HEALING: Transforming Love

Salvation is the healing of persons. Its goal is restoration of the image of God in us by the power of the Spirit. God's eternal purpose is that we be conformed to the image of Jesus, who is the true likeness, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (Romans 8:29).

As Paul said, God "chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love" (Ephesians 1:4). Salvation is a lifetime process that issues in resurrection, the day when we will be like him and see him as he is (1 John 3:2) and be changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). [Kenneth F.W. Prior, The Way of Holiness (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967); Peter Toon, Justification and Sanctification (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1987).]

Salvation is a large category. The psalmist indicates this when he writes, "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits." He then goes on to make a long list of the benefits: forgiveness, healing, deliverance from death, renewal of strength, liberation, pity and so on (Psalm 103). Salvation addresses nothing less than the whole person, and all of us have many sides to our personality. Humans have dimensions of body, mind, emotions, spirit, and we experience brokenness in all of these areas.

That is why salvation must address every facet of our need; it cannot have a narrow meaning, because God is intent on saving the whole person. Salvation covers the whole range from holiness to resurrection - if it did not, it would not address the full extent of our human problem. It is a process of restoring wholeness to persons in body, mind and spirit. True spirituality is always life-affirming and life-saving. It is in no way negative or cramping. [J. I. Packer, Rediscovering Holiness (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant Books, 1992).]

The Cure of Souls

A basic goal of salvation is restored relationships, both with God vertically and with one another horizontally. God wants us to be Christlike in every situation. It takes a moment to be born again but a lifetime to grow up into maturity in Christ. The Book of Common Prayer (1549 and many modern liturgies) expressed this longing: "Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee and worthily magnify thy holy name; through Christ our Lord. "

Basic to the healing aspect of salvation is the transformation of character. We need God's power to help us rise above lust and pride. And he undertakes to teach, empower and love us through the whole process. We are comforted to know that "The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). But growth in holiness also involves a willingness on our part to be changed. Baptism enrolls us in a school for discipleship and holiness. Battling with the enemy of our souls, we form good habits of the heart by practicing the classic spiritual disciplines.

We learn obedience as Christ did from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). We are enrolled in a training process designed to refine and purge, toughen and mature us. We are brought gradually into moral and spiritual shape. There are ways to strike blows against pride and increase our enjoyment of a meek and humble life. We are pilgrims on a journey of becoming more loving and godly persons. And we are spiritual athletes entering training to develop our abilities. [Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (New York: Harper & Row, 1978).]

At its best psychology is a modern form of the ancient art of caring for souls. There is a need to mend the inner life and nurture the center of our affections. And we in turn respond to God's concern for others when we help people deal with hurt and pain, and grow in responsiveness to God. Jesus saw each person as precious in God's sight. He gave them time and listened to the needs of each. He responded to each person according to his or her need, whether it was physical, moral or spiritual.

In our day care-givers can look to Jesus as a model, considering his self-assurance, his love and empathy, his wisdom and tact, his fidelity and integrity, his candor and realism. Some pastors are specially gifted to attend to the care of souls, but all of us are called to care for one another.

Corporate Salvation

Holiness is not only individual and private; it spills over into social concerns for the world around us. Since all persons participate in the structures of a larger world, persons and structures are inseparable. There cannot be real transformation unless the world is transformed as well as the individuals in it. Just as there cannot be complete salvation without resurrection, there cannot be full salvation without the liberation of creation. The renewal of persons is part of the renewal of all things (Revelation 21:5). The whole creation is being set free (Romans 8:21-23). [On the spirituality of social justice, see Richard J. Foster and James B. Smith, eds., Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups (Harper San Francisco, 1993), pp. 145-201.

This is why personal holiness will naturally issue in social holiness. There is a long tradition of social justice in Christian spirituality. Beyond our personal spiritual exercises, the way of holiness soon takes us into passion for the transformation not only of persons but of institutions as well. With Jesus we will stand against oppression in the power of the Spirit and speak out for liberation, giving voice to the voiceless (as Mary sang in the Magnificat, Luke 1:52-53). The yoke of bondage must be broken and idols spoken against.

The church influences the social order by fostering the values of the kingdom of God and by creating the moral environment that is needed. We do this not out of civic duty but out of our love for Jesus. We identify with his concern for the needy not because we have to but because we want to.

