What happens when you’ve been prayed for time and time again, but the healing hasn’t come? And what should the church's response be to unanswered prayer?
(c) Vladimir Agafonkin creative commons
“God can heal you!” the preacher declares. “Come and be prayed for and receive your healing today!”
People with all kinds of ailments, illnesses and diseases shuffle forward for prayer, and many claim to have been healed. But for every miracle, there's often a disappointment.
Pete Greig had co-founded a prayer movement that was touching more than a third of nations on earth. Testimonies were flooding in and there was answered prayer left, right, and centre.
But closer to home, Pete was struggling. His wife Sammie had a tumour and came very close to death. Writing in God on Mute, Pete explains how Sammie suffered multiple seizures that he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy.
Battling with many questions, Pete said the book was “painful” to write. While exploring possible answers to why healing hasn’t come in the book, ultimately Pete believes it will remain a mystery.
Writing in the afterword, Sammie writes: “I don’t always understand God’s ways in my life but I’m absolutely certain that he can be trusted”.
Michael Horner says: “For most people the problem of evil is not an intellectual problem, but an emotional one.”
The tension between intellectual and emotional responses can be seen in CS Lewis work. The Problem of Pain was written as an intellectual Christian response to the problem of suffering. 20 years later, Lewis’ response to pain is said to have moved from head to heart as he wrote A Grief Observed – a collection of reflections following the death of his wife.
Placing the blame
When those in the church are suffering, intellectual answers are rarely satisfactory, especially when perceived answers start to place blame on the individual.
Writing on Charismamag.com, James Hall says: “I've been told I am 'worse than an infidel' because I am not able to work full time and my wife has become our primary provider.”
“People have said I must have major unconfessed sin that's keeping me ill or that I must not have enough faith to receive my healing. I've even been reprimanded for not repeating aloud enough Scriptures with sufficient frequency to earn my healing."
When Jim and Ruth from Shropshire lost their son 12 years ago, they also encountered difficult reactions from Christian friends.
Waiting for healing
(c) Jose Goulao - creative commons
“We lost our second child, Tristan, at four days old” Jim says.
“He was delivered by emergency Caesarean section and wasn't breathing when he was born. He had suffered complete organ failure and had extensive brain damage. It was unlikely he would survive.”
The couple spent four days living at the hospital and “begging God” to heal their son.
“After a final brain scan which showed absolutely no activity at all, they turned off the ventilator and Tristan quietly stopped breathing. The room was thick and sweet smelling as we held him - it was as if Jesus came to take him away.”
“We had to confront the reality that God could have healed Tristan, could have spared him the suffering and us the ensuing pain and grief, but chose not to. A wise friend told be that we needed to walk through that very dilemma - if we tried to skirt around it, we would never trust God again.”
Jim explains that friends reactions, although well meaning were often unhelpful.
“The worst thing we found was people who wanted us to 'get better', mainly because the uncertainty of the situation threatened their own faith."
"They needed everything to be very certain and have an answer or a 'victory' of some sort. We relied on Brennan Manning who said 'in God's army, only wounded soldiers can serve'”
“The worst thing people did at that time was try and bring 'encouraging' stories of miracles - that was the last thing we needed! We needed to hear that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that one day tears will cease. That is still the thing that gives us hope."
The experience also made the couple question how some language is used in churches.
“If 'God wants to heal' - what does that mean to the person who isn't healed. If Children are a 'blessing', does that mean the infertile couple are 'cursed'?” Jim asks.
“We think about how we can encourage the majority of people in a congregation without considering the impact upon a wounded minority, for example handing out flowers on Mothers day and passing by the infertile young woman.”
A hospital for the broken
These are important questions. But because of the pain brought up by them, such issues are rarely discussed.
The Church: “It's not a museum for good people, it's a hospital for the broken,” says poet Jefferson Bethke.
The argument has long been made by theologians that worship involves sacrifice. Choosing to worship God, despite painful circumstances, is not an easy decision.
“Even if the healing doesn’t come / And life falls apart / And dreams are still undone / You are God / You are good / Forever faithful one”
Anyone can sing these lyrics from Christian band Kutless song “Even If”. Not everyone is able to mean them.
Why would a good God allow suffering? Many words have been spent attempting to answer that question, but sometimes people don't want an intellectual answer. They want to be able to express their emotions in a place where people won't jump to judge them, or even to help them. The challenge to the Church is simple: When the healing doesn't come, will we listen, and will we care?
May 14th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes