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Heal the Sick


"As you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils. Freely you have received. Freely give."
Matthew 10:7-8                  

There is a fundamental link between physical healing and the kingdom of heaven. If you took out of the Gospels every account of Jesus per-forming a healing, there would be very little left.

In the passage quoted above Jesus commands his followers to do what he himself spent so much of his time doing, and that was to "heal the sick". It's all a bit daunting to those of us who do not fancy ourselves to be miracle workers. But perhaps we (and maybe even those who do fancy themselves to be miracle workers!) have overlooked something.

I first saw this command to heal the sick when I was still in school, and I have floundered around for most of my life trying to grasp what it meant. I had childhood dreams of becoming a medical missionary; but after a few months as a surgical technician in a big city hospital, I became convinced that slicing people up was not my true calling. I was more interested in people as thinking, feeling personalities, and not as hunks of meat.

I heard about faith healing, and that excited my imagination for a period of time. However, I always had the sneaking suspicion that more was being promised than was actually being delivered. I experimented with a number of different approaches to see if I could find a formula, attitude, or posture that would work every time. All I found were a lot of approaches that failed every time, and a few that would produce an occasional "success" in the midst of a lot of failures.

choice between medical doctors or faith healingYears passed by and I still wasn't doing much of anything about obeying the command to heal the sick. Along with other members of the Christian community that I am a part of, I started making regular visits to India as a tourist in the 1980s. Over a period of years we found ourselves confronted with more and more life and death situations where we could actually do something to make a difference. Whether it was putting antiseptic cream on an infected sore, or taking a dying beggar to a government hospital, I saw lives being saved. A closer look at conditions and attitudes inside the hospitals showed us that it did not take much education or miracle-working power for us to be able to work alongside the professionals and save even more lives. All that was needed was a willingness to make ourselves available where the greatest needs were.

Some of us started bathing and feeding patients who had been left unattended. We unblocked toilets that had been purposely blocked by mafia-like cleaners in order to extort "baksheesh" from patients. We fought the bureaucracy to have destitute patients admitted. We campaigned for clean water for the city's hundreds of thousands of slum dwellers. And we did what we could to communicate love to those we helped. Clearly there was nothing miraculous in what we were doing; but it was still fulfilling Christ's command to "heal the sick".

Along with other members of our community, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Nursing course at an Australian university. The course emphasised the "caring" side of healing, in contrast to the "biomedical" approach traditionally taken by doctors. Although I am still very partial toward modern medicine, I began to see the very important role of nursing in the healing process. Like the mother who holds the hand of a sick child and speaks reassuringly, the nurse often gives what the patient wants and needs more than medicine; and that is care. In times of great physical stress what we often need most is just to know that someone cares.

The university I attended was a hotbed of New Age philosophies, which pushed to get more and more "spiritual" content into the course. Despite my disagreements with aromatherapy, aura massage, and reflexology, I had to agree with much that the New Agers said. Doctors have become the gods of modern western society; but they have only been able to do so because we have all conspired together to bury in our subconscious the inescapable reality of death.

who is showing genuine care question

Doctors often overlook the fact that, despite their best efforts, every one of their patients eventually dies. What people really need is a spiritual answer that transcends life. Yet it must be expressed in the context of a material/physical world. Because modern medicine is becoming more and more blatant in its greed and lack of genuine concern for the patient, people are turning to alternative forms of healing which, quite frankly, do not provide much scientific substance at all; but they do communicate personal interest in the patient...the feeling that somebody cares.

In the light of all this, I found myself, as a Christian, challenged to provide something which not only equalled what was being offered by the New Age movement, but which exceeded it... a genuine concern for others, spiritual hope, and intellectual honesty about the techniques that I employed. But before I go into that, let us take a quick look at the history of healing.

History

Prior to the emergence of scientific methods, people tended to regard all illness as arising from spiritual causes, and to assume that all illnesses required little more than spiritual treatment. Superstitions abounded because superstitions were about all that they had.