We see some of this change beginning to occur in many countries. Sin reveals itself in destructive social patterns, but a new kingdom pattern is evident where there is concern for the sick and the poor, where the divine pretensions of the state are rejected, where service and humility are valued, where people call for the honoring of human rights and where democratic freedoms are granted. Wherever the way of Jesus has had influence among people in a society, real progress has been made and we can see a degree of social sanctification. [Hendrikus Berkhof, Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Study of the Faith (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 499-520.]

Healing for the Sick

The Lambeth Conference (1978) stated, "The healing of the sick in [Jesus'] name is as much a part of the proclamation of the kingdom as the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ." Indeed, healing needs to be restored to its place as a normal part of the church's ministry. God gives life to our mortal bodies in advance of resurrection (Romans 8:11). The Spirit of life is present in the church, gifting people to heal in diverse ways (1 Cor 12:7-9).

Along with his proclamation of the gospel, Jesus healed the sick as evidence of the presence of the kingdom of God. Healings of mental and physical illnesses were signs of the new creation. The sick came to him in their weakness; Jesus confronted the powers of death in them and released the energies of the Spirit in healing and deliverance. [Morton T. Kelsey, Healing and Christianity in Ancient Thought and Modern Times (New York: Harper & Row, 1973).]

The notion of God as a healer was already familiar from the Old Testament. God said to Israel, "I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I am the LORD who heals you" (Exodus 15:26). The psalms include a variety of prayers for healing (such as Psalm 38:3-7, 103:1-5).

Through Agnes Sanford, Francis MacNutt, the Order of St. Luke, and many other gifted persons, healing is being restored to the ministry of our churches. [Francis MacNutt, Healing (Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria, 1974).] Healing is becoming a regular part of congregational life. In the Vineyard movement, healing has become central once again. [John Wimber and Kevin Springer, Power Healing (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), and Charles H. Kraft, Christianity with Power: Your World view and Your Experience of the Supernatural (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant, 1989).] Ordinary Christians are being encouraged to develop spiritual gifts in this area.

Doctors do not really heal the body - they remove obstacles to nature's own healing energies by correcting a chemical imbalance or removing diseased tissues. Similarly, when faith touches the human spirit, it releases God-given forces within the body.

Varieties of Healing

There are many kinds of healing ministry. We have rediscovered the healing of memories. Just as there are blocks to health in the physical realm, there are blocks in the realm of our personality, creating a need for inner healing. Such obstacles may be moral, in the form of sin unrepented of. Or there may be an emotional disturbance due to past hurts. Inner healing exposes the causes of such pain and releases the sufferer from the weight of the past. Prayer can free people from miserable bondage. It can probe the soul and help open a place for God's healing to enter. A closer union with God in the depth of the spirit can bring about an integration of the individual around a new center.

Many forms of disease are due to a sick society. The social environment may help or hurt us. People get caught up in destructive situations and stand in need of a new community. The church overcomes a huge amount of social dis-ease, being itself a center of support and healing where true community can be experienced.

There are many ways to reaching out to the sick and troubled in the name of Christ: the Eucharist, anointing with oil, laying on of hands, reconciliation of enemies, casting out of demons, and more. Anyone can be part of an active healing community. The power to heal is not limited to a special class of Christians. Love is very powerful healing agent, and anyone who loves contributes toward healing of others. On the other hand, just as some are more gifted as preachers than others, God uses certain individuals in the ministry of healing in special ways. There is certainly no basis for supposing that gifts of healing ceased when the New Testament canon was closed. [Jon Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Post biblical Miracles (Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993).]

Christians do well to form the habit of blessing people in the name of the Lord. In this way we ask God to help them in every aspect of their lives. We should always be expressing concern for the health (in the broad sense) of others. God heals all sorts of people in all sorts of areas by all sorts of means. It can even happen to our enemies. Jesus said: "Pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:44-45).

Every disease should be brought to God with a view to encouraging wholeness. The ministry of healing makes use not only of normal medical means but also of every spiritual, psychological and social means that is consonant with biblical teaching. Faith is important in the healing of relationships, memories of childhood traumas, alcohol and drug abuse, and discouragement because of failure, unemployment, and dependency. Faith can introduce wholeness into every situation.

We recognize secular agencies as allies in the various ways in which God liberates and heals us. But Christians add to their efforts the dimension of faith in a loving God. Beyond the normally recognized means of helping people find healing, we believe in the Spirit's everyday healing influence and in his special actions to heal the body or mind.

Though God heals in special ways, the sick should be encouraged to use all normal medical means of treatment. Christians involved in ministries of healing should never disparage the work of physicians, discourage the use of prescribed drugs, or suggest a contradiction between faith in God and faith in a doctor. The various avenues of healing are all complementary.

