I hear about revivals and “verified healings” and “confirmed healings” quite a bit.
I hope the healings are for real, but —
I worry about the consumer-demand attitude within the revival and healing movements, a consumer-demand attitude toward God, and wonder if the leaders in those movements couldn’t contribute just as much by exploring the theology of suffering.
When Saint Paul begged God to remove the unexplained “thorn in my side,” Jesus spoke and said, “My grace is sufficient.” Certainly a hearty belief in God’s activity today would not have to involve a complete avoidance of that passage.
Years ago, back when a friend and I were both fifth graders, we stood shaking with upset stomachs in the school hallway as we lined up to use the restrooms before class.
It was an abusive school, operated by a small nondenominational church with similarities to the Pentecostal churches. A teacher had strapped my rear with belt so hard, I felt the leather against my bones, and I bruised black and purple.
My only fellow fifth grader had been spanked for misplacing a decimal point.
That kind of school.
In the hallways, lining up at the restrooms before class, my friend and I whispered to each other, “Pray for grace.” As fifth-graders, we used the word “grace” to mean “no punishment,” or “teachers who aren’t scrutinizing us.” For us, “grace” meant “relief.”
At the time, we didn’t experience the relief we prayed for. We continued in constant fear that we would be fully punished, again, for the smallest errors.
We didn’t realize the Bible was full of examples of similar situations.
For a long time, Job didn’t experience relief.
For a long time, Joseph didn’t experience relief.
For a long time, Paul didn’t experience relief.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakeness, or peril, or sword?…For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Epistle to the Romans, Chapter 8, Revised Standard Version)
Saint Paul doesn’t say anything about tribulation, famine, peril, or death going away, just that they won’t separate us from the love of Christ.
But as Aslan says in The Horse and his Boy, “The only story you are allowed to know is your own,” and the Proverbs say, “Each heart knows its own sorrow, and no one can share its joy;” so maybe some people are experiencing instantaneous healing just by going to a certain place or making a certain demand. I certainly don’t want my suspicions to be proven correct by anyone’s prolonged suffering.
But I think the miracles are rarer than reported, and that they are exceptions, not the rule.
To echo David B. Hart’s words, given in another context, The Fall turned creation over to terrestrial and spiritual powers hostile to God, and as Saint Paul wrote, creation longs for liberty from its bondage to decay. God has not decided to change the basic human lot. As long as trees fall in the forests and rot, so will human beings be subject to decay and disease, because trees and people are both part of that creation longing for liberty from decay.
The miracles are the exceptions, and never something that we can command at will, as if God were some malleable power we could use if we got the details of place or prayer just right.
Wasn’t the point of the cross that we were incapable of getting the details right? Weren’t we redeemed so we wouldn’t have to worry about getting the details right? God will act as He chooses, but how does He choose?
These things have me thinking about the way C.S. Lewis portrayed God through the character of Aslan. I’ve been reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my daughters; we saw the film version of Prince Caspian today, and we recently began reading The Silver Chair, the sixth of the seven-book series. Aslan has a definite way about him. He’s a personality with intentions. The characters he knows, even the characters he loves, don’t always get their way. There’s a hint throughout the tales that something else is a-foot, that there’s some purpose behind the suffering and the separation the characters often feel. Yet even when Aslan clearly has the power to make profound changes, he sometimes chooses not to, and the characters are not given the reasons why.
-Colin Foote Burch
: : : : : : : : : : :