It’s been a long time since I wrote on “faith healing”, the conviction that if we have enough faith, God will surely heal us. That’s because I haven’t heard a sermon on faith healing in a long time. I heard one recently. And as I have written before, as in many things, we live in tension between many truths. We have surely been called to pray for the sick and to have faith in God, and that faith in God will open the door for God to heal us (Matthew 9:29). Yet we are also clear that we live between the times. We know that Christ has come and by His life, death and resurrection has inaugurated the Kingdom of God. Yet we also know that the Kingdom of God will only come in its fullness when Christ returns, and it is in that Kingdom that we are promised the complete elimination of sickness (Revelation 21:1–7). In the meantime, as Paul says, we groan for the final and complete healing of creation (Romans 8:18–25).
As I listened to the preacher, two disturbing thoughts came to mind. First, if it is true that if we have enough faith we will be healed, then those who are not healed suffer a double blow. Not only do they have to continue to struggle with their sickness, they now have to struggle with the belief that it was their fault. It was because they didn’t have enough faith that God couldn’t heal them. They are in a worse state than before they asked for healing. Indeed, the object of their faith seems to be their faith itself and not God. They have faith in faith and not faith in a wise, loving and sovereign God who is not waiting for them to jump through the appropriate hoops before He will dispense healing. I looked around at the congregation while the sermon was going on and wondered: How did those who had called out in faith to God feel when God did not heal them? Did some wonder why their faith failed? Did some wonder why God ignored their desperate pleas? Did they wonder if God really loved them? Did some begin to wonder if God really existed?
The other thought that disturbed me was the implication that one demonstrated more faith to trust directly in God and not turn to medical science. Let me be the first to say that we shouldn’t blindly trust in medical science. It is no god and doesn’t have all the answers. Yet it must also be said that good medical science is based on the discovery and application of our growing understanding of how God has laid out creation. Wise, humble, and compassionate doctors are agents of God in providing healing to people. That means medicine too is of God as much as direct miraculous healing. We want to avoid any reductionism that elevates one over the other. I know of those who had chosen to stop sensible medical treatment to “trust in God” and had died. I think of the loved ones they left behind. Was this of the Lord?
I also thought of the many hardworking doctors, nurses and others in the health sciences who labour every day to help the sick and the hurting. Although I have heard worse, I still felt the sermon trivialised their hard work. I was angry. I know of doctors from certain churches who tell me they often felt that their work was second-class compared to those who promised direct miraculous healing. This is wrong. Whatever our views on faith and healing, their hard work and help should be acknowledged.
I had no doubts that the preacher was sincere and very much wanted to see people healed and helped. But behind every sermon lies a theological framework and I continue to be disturbed by a closed, mechanical framework that teaches that healing is guaranteed only if we have enough faith and that that is all we need to know. Life, and God, is more nuanced than that. And pushing such a view hurts as much as it may help.