Thinking. Healing, anger, reactions and what I really want to say.
We visited friends the other day and the subject of healing services came up.
My friend said, "There's a healing guy coming to our suburb. I want to go and see what's going on. I know where he'll be coming from because I've read his stuff, and I know it won't be much good."
Immediately I felt prickly and reactive. Emotions started boiling up inside me. I felt like running away or lashing out. And I was surprised. Where had such a strong reaction come from?
The conversation went on about how a lot of healing 'roadshows' are not based on biblical theology and get into a whole lot of demonology and stuff that just isn't helpful or biblical. I agreed, but I still needed to say, in a very petulant tone,
"Well, I wish we could hear some good teaching about healing sometimes. I wish healing was a part of our theological tradition."
"But in what form?" asked our friend. "How would you like to see it done?"
"I don't know," I shrugged, sulking. "I just wish it was."
Later, I still felt churned up, so I tried to explain why I was speaking so strongly.
"Last year I spent months praying about Bright Eyes' healing from autism," I told him. "I invited a whole lot of families from our church over on my birthday to pray specifically for his recovery. I asked God for a miracle, and nothing came of it."
Then, of course, I started to cry.
"I just still obviously feel really angry about it. I'm angry with God still. Not at my core, but around the edges I am," I said, a touch more incoherently.
Our friends listened, and then the husband, who is a pastor, asked a really good question. "How do you want people to respond to what you've just told us?"
"I don't know," I shrugged and mumbled, still winking back tears. "I just don't know."
It took a while before I could sort out what I was feeling and thinking after that. A few hours later, driving home in the car, I figured it out a little better and told my husband a garbled version of this:
We conservative evangelicals spend a reasonable amount of time rejecting unbiblical healing ministries, and all for good reasons. We argue that they shouldn't take place because they get people focusing on things that are not gospel-centred, they present a distorted view of God's reality and they emphasise celebrity 'healers' and exciting 'miracles' over the every-day journey of following Christ through up and down.
But I wonder if our language and our thinking and indeed our practice might change if we came at it from another angle - the angle of suffering with the people who attend these services.
Many, many people go to those things because they are desperate. They are suffering greatly, they feel as though they are at the end of their rope and they don't know how they can go on bearing their heavy load. People with chronic conditions seek out healers because they've tried everything else. They live with a burden of desperation and pain that they can't carry on their own. They don't like it, they want to be free of it, and they see Jesus in the gospels, who healed so many, so completely and they truly believe that God can heal them.
I know, because I've felt like that.
If we conservative evangelicals could see and feel the desperation that we 'healing-seekers' live with, perhaps that might more fully inform our preaching, our church practice, our pastoral care, our words of encouragement, our visiting, our acts of mercy.
Perhaps if we conservative evangelicals listened more and gave healing-seekers permission to feel desperate, to be angry and to doubt, and supported them while they expressed their emotions, perhaps that would be half of the healing.
There's a line that many healing ministries push to justify any miracles that don't happen. It's the old one - "You don't have enough faith, that's why God didn't heal you." It's a heresy, and it's wrong and its abusive.
But there is also a line, albeit indirect and unspoken, that conservative evangelicals hold that stops us from having to deal with the misery and the anguish of the healing-seeker. If the desperate, pathetic, searching individuals really truly understood God's sovereignty and his grace as expressed in the gospel, and as preached faithfully from the pulpit, then they wouldn't feel as bad as they do, and they wouldn't be weak and wavering and tempted into attending dodgy healing meetings.
Not enough faith vs not enough theology.
And both times, the person with the burden too great to carry alone is left feeling like a failure as well as dealing with whatever chronic condition it is that they desperately want to have healed.
And in answer to my friend's two questions to me:
What do I want healing in the local church to look like?
I'd love to see healing and health and sin and sorrow preached about from the pulpit, from someone who really understood suffering and travail. I am glad that chronically and temporarily ill are prayed for every week. I'd like to see it more emphasised. I would like to see people taking time to carry each other's burdens. I'd like to see specific healing prayer meetings held for those who request it - or perhaps held regularly - say monthly. I'd like to hear the word 'healing' spoken in positive, innocent tones, and not accompanied by an eye-roll.
How do I want people to react if I tell them I'm suffering and I'm angry with God.
Well, I don't want 'right' answers, because I know those already and they don't help much when I feel terrible. I'd really like a hug, if it's appropriate. I'd like permission to express myself. I'd like no judgment please. I'd like sensitive questions to help me find ways to tell why and what I'm feeling. I'd like an offer of help with my chronic problem. I'd like them to pray for me. And when I've had enough of talking about, it, I'd like them to be able to move on and not hark back to the subject every time they see me!