Two-year-old Olive Heiligenthal wasn’t raised from the dead. She fell asleep in her bed two weeks ago, and never woke up.
For six days, Bethel Church in Redding, California, and its followers prayed for Olive to be raised from the dead—singing, dancing, and declaring what they believed was God’s will, following the lead of Olive’s mother Kalley Heiligenthal, who wrote to her more than 250,000 Instagram followers, “Her time here is not done.” In an official statement, Bethel Church’s pastor, Bill Johnson, agreed. The popular but controversial church invited the world to ask God to #WakeUpOlive. But Olive didn’t wake up. Late on Friday, Dec. 20, Bethel Church announced that the family would begin planning a memorial service.
The events raise an important question: How do those suffering understand their pain when no miracles come? When sickness isn’t cured and children aren’t raised from the dead? What happens when our churches, songs, and social media posts place such a strong emphasis on declaring the removal of suffering rather than God’s willing solidarity with it? Shame.
I heard the news of Olive Heiligenthal’s death on the morning of Dec. 16, while I sat letting a Zofran pill dissolve on my tongue to quell the nausea swirling in my body. I had just taken my weekly injection of chemotherapy for what my doctors describe as an incurable disease, one I’ve had for 11 years despite ardent prayer for healing. Bethel’s pastor, Bill Johnson, believes it is always God’s will to heal. So where does my life fit within God’s will?
On his website, Johnson states, “How can God choose not to heal someone when He already purchased their ...1
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