As I said in yesterday’s post, there are a lot of confused Christians when it comes to prayer for healing, and this has resulted in some zealous and harmful mistakes.
Christians will pray for the sick (great so far), and sometimes even prophesy that the person they are praying for will be healed (maybe good, usually not), and then tell these still sick Christians that they should never, ever confess anything other than words to the effect of “I know that God is going to heal me” (that’s harmful).1 Often sick people are told that to say anything less than “God is going to heal me” is a “negative confession,” a lack of faith, and then you might not be healed because you are not asking in faith! And if you have a terminal illness, you don’t want to lose your chance at a healing because you doubted!
Examples of this Zealous Error
I’ve personally seen people told that God was going to heal them that, well, weren’t healed. I’ll give just two examples (I could give more). The first example is that people prayed for Jean E. and me and five different people even prophesied that Jean E. would have a child.
But guess what? They were wrong!
Another example is that at one church we attended a youth minister’s wife who was the mother of young children discovered that her body was riddled with cancer. Sadly, some prophesied that she would be healed. Some Christians—often they too were young mothers—assured her that there was no way on earth that God wouldn’t heal her. These Christians all but demanded that she believe that she would be healed because, if she had a lack of faith, then, indeed, she might not be healed. So no matter how bad her already metastasized cancer spread, she was told to say that she knew that God was going to heal her.
But she died from cancer and was hindered in her ability to accept the possibility that she wouldn’t be healed.
Sadly, Christians who proclaim that a terminally ill person will be healed will struggle to support and comfort the sick person in their final days, when they are most needed. Indeed, after a miscarriage a young woman informed Jean E. that others in our church believed that the reason Jean E. miscarried was because we didn’t have enough faith. Ouch! Of course, “if you have enough faith God will heal you” is unfalsifiable because those not healed can always be proclaimed to lack faith.
It will help if we understand at least part of what drives this for some poeple—the fear that if terrible suffering can strike others then terrible suffering can strike me. The way out of this is for confused Christians to in some way blame the victim because if you can find something that the victim did wrong, then you can assure yourself that their terrible suffering won’t happen to you.
This is well illustrated by a comic strip called Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis. In this particular strip we find two of the strip’s main characters, Rat and Goat talking at a table holding coffee. Goat tells Rat that his friend died at only 42 years old. Rat then asks if he was super-fat? Goat says No. Rat then asks if he was a heavy smoker or had a family history? Goat says No to both. At that Rat becomes extremely agitated and asks if Fred had heart disease, or used drugs, or drove recklessly? Goat replies that Fred didn’t do anything of those things. Then Rat, eyes bulging gets in Goat’s face and spills Goat’s coffee on the table, “It can’t be nothing, because nothing could happen to me! Meaning that fate is whimsical! That I, too, could die anytime! Give me something about Fred that made him different than me!!” Goat replies, “He collected stamps?” From that Rat is calmed–eyes small again sitting quietly drinking his coffee and replies: “High-risk hobby. He was doomed.”3
You get the point. Many Christians desperately want to believe that when others suffer severely, or die suddenly, that these sufferers deserved to suffer because they did something wrong (like not have enough faith). This belief that some Christians suffer because they deserved it, comforts Christians desperate to believe that severe suffering won’t strike them. In my future book (God willing), How Does God Use Suffering?, I will point out that the Lord needs to allow some people, who do everything right, to suffer so that people can’t be secure in this world.
When terminally ill patients are told that they must constantly confess that God will heal them, it can hinder their witness because it looks to the world like their faith is based largely on God healing them. But what if God doesn’t heal them? Then how does their faith look? Christians who aren’t healed after proclaiming only, “I believe God will heal me,” hinder their witness because they’ve shown they’ve believed something false about God. Unbelievers may then wonder how many of their other beliefs about God are false. Thankfully, a well-known apologist, who recently passed away, proclaimed that he believed Christianity was true even if God didn’t heal him–that’s essential to being a good witness but runs counter to what some healing teachers demand.
Now I don’t pretend to have figured out many things regarding prayer for healing, I also realize that some sincere Christians will disagree with me (I used to disagree with me and I was a sincere Christian), but there are some things about which we need more clarity. I hope to clear up some further confusion about prayer for healing in tomorrow’s post.
- This isn’t the same as confession teaching. Here the person acknowledges that they are still sick, but they are confessing that God is going to heal them. [↩]
- Although it took some years, we’re great with the Father’s plan to not let us have kids. We really are. Our loving Father had decided that it wasn’t His will for us to have children. You can read Jean E’s story about this. Not only are our lives not hindered by our not having kids—we see it as a gift to us. Not having children has enabled us to do other things. [↩]
- Emphasis in original. I couldn’t find this particular Pearls Before Swine because I couldn’t read the date on the cartoon. [↩]