you from every affliction of your body,” or “Why should the child of Infinite Perfection ever be ill?” Without impugning their integrity or questioning their motives, (although some evidence of misrepresentation is available), we point to the failure of these healers to cure all cases brought to them as sufficient evidence that their claims are unjustified.
It is true that on many occasions Jesus rebuked his disciples for lack of faith (see Matt. 17:20; 6:30; 14:31) and such rebuke is merited today. But we have also seen that Paul’s inability to heal all cases cannot be attributed to lack of faith. Nor can it be so interpreted in the lives of later Christians such as David Brainerd, who died of tuberculosis while evangelizing the Indians, or David Livingstone whose great heart was buried under a tree in darkest Africa, or Adoniram Judson who gave his life for the Burmese.
But note the elements that entered into one of Jesus’ own miracles of healing. In Matthew 9:2, 5, 6, we have some significant statements about the healing of the palsied (really paralytic) man: “And Jesus, seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” Two factors enter into this miracle of healing: one, “seeing their faith.” It was the man’s friends who had exhibited faith. No mention is made that the patient himself had any faith. This element of individual faith is often exaggerated while other considerations are ignored.
DISCLOSING THE SAVIOUR
The second element is, “thy sins be forgiven thee.” What did the act of forgiving have to do with the healing? Was it just an additional exhibition of Christ’s power—an extra thrill for the gaping, curious crowd? Scarcely. Jesus wished to give this paralytic a clean slate. He started from the inside and worked out. Spiritual healing was absolutely necessary to the man’s complete well-being. His body might have been healed, might have become a perfect instrument, but an instrument for what? Mind and body might have become instruments of destruction. He had to be cleansed and made fit for the Master’s use.
In exploring the reasons for healing we have now come out to the main road, the highway of salvation. Here we encounter Christians who claim that bodily healing is a part of God’s plan of salvation. They teach that the Atonement provides for everything. Undoubtedly when God enters human life, he cleanses and purifies and ennobles every part of that life. To men like Harry Monroe and Jim Goodheart, whose bodies had been besotted and depraved, Christ brought a glorious transformation. But does conversion imply that after accepting Christ, these men never had an ache or pain or a skipping heartbeat? Did Fanny Crosby and Helen Keller and George Matheson have their sight restored because they were exemplary Christians. Did Paul get rid of his thorn?
The healing of the lame man makes plain the primacy of spiritual healing. The man’s soul was first cleansed, then the body. The order has never been changed. The Christian is God’s exhibit of what his transforming power can do for a sinful man.
Like Paul, he may be called upon to glory in his infirmities. Three times in one chapter Paul emphasizes this fact (2 Cor. 12:5, 9, 10). Paul might have permitted his physical handicap to interrupt his work as a missionary. Perhaps he told himself, “Nobody will believe me when I tell of God’s limitless mercy and goodness unless I exhibit perfect healing and soundness before their eyes. Unless God heals me I shall be unable to preach another sermon or heal another sick person.” But Paul is able to hear Christ say to him, “My grace is sufficient for thee. My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Out of his humiliation he could cry, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).
DISPLAYING CHRIST TO THE WORLD
Surely the concept of the Christian as a gazing-stock is not unfamiliar to any student of the Word (Heb. 10:33). As Jeremiah was called upon to sink in the dungeon’s mire rather than retract his prophecy, and as Ezekiel was called upon to eat barley cakes mingled with manure as an exhibit of what would come to Israel in captivity, and as Hosea was required to live with his faithless wife to exhibit to Israel the damning influence of faithlessness, so God uses trials and sufferings of his servants to exhibit his truth to the unbelieving world.
Let’s get things in true perspective. Bodily healing is not the main objective of the Church. The main purpose of the Church is to represent Christ to the world, to exhibit his love and pardon and forbearance. When this can be done best by a broken body, let it be done that way. But for the most part, we believe, God is best revealed in a sound mind and body. Christ still qualifies as the Great Physician, the physician of souls as well as bodies. To sin-sick, harried, and disease-ridden suppliants he reaches out a healing hand as to the leper of old saying, “I will; be thou made clean” (Matt. 8:3). What the cleansing means will vary in different lives. We can exhibit to the world what manner of men Christ wishes his representatives to be. It is for us to bring to the world an exhibit of the whole Gospel, the salvation of spirit, mind, and body.
PROGRAM FOR THE CHURCH
To do this we must utilize all God-given resources:
1. The Church should respond to a fresh and compelling call to prayer. The words of James are still pertinent: “The prayer of faith shall save the sick.” Not always will their bodies be saved, but spiritual healing is always possible. If prayer always healed sick bodies, sickness and old age and death could have no effect upon a person professing faith in Christ.
2. Christians should seek a new insight into the laws of health—the normal functioning and relationship of spirit, mind, and body. The Christian must shun mechanistic philosophy and rely on God’s presence and power to finish his new creation in our lives.
3. The Church should utilize whatever means are available for bodily healing. James speaks of anointing the body with oil (the Greek says “olive oil”). Olive oil unctions are still used by doctors and hospitals in treating weak infants. The directive by James opens the door to whatever means are serviceable in restoring health, including the skill of the surgeon and physician.
4. Churches should give an opportunity for those who have received healing of spirit, mind, or body to tell about it. Such testimony will strengthen the faith of speakers and listeners.
5. Pastors should conduct classes and seminars to teach sane and true ideas of Christian healing. Workers should equip themselves with comprehensive literature explaining the ministry of healing. Lead the patient to place his hand in the strong hand of the loving Heavenly Father for time and eternity.
6. Contend earnestly for abundant living. This phrase has been so prostituted by realtors peddling a more glamorous house, and by salesmen for swimming pools and soft mattresses and cocktails, that its higher meaning has been obscured. Read Paul’s majestic recital of the Christian’s heritage in Philippians 3:7–14 and in Colossians 2:6, 7, and think of your intended part in this abundant life. Seek more perfect bodily health. Learn how to relax when tired or worried. It is not enough to tell sick people to relax. They should be shown how. While relaxed, learn to drink in God’s wonderful provision of love, joy, peace, forgiveness, and fellowship. Take time for meditation. Picture in your mind the kind of person you would like to be by God’s help, and you will find yourself unconsciously growing toward your ideal.
The cross and caduceus are not separate and inimical, they are interlocked. Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians may well become our prayer: “I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23). The same Apostle also reminds us that, as fellow-Christians, the glorious fulfilment of our salvation, towards which we should constantly be moving, is the attainment of “the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
Samuel M. Shoemaker is the author of a number of popular books and the gifted Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh. He is known for his effective leadership of laymen and his deeply spiritual approach to all vital issues.
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