Missionaries tend to label all tribal healers as "witch doctors", thus implying that tribal ignorance is synonymous with evil intentions. The same sort of labels were attributed to women who offered potions and herbal remedies in Europe in past centuries. No doubt there were deliberate charlatans and people who invoked evil spiritual forces to achieve selfish ends in those days (as there are today), but in many cases the labels were used unfairly. It is likely that a percentage of healers in all ages have been people who really wanted to alleviate suffering, and who experimented to the best of their knowledge in finding remedies that would work.

I lived for a time with tribal Aborigines in Australia and soon learned that there were two types of leaders exercising spiritual power in their communities: gadahtchies and nankarras. Gadahtchies are the tribal executioners, who punish people who do wrong. They operate secretly, rule through fear, and exploit the guilt that is in all of us. They secretly "sing" or "point the bone at" their victims, which simply means that they place a curse on them. If an Aborigine suspects that he or she has been cursed, a nankarra is often sought. The nankarra seeks to "heal" the victim, often by massaging the body lovingly until (through sleight of hand) a stone is pulled out of the body. The stone is meant to represent the evil spirit from which they have been delivered. A dramatic improvement in health usually accompanies treatment by the nankarra; although in the long run it is usually the gadahtchie who wins out, and the patient reverts back to the old symptoms, sinking lower and lower until death occurs.

The point I am trying to make is that two kinds of spiritual leaders are operating in these communities. One could rightly be labelled a "witch doctor", whereas the other is a caring, loving healer. And from both of these sources has evolved what we now call modern medicine.

Discovery, in recent years, of the existence of various creatures known collectively as "germs" and the production of microscopes with which to actually view them, gave rise to a revolution in healing practice. At last people were able to objectively identify the source of a great many illnesses, and to physically attack those sources with dramatic results. Development of antibiotics and numerous other wonder drugs added to this revolution. Significant increases in human lifespan during the last century and a half can be positively linked with these improvements in medical science.

evolution of medicine

It is easy to view the history of the healing art as moving consistently upward, from backward superstitions to progressive enlightenment; for in many ways this is what has happened. However, right from the start, doctors began to see in their discoveries a chance to use them for selfish ends. The "best" healers had always been employed by the most wealthy, leaving the poor to make do with cheap folk cures. Medical science grew largely under the patronage of the rich and powerful. Fearing that healers from amongst the common people might learn their secrets and thus become eligible for employment by the wealthy, the "best" healers quickly formed fraternities which aimed at excluding and denouncing all other forms of healing exept their own.

This practice is most commonly seen today in entrance requirements at medical schools. Of the hordes who would like to learn the secrets of medicine, only a very select few are accepted for training. Meanwhile, literally millions of people die each year in areas where there are not enough doctors available to treat them. The spirit of the "witch doctors" lives on in the systematic exclusion of millions of candidates from medical schools.

You may think this is as an unfair exaggeration, assuming that the average doctor is more concerned with saving lives than with making money. But if that is the case, why doesn't the average doctor go to where the need is greatest? Even in First World countries, doctors conspicuously congregate around the richest localities. But far greater atrocities occur in Third World countries, where one doctor might be expected to treat as many patients as one hundred doctors would handle in a First World country.

 

doctors per capita

All of this selfishness has often manifested itself in the retardation of a caring relationship between the doctor and the patient. Most of us would find more warmth coming from our local grocer than we find coming from our local medical practitioner. Hospitals, too, have become money-making businesses, more concerned with whether you have funds to pay for treatment than with whether or not you need to be treated.

In the midst of all this, alternative medicines have begun to flourish. Most of them are little more than meaningless hocus-pocus; but in their myriad forms, they offer personal interest in the patient. Thus, the tribal healers have returned. The question is: Does this represent a forward movement, or a backward one? And the answer is: Both.

