Longer, higher, wider and deeper than the other sort?
This is so fascinating. Part of our scenery as Christians is the dramatic, instanteous healing: the funeral is interrupted; the withered arm regrows; the woman bent doubled straightens up. Jesus did these kinds of things; I’ve interviewed missionaries who’ve also done them.
I haven’t looked on YouTube recently but I suppose there are plenty of videos there of the blind seeing and the deaf hearing.
Yet I feel these are the tips of the healing iceberg. They are the edited highlights, the signs. They are spectacular geysers in the overflowing goodness of God; but the real miracle is not the geyser, it’s the irrigation of the whole land.
Worse, If you think the dramatic, instanteous stuff is the normal operation of God’s healing power, you are setting up to hurt yourself and others.
Typical scene: some Christian meeting is going on and they start praying for the sick. Febrile atmosphere. Poor disabled schmuck is pushed up to be prayed for; is prayed for; nothing much happens; everybody tries to forget about it and move on. I’ve had this done to me, and I’ve seen it done to others.
And we have to do better than this.
I want to explore this over coming posts in the next few weeks. Alas I only I have one piece, my own, in the jigsaw. Please add more pieces if you can.
- It’s all about Jesus.
- It’s now and not yet
- It’s internal and external
- It comes in weakness
are how the Kingdom of God is breaking in (as I blogged earlier). Healing is a part of the kingdom, so we can think about it in the same way. As follows:
- It’s all about Jesus. Healing is about meeting Christ, and about his priorities for us. We put ourselves in his hands and ask him for help. He is King: kings act. The blind beggar called out, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ meaning ‘So you’re the King? Do your job.’
- It’s now and not yet. Some healing comes now; all will come later. The exact blend of what you get now and what you get later is up to the King. But we must focus on the now: too much healing prayer (in my experience) focusses on some vague future point which is a cop-out.
- It’s internal and external. Healing is never really about a single organic solution. It’s also always about our heart and our relationships. It accepts Western medicine which focusses on repairs, but extends far beyond it. So, for example, the person with a stomach ulcer clearly doesn’t just need a cure for ulcers. Healing prayer embraces all this wholeness, one reason why it is encouraged to happen within the wider context of the church’s leadership and pastoral care structure (as in James 5:14).
- It comes in weakness. So our approach to the sick (and when praying for ourselves) is gentle, tentative, loving; not desperate to prove something.
Psalm 106: vv 12-13:
‘Then they believed his promises
and sang his praise
‘But they soon forgot what he had done
And did not wait for his plans to unfold.’
Behold the terror and the joy
Imagine rowing a boat on your own across a lake. The fears and joys are yours alone.
We are always alone. People may sit by our fireplaces–as it were–over many wonderful evenings and years. They may hug us and hold us, accepting each other as completely as two humans can.
But no-one knows us quite fully or quite truthfully. There are always veils. We are not entirely as we present ourselves, even to those we love the most.
Thanks to faith in Christ, though, I’ve discovered I’m never alone.
When I’m rowing alone across a lake, also known as living, Christ knows with me all the terror and the joy. Other loves may kindly watch, from the shore or other boats. Other loves may cheer and blow kisses. But he knows it all and we share it together.
/Around 2008 an atheist SF writer named John C Wright prayed this:
Dear God. There is no logical way you could possibly exist, and even if you appeared before me in the flesh, I would call it an hallucination. So I can think of no possible way, no matter what the evidence and no matter how clear it was, that you could prove your existence to me. But the Christians claim you are benevolent, and that my failure to believe in you inevitably will damn me. If, as they claim, you care whether or not I am damned, and if, as they claim, you are all wise and all powerful, you can prove to me that you exist even though I am confident such a thing is logically impossible. Thanking you in advance for your cooperation in this matter, John C. Wright.”
Three days later he had a heart attack.
‘Do you love me?’
Inside all of us–I guess and hope, because I’m surely not the only one–is a red-faced, awkward, sweating, small and ugly person. It’s when that person and Christ talk together the real work is done.
Peter and Jesus had that conversation. Ignore their history, their beards, the sound of lapping waves and crunching footsteps, the barbecued fish in their teeth. Ignore their age and size, big blokes, rugby team blokes. Ignore Peter’s secret tears, recriminations, justifications, sleepless nights, self-doubt, arguments with himself and despair.
Here’s the conversation:
‘Do you love me?’
‘Tend my lambs.’
… It’s a place of welcome and laughter, of healing and hope, of friends and family and justice and new life.
‘It’s where the homeless drop in for a bowl of soup, and the elderly for someone to chat to. It’s where you’ll find people learning to pray, coming to faith, struggling with temptation, finding new purpose and a new power to carry it out.
‘It’s where people bring their own small faith and discover that when they get together with others to worship the true God, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. No church is like this all of the time. But a remarkable number of churches are partly like that for quite a lot of the time.’ (p 105)
Not found in common books of liturgy, I reproduce it here with thanks to the peerless Neal Stephenson who puts the prayer into the mouth of Samuel Pepys. (Lithotomy is of course the removal of a gallstone.)
‘Lord of the Universe, Your humble servants Samuel Pepys and Daniel Waterhouse pray that you shall bless and keep the soul of the late Bishop of Chester, John Wilkins, who, wanting no further purification in the Kidney of the World, went to your keeping twenty years since. And we give praise and thanks to You for having given us the rational faculties by which the procedure of lithotomy was invented, enabling us, who are further from perfection, to endure longer in this world, urinating freely as the occasion warrants. Let our urine-streams, gleaming and scintillating in the sun’s radiance as they pursue their parabolic trajectories earthward, be as an outward and visible sign of Your Grace, even as the knobbly stones hidden in our coat pockets remind us that we are all earth, and we are all sinners. Do you have anything to add, Mr Waterhouse?’
‘Only, Amen!’ (p 500)
Behold the work of her hands
“I believe in the grace of God. For me, that is where all these questions end”
and then this:
“then there he would be, fresh from the gallows, shocked at the kindness all around him.”
I can’t remember the last time I cried while reading a book. I could feel the sobbing welling up inside. It was doubly embarrassing because I was lying next to a pool in the Cote d’Azur on a brilliant blue day, and my wife was reading Bill Bryson.
Perhaps it was post-traumatic stress speaking after my coma and paralysis three years ago. The book I was reading had the weight of an old hymn, suffering graced in music.
Or perhaps it was because God was beautiful and humans, like mathematics, need infinity to make the sums come out right.
Either way, Marilynne Robinson’s Lila is extraordinary.