Note: In this post, I link to an article from BBC News that does not at all represent my stance or opinion about the theology of healing. I am unaware of a single time that I have tackled a controversial subject, so this is very uncharacteristic of me. But I feel so deeply convicted about the profound disparity between the opinion presented in this article and what I understand to be the Kingdom of God that I am compelled to weigh in. Please be kind and gracious in comments.
Yesterday, I stumbled on a BBC article regarding what is coming to be known as “disability theology.” In this article, those with disabilities and chronic conditions share about their frustration and anger with Christians who offer to pray for their healing. My friend who shared this article suffers from a chronic illness that involves a great deal of pain and limitations, so I am assuming that she is claiming at least some solidarity with the author and contributors to this article.
The article, entitled, “Stop Trying to Heal Me,” quotes several different individuals who have various disabilities or illness. Reverand Zoe Hemming, a Vicar at St. Andrews Church in Shropshire, identifies herself as a part-time wheelchair user with chronic pain, which, is a similar description that I would use to explain my own situation. She refers to those who seek to pray for her as being “spiritually abusive” and “disempowering.”
A Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham in England, Candid Moss, discusses how the miracles of Jesus tend to be disempowering for those with disabilities. She declares emphatically that the gospels present these healings and miracles as manipulative actions that are designed to “showcase God’s power.” She shares that this “attitude” pushes those who are healed to the margins of the story, thus dehumanizing them. She stresses her disgust at the idea of Jesus having “pity” on a sick or disabled person.
As I read this article, my mind reeled with so many questions:
So, these people are saying that it is abhorrent to be used as a vessel to showcase the power of God to the world?
I’m sorry, since when was it offensive to have Jesus take pity on someone or show compassion for them?
What is the purpose of the medical world if not to offer healing, treatment, and cures for illnesses and disabilities? Are we also claiming to be offended by doctors? Is someone waving their hands, accusing hospitals of offending sick people by offering treatment?
Several individuals with disabilities are quoted, saying that they hope to retain their disability in heaven, because it is intertwined in their identity.
I have a few thoughts on my theology of healing. I don’t share everyone’s experiences, so I cannot presume to know the experiences of those who offered their voices in this article. Maybe my difference in opinion is found in the concept of disability with the absence of suffering. But I see within this mentality a great deal of our modern society’s need to be little gods in the “disability theology” and its scriptural deconstructionism.
I imagine that there is a distinct line between disabilities that do not involve “suffering” and disabilities and illnesses that cause pain. To me, it seems insane to desire to suffer for eternity. I want to be healed. I am sick of being sick and in pain. I generally agree to prayer for my healing, unless I feel a sense from the Spirit that the person who wants to pray over me is unhealthy or spiritually troubled. I have experienced “abuse” through healing prayer, and I have experienced deep renewal and power through Spirit-filled prayer.
I am generally uncomfortable with the question that sometimes follows prayers for healing, “How do you feel now?”. I often have no idea how to respond: “I felt God’s love, power, and peace” is sometimes my response, and to me, that experience is as good as physical healing, sometimes better. I am discouraged and frustrated when I see that the individual is deeply troubled that I am not physically healed. In situations of people offering to pray for healing for me, as a rule, I accept prayer. I want healing: Spiritual, emotional, mental, relational, and physical. I will collect as much prayer as I can gather.
Quite honestly, however, physical healing is not at the top of my list of priorities. It certainly would make my life easier, open up doors for what I imagine would be more expansive ministry, allow me to be the mom that I would love to be, the wife that I feel like my husband deserves, and the musician, writer, and a more involved friend . But I also accept that my assumptions could be wrong. This could be the perfect position for me. God could be bringing massive beauty from the ashes of my illness. This could be my platform for ministry. God might be most glorified in my surrender in the midst of my illness.
From the perspective of suffering, I cringe at the thought of staying where I am physically, but who said that suffering is the worst thing that we could go through? Not God. Jesus suffered greatly, and His ministry was the single most impactful ministry in the history of the world. So who am I to insist that I must be healed in order to be of use to the Kingdom, to live abundantly, or to be in dynamic and deep relationship with God and others?
With my previous defense of physical suffering, I want to share also a warning: As soon as we begin to worship our suffering, idolizing our identity as handicapped or sick, and resisting change or healing, I believe that we step onto a slippery slope. Who am I to assume that my best life can only be lived within the parameters that I have set to define my current life? I believe that the moment I start resisting the Spirit’s voice and urging in my life because of pride over my own concept of “what is best for me,” I have made myself into a little god, and I have taken Christ off the throne. As Jesus said in the garden of Gethsemane through drops of blood-sweat, “If possible, let this cup pass from me, but not my will but Yours be done.” I don’t call the shots. I don’t assume the role of the one who defines my “best life now.” God does. And my best life now is the one in which I am on my knees, worshipping the Creator of life, where all of my false identities and pretenses are cast before the throne. God knows more than I do. And I trust Him to show me where He desires to heal me.
Let’s talk about this idea of the sick becoming “showcases for God’s power.”
Okay. Wait a second. Since when was this a negative thing? Here’s the deal: The closer I become to Christ, the more I agree with Paul in light of his negotiations with God: “Therefore, I will boast all the more in my suffering, for when I am weak, I am strong.” “God said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) What version of watered-down Christianity holds to the idea that being a showcase for God’s power is offensive? Or that Jesus having pity on me is arrogant of Him? Umm…He’s God, so…..I invite His mercy and pity.
Nope. I’m not that big and bad. I’m definitely not superwoman, I’m no good on my own. My strength is nothing, even if we were to take away my illness. My power comes when I lay my own power and pride on the altar. Honestly, all that I see in this article about the “theology of disability” is humanistic, God-marginalizing, pride.
As I say this, I understand that many people with illnesses and disabilities have been abused by the church, by arrogant and twisted theologies of healing, by shaming people who were supposed to represent Jesus and failed. This is tragic, and heart-breaking. I have watched it happen, through tears. I have been a victim of it. Well-meaning prayers have blamed me for my lack of healing. None of this is of God, and it is not okay. But these abuses and poor theology do not represent the healing heart of the Father. This only represents another form of pride and self-inflation that humanity is so awesome at creating. It’s not new. Even the disciples struggled with it as they walked alongside Jesus, watching His miracles. They sought to blame the sick for their illnesses: “Who sinned and brought on this illness: This man or his parents?” (John 9:2). Jesus’s response: “Neither. But this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). (And that’s not a bad thing).
Jesus didn’t just heal bodies. He healed souls, hearts, and minds. He set prisoners free.
I refuse to dictate my healing. I trust that with my Savior, the one who looks into my eyes, sees me, never pushing me to the margins, but taking my face in his hands and whispering to my heart that I am His beloved. No, Jesus did not marginalize those He healed. But He also didn’t play into their delusions that they are the center of the universe. He saw them, gazing straight into their hearts, He healed them, and they saw Him, followed Him, shared about Him, and worshipped Him. As a result of their encounter, their healed selves suddenly began the orbit for which they were created: around the Lord of the universe. He healed them in ways that they never even knew they needed healing. This is our God. He is for us, yet not all about us. We become all about Him, and somehow, mysteriously, find our true, fullest selves in our death to self and life in Christ.
My life is not about my chronic illnesses. It is not about my limitations or disabilities. It is not about my accomplishments or strengths.
I have died, and my life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then I will also be revealed with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:3).