 

best and worst of medicine


If alternative practitioners can retain the benefits of scientific method while adding a dimension of personal care which has been lacking, then we may benefit in the long run. But if alternative practitioners are tossing out modern medicine simply because the establishment has a monopoly on it (and consequently there is no profit in it for the newcomers) then we may end up with all that is worst from both sides.

Christian Healing


diagram of healing in Mark's GospelAround the turn of the century, a religious movement (pentecostalism) began, which stressed the miraculous intervention of God in healing. It was strongly supported by Christian scripture. Printed at the right is a diagram of the Gospel According to Mark, showing the relative length of passages (the shaded areas) that refer to healing miracles of Christ. As you can see, whole chapters are taken up with describing his healings, all of which appeared to be miraculous.

In recent years, as more and more people have become disillusioned with the medical profession, the Christian healing ministry has benefitted even further. Many Christians see this as the Christian alternative to the greed and dishonesty of New Age remedies.

But close examination indicates that there is an awful lot of dishonesty and exploitation in the Pentecostal movement as well. (More on this in the section on "The Placebo Effect") Everywhere, the disillusioned can be seen asking themselves, "What went wrong?" And some, like ourselves, have begun to dig through the mess to see if there is something genuine amongst all the counterfeits.

It would help if we started by remembering that the Bible was written during the time of "primitive medicine". The primitive belief that disease is a form of punishment from God is one of many that Jesus challenged. (cf John 9:1-3). Primitive medicine taught much that Jesus could not endorse. But he did seem to endorse the basic forms of treatment that have been practised in each age. He certainly did not limit himself to lightning from heaven as the cure for all ailments. Even in the passage from which the title of this article is derived (Matthew 10:7-8) he goes on to say "...cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils." Different forms of suffering were to be treated in different ways.

People claiming to have healing gifts today are not exempted from the need to communicate this same personal concern. Yet the most abrupt doctor could hardly be more impersonal than televangelists who hold their hands over bags of unopened mail, asking God to "meet every need" before teams of volunteers tear into the envelopes to extract all the money in them!

But what are the treatments available to faith healers? and how do they compare with the treatments used by traditional healers, New Age healers, or modern doctors?

The fact is that all types of healers rely on a short list of treatments - all of which are hinted at in passages from the New Testament. We have listed the five major forms of treatment below, showing how they relate to primitive, modern, alternative, and Christian healing practices. From this, it appears that Christian healing is intended to function confidently alongside all of the others, incorporating whatever other treatments are helpful in bringing about a successful healing.

I. Medicines

Medicines are usually ingested through the mouth (whether tablets, liquids, solids, or gases). However, they may also be applied through the pores of the skin (lotions and balms), injected, or administered in the form of eyedrops, eardrops, or suppositories.

Primitive practitioners used everything from herbs to powdered bones to create potions for their patients.

Modern medications tend to be synthetically produced, by huge drug companies. They include such things as antibiotics and analgesics.

Alternative treatments include aromatherapy and all sorts of "natural" (e.g. herbal) medicines.

The Christian counterpart is to "anoint" patients with "oil". James instructed early church leaders to do this when fellow Christians were sick (James 5:14), and when Jesus sent the disciples out with instructions to heal the sick, Mark says the disciples "anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them." (Mark 6:13) Bearing in mind that they did not have modern wonder drugs, the disciples were using what primitive medicine was available (excluding quack cures). In the story of the good Samaritan, Jesus says that he went to the injured man "and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine..." (Luke 10:34) Alcohol (i.e. "wine") is still used to cleanse wounds today. Oil and alcohol (or some other product of organic chemistry) makes up a lot of what we call medicine today. On one occasion Jesus applied what may have been medication to the eyes of a blind person (John 9:6-7). It seems that medication is a legitimate part of Christian healing.

II. Manipulation

Doing various things to the external body has always been a form of healing treatment. Over the ages, treatments have been relatively similar, so that the bending and twisting of modern physiotherapists or the rubbing and pushing of masseurs and chiropractors are not very different to exercises performed by tribal healers from around the world. Physical touch is particularly helpful in relation to such things as setting bones, or massaging sore muscles and joints. But it is also important, along with any other form of treatment, as an expression of love. Modern research has shown that patients respond more favourably when they experience human touch along with the treatment. This is a vital role of the nursing profession.

It is no surprise that, with Christ's emphasis on love as the ultimate Christian service, his healings were often accompanied by human touch (e.g. Luke 4:40). In some cases, like the woman with the deformed back or the deaf mute, it seems natural to touch the ailing body part (Luke 13:13, Mark 7:32-33). Certainly when the good Samaritan "bound up" the wounds, he was, by doing this, actually "laying hands" on the man he helped as well. (See also Mark 16:18 and Acts 18:8)

III. Mutilation

Circumcision is the most widely practiced form of mutilation; however many tribes cut other parts of the body as a means of letting out evil spirits or substances. Many centuries ago holes were drilled into the heads of people suffering from mental disorders as a form of treatment.

With increased knowledge of human anatomy, modern medicine has delved further into the body in an effort to cut out or correct abnormalities through surgery.

Over-use of the scalpel has led to a reaction against such "unnatural" practices by alternative movements. Acupuncture is a much tamer form of mutilation, and, as such, is growing in popularity amongst those seeking alternative treatments.

Apart from Old Testament references to circumcision, there is little reference to mutilation in the New Testament. This is understandable, considering that surgery was not practiced at that time, and what little mutilation did exist was probably more harmful than helpful. However, Jesus speaks graphically of "cutting your hand off" or "plucking your eye out" if it "offends" you (Mark 9:43-48), stressing that drastic steps are sometimes necessary in order to protect against even more drastic consequences. This seems to be the fundamental reasoning behind prudent use of surgery.

IV. Metaphysical Activities

This is an area where primitive practitioners excelled. They were fond of shaking rattles or waving feathers over patients, or performing any number of other rituals to ward off evil spirits. Physical contact was not necessarily made with the patient, and yet the patient's belief in the presence of a supernatural protection often achieved more than all of the other treatments combined.

And this is where modern medicine has been most lacking. The nearest thing to an intangible treatment for disease in today's hospitals would be x-ray machines. Because science has proven to be so much more effective than superstition, doctors have often overlooked the need for anything supernatural.

Alternative medicine has sought to restore the spiritual, but often with pseudo-scientific jargon about such things as force fields and auras. Meditation, chanting, and calling on various spirits are also part of the alternative revival.

Prayer to an all-wise, all-powerful loving God is the simple Christian answer. This includes prayer by the healer as well as by the healee. Every effort should be made to communicate the fact that an unseen God is operating through the other practical treatments being offered by Christians as well (i.e. through whatever "oils" they prescribe and through the work of their "hands"). Which brings us to the last point...

V. Messages

Teaching of some sort always forms a part of healing. Some teaching simply aims at making people aware of the need for the other forms of treatment (e.g. lectures on nutrition, or pamplhets in a doctor's surgery on a wide range of subjects). However teaching can also deal with factors not covered by other treatments. Tribal laws enforced certain behaviours and defined certain taboos in primitive societies. They have been replaced by counselling and health education today. Each healing approach has its own special emphasis, whether it is preaching the need to stay away from "unclean" people, situations, and foods, advocating rest, hygiene, and good nutrition, or extolling the wonders of vegetarianism. Teaching is so much a part of healing that the word "doctor" (from the same root word as "doctrine" or teaching) actually means "teacher" (which is why people can be doctors in other fields besides medicine).

Christian teaching stresses the need to deal with feelings of guilt, to know that you are loved, and to believe in life after death. All of this is not separate from the healing ministry; rather it is very much a part of it. More will be said on this in the next section.

Why Healing?