The Healing of Guilt and Addiction

Faith is important in accepting forgiveness, but it is also needed in the reconciled community. Medical reports show that unresolved guilt can cause all sorts of abnormalities of body and mind. We need healing communities to enable people to accept forgiveness and live without crippling guilt. And we need churches that do not moralize and load people with guilt. Because we celebrate Jesus' forgiveness, we can offering liberating words to those who have been wracked by obsessive guilt feelings.

People also fall into destructive additions. An addiction is a compulsive behavior that traps and enslaves a person. But grace can heal when persons are assured that God understands and forgives them and will help them find a way to escape. The key is to look to God rather than focusing on one's own inability to perform. Alcoholics Anonymous has had great success in helping people to look to God for this kind of healing. It shows the healing power of words of encouragement, backed up by the concern of a group that accepts the person as one of them. Healing is found in an accepting God and a loving community.

The Healing of Emotions

In our day, increasing numbers of people identify themselves as victims of childhood sexual or other abuses. Here too, a welcoming community of friends who listen is an important ingredient in healing. Persons burdened by shame need the resources of faith to accept forgiveness for their imagined or real complicity. For complete healing the abused will need to become able to forgive the parent, relative or stranger who abused them. They may need the help of a counselor to help them face and deal with the trauma. In a community of mutual forgiveness they may see that the sin that hurt them can be forgiven and healed. They learn to trust in the power of God to overcome their inability to forgive

Understanding that God himself accepts being hurt by our sin gives us a reason to travel the same divine path. When we are willing to absorb and let go of the sin that hurt us, rather than trying to make the other person pay, there is power to forgive. We might even be able, like God, to remember the sin no more. Such a willingness to let go of sin is the best cure for the hatred, anger, jealousy and resentment that cause many physical and spiritual ailments.

Research shows that some (but by no means all) cancer patients are people who have long felt hopeless and despairing. The onset of the disease can be associated with a series of losses. Cancer has physical causes, but it may be abetted by discouragement and the breakdown of relationships. In such cases inner healing has a role to play. Faith in a loving God who has a creative purpose for every person is an ingredient for healing. The healing process is enhanced when the sick person is a member of a faith community in which the contribution of each individual is highly valued.

Healing can be sought through simple prayer or along traditional sacramental lines. Many in ministries of healing find that Communion can focus faith in the healing power of Christ. The laying on of hands for healing in the context of sharing in the bread and wine can be very powerful.

Faith for Others

In certain Gospel accounts a person's healing depends on the faith of others. One such case was the healing of a paralyzed man. In Mark's account of it, four men removed roof tiles and lowered the paralytic man on a pallet so that he could be in the presence of Jesus. All three Synoptic Gospels say that it was the faith of these four friends, not the man's own faith, that saved and brought him forgiveness.

Had guilt for something he had done in the past caused his paralysis? Since Jesus offered him forgiveness before physical healing, it seems as if the guilt had to be dealt with before the healing could occur. The man was healed when he had faith to respond to Jesus' command to take his bed and go home.

Why was the faith of those who brought him for healing so important? Think of the faith and prayer of parents as they take a sick child to the doctor. The story of the paralytic and other accounts of healing strengthen our faith and help us to visualize ourselves bringing someone to Jesus to be healed. People should be encouraged to bring their friends, whether they have faith or not, to services of prayer for the sick. Those who want prayer for any kind of sickness in body, mind or emotions, whether for themselves or for others, are invited to come to Jesus to be touched by him.

Listening and Laying on Hands

The Gospels tell how Jesus touched lepers and touched the eyes of the blind. In the ministry of healing, the laying on of hands in Jesus' name is often an aid to faith and a means of healing. Sometimes the transference of healing power can be sensed. Even without any unusual manifestations, however, touch has a way of communicating God's love beyond words.

Anointing with oil has been prescribed as a means to use in healing ministry (Jas 5:14-16). As laying on hands symbolizes Jesus' healing touch, anointing with oil symbolizes the healing work of the Holy Spirit.

Just listening can be a healing action. A person with no psychological training can help heal many kinds of emotional disturbance by just by listening. In one sense this is easy, but it can also be hard. The difficulty is that we get impatient and want to give advice out of our own agenda. We need to believe that people can be healed by God as we stay with them and give them our close attention.

But the object of effective listening is always to free the troubled person from dependence on the listