Saturday, October 16, 2010

Healer Dealers

Miraculous Healers: Be careful that no one puts the wool over your eyes.

Christianity magazine (see specializes in a very candid take on the Christian faith. One of the themes treated frankly in the October issue of Christianity was healing.

Broadcaster and Christianity help page columnist Steve Chalk gives advice to a correspondent “crushed” by the experience of nine months of prayer and fasting by a church for a cancer victim who eventually succumbed and died. Moreover, this wasn’t done in a corner and apparently the local community was aware of the prayer effort. Steve was really only able to offer the correspondent empathy because, to cut a long story short, Steve's been there and got the T-shirt. But he does plead for honesty and points out that as far the public community is concerned openness, vulnerability and the resilience of the fellowship are “compelling”.

The next healing story comes from an ex-tabloid reporter who writes in Christianity pseudonymously under the name of “Ruth Roberts”. Ruth admits to wrestling with questions about healing and miracles. She says that at her (charismatic) church they pray a lot for healings and miracles but in spite of really wanting to believe she doesn’t think she has seen a real, proper cast iron one. She confesses that she (cynically) groaned one day in church when her pastor said he felt there were people in the congregation that God wanted to heal. What's this pastor think he is doing given that week in week out what he claims "God wants" doesn't come about in "a real proper cast iron" way? He must be deluding himself. Ruth ends the article with Lord, please show me a miracle.

My last healing story is provided by Jeff Lucas on the last page of Christianity. He says he believes God heals today, but he then tells us of a case where a claim of miraculous healing certainly proved false. He is also implicitly critical of those who see healing being willed by the power of their belief and those who refuse to concede that healing has not come. He also frankly tells us the story of how gut wrenchingly hard it was when he himself had his own serious health scare.

Well, these columnists get full marks for being honest people and full of faith. You certainly cannot criticize them for lacking faith; their's is the sort of faith that remains in place in spite of…. Anyway, all credit to Christianity magazine for publishing these candid columns. It is worth comparing these ground zero accounts with the accounts coming out of the heady meetings of the healing evangelists who appear to heal on an industrial scale (except amputees). I have to say that I have yet to be a ground zero witness of a genuine miracle - although I do occasionally hear those messages coming out of a healing ministry production line, but more often than not they have travelled a long way through the rumour mill before these accounts reach me! Any attempt to probe these rumors by asking for solid evidence is often greeted at best with askance looks and at worst with less than subtle hints about "blaspheming the Holy Spirit" and questioning the work of the most high God who sits on Heaven's throne and judges us. What these spiritual bullies fail to realize is a) the question mark is not over God, but rather the human ability to provide reliable reports in an exhilarating and intoxicating crowd atmosphere and b) discouraging critical validation actually works against the very claims of healing that this discouragement, in its perverse way, is seeking to support, because it suggests that gullibility rather than criticism is the mode of validation.

Many of the rumours of miraculous healing that have come my way have propagated themselves much like one of those threatening chain letters that we used to get in the post before the days of viral email scams: “Pass this on or else…” was the subtle and sometimes not so subtle subtext, a subtext that on occasions exploited mankind’s instinctual fear of the numinous and the unknown. As Lovecraft said: The oldest and greatest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and greatest type of fear is fear of the unknown.

Do I believe in healing? Of course I do: So far I have been healed of every illness I have had (although not miraculously). But one day I will have my last illness…..

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