Every patient treated by a doctor still dies in the end. The same could be said for any patient treated by a faith healer, or by Jesus himself. So it is obvious that, from the Christian point of view, the healing ministry is not an end in itself.

Jesus said, "He that believes on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do..." Our natural, selfish reasoning assumes that the greatest thing we could do would be to heal someone, or to raise someone from the dead. But Lazarus was raised from the dead, and yet he still died a few years later. What Jesus could not do before his death and resurrection was to offer people eternal life. At that time he had not yet paid the price for it.

But we can offer that. And if we leave it out, we miss the whole point of the healing ministry, which is to lead people to something greater. Our physical life is temporary, and its primary purpose is to prepare us for a greater life. But most people miss this. Jesus said:

An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign (or miracle), and no sign (or miracle) shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation and shall condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah. And behold, one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South shall rise up in the judgment with this generation and shall condemn it, for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon. And behold, one greater than Solomon is here. (Matthew 12:39-42)

There is no doubt that Jesus did miracles; and they proved his authority in spiritual matters. (See Mark 2:6-12 and John 5:36). But now that he has given his life and been resurrected, the miracles are not essential. They have happened from time to time, and they will continue to happen; but it is not the keynote of the New Testament.

relevance of death to medicineThis has been overlooked in the modern faith-healing emphasis. Do you hear these preachers telling people that maybe it is God's will for them to die? No. The subject is not mentioned until after someone has died. Roman 8:22-25 tells us that our mortal bodies have not yet been redeemed. And I Corinthians 15:49-53 says this only happens at the return of Jesus, when all Christians will be given new immortal bodies. This is being overlooked and contradicted in the teaching that the death of Jesus bought us physical pefection in this life.

Modern faith-healing is not built on faith in God so much as it is based on faith in healing. And when it fails to live up to its claims, the end result will always be a loss of faith in God. Western society demands healing because it is ill-equipped to face death. Death - the most certain reality facing everyone on this planet - is swept under the carpet and into the nursing homes because we cannot face it in our everyday lives. Even the church is afraid to mention it. And why can't we face it? Because we do not have faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ!

Jesus never commanded us to do "signs and wonders" or to even promise them. He promised that they would happen if we have faith in him. But what he commanded us to do was simply to "heal the sick". He didn't say that we had to heal all of them or that we had to do it instantly (Even some of his healings were gradual [Mark 8:23-25 & Luke 17:14].) but he did tell us to heal some of them. And the reason he tells us to do this is because he wants us to demonstrate his love. Our tonics, our touch, and our teaching should all communicate genuine love for the people of this temporal world.

The Bible says that "the carnal mind... is not subject to the law of God, neither can be." (Romans 8:7) When I first read that, I thought, "How does anyone ever become converted? If the spiritual people are on one side of the wall and the carnal people are on the other and the wall is soundproof, where is there any hope for change?"

But that is where the messages of Christmas and Easter come in... Christmas is called the incarnation of Christ. God climbed over the wall and became "carnal" for us. "Carnal" just means "of flesh". Although he became totally human, tempted in every way that we are tempted, he did not sin. And he eventually offered his perfect flesh as a spiritual sacrifice for our sins. Easter is the time when we remember that he gave his life for us. Now he asks us to take up our cross and follow his example, giving our lives for others.

The healing ministry is an opportunity for those of us who feel we are quite spiritual to climb over the wall and offer the world something that it needs and wants. The world doesn't need healing as much as it thinks it does, but as we give our lives to bring healing to them, we may be able to get their attention enough to offer something better - eternal life.

Like Christ's command to help the poor, we do it, not because it will solve their real (spiritual) problems, but simply because he said so. (In fact, we probably benefit more in both cases than the people we help.) The great paradox is that, when we act in simple faith and obedience, we start something happening that can change people for eternity. And, sadly, when we refuse to act in simple faith and obedience (choosing rather to trust in organisations, hype, and theology) we make it totally impossible to become part of anything eternal.

The Placebo Effect

A placebo (prounounced plah-SEE-boe) is a sugar pill or something similar which is given to a patient with the understanding that it will bring about an improvement in health, even though the person giving it knows that it has no medical value. It has been shown that something like 20% of the general public will report an improvement in their health after taking a placebo... depending on what it is being taken for, of course. This phenomenon is called "the placebo effect".

Placebos are always used in scientific tests to determine how effective a drug is. Two groups are given pills. One gets placebos and the other gets the real thing; but both sides think they are getting the real thing. Any success rate for the drug being tested must be adjusted by subtracting the placebo's success rate. So if 28% of the people using a new drug report that their arthritis has improved after taking the drug, and 21% of those taking the placebo report improvements, then the new drug really only has a success rate of 7%.

Charlatans unashamedly give their treatments credit for improvements that could only be attributable to the placebo effect. Most argue that it is morally justified, on the grounds that at least 20% of the public is being helped by their sugar tablets. Indeed, medical doctors often presecribe sugar pills themselves when they do not know what else to prescribe for patients.

By publicising the testimonies of those who claim to have been helped by a placebo (and refusing to mention those who have not been helped), a good practitioner can generate greater faith in himself/herself amongst patients, which, in turn, results in an even more dramatic placebo effect.

Numerous tricks can be used to pump the success rate to startlingly high figures. For example, an iridologist was shown on TV examining a patient who was secretly suffering from migraines. The iridologist said, after looking into the patient's eyes, "Do you suffer from headaches?" The patient was amazed. "How did you know that was my problem?" he asked. The truth is that the iridologist didn't know what the problem was. She only asked a question which is usually answered in the affirmative, (thus making patients think the woman is pretty clever) because headaches are one of the most universal of human sufferings.

A good magician never tells you what he/she is going to do ahead of time, so that the act be varied if things go wrong. Quacks do the same thing. The iridologist would not have been embarrassed even if the patient had answered in the negative, since she never said that she was going to diagnose the patient's illness. Both the patient and the TV audience thought they were witnessing proof of the effectiveness of iridology, and this in itself would increase the woman's placebo effect in future.

As we have already stated, the personal attention given to patients by alternative practitioners is often what attracts the public to them in the first place. But this personal attention also places an emotional obligation on the patient to reaffirm the practitioner's boasts in return.

A similar pressure serves to assist faith-healers, who often work in a climate where failure to be healed implies some moral disability on the part of the patient. Patients are almost always urged to "claim" their healing, by stating that they have been healed even when objective evidence indicates otherwise. When the "claim" does not come to pass, it is extremely painful for professing Christians to admit that they were party to a deception. Meanwhile the rest of the congregation is doing the same thing, in the hope of getting the healing which the previous sucker "claimed" to have. Nevertheless, in the midst of all this "positive thinking" some people really do find some relief, and the placebo effect is enhanced. Such cases are offered as justification for the whole game.

The placebo issue is one that anyone interested in a healing ministry must deal with sooner or later. Treatments must have some genuine curative quality to beat a placebo in a contest where both are claiming to hold the cure. But what are your chances of beating the placebo if you refuse to even promise a cure? By refusing to give patients false hopes, you lose out on the cures that would come just from blind faith in yourself. A doctor friend of mine found himself unable to succeed in private practice because he insisted on being honest with patients. "They don't want to hear that I'm not sure what they've got," he complained. "They want to be told that everything is under control whether it is or not."



On the surface it would appear that being honest with patients is going to hamper your ability to heal. But it really only hampers your ability to generate false faith - in you or in your treatments. As Christians, we are not told by Christ to con the sick; we were told to heal them. Actually, it's God who does the healing anyway, so we had better play by his rules if we want to remain in the partnership. Let the "evil generation" have their "signs and wonders". It is our job to demonstrate love, faith, and honesty.

And somehow, in the end, I think that these are the things that will come out on top anyway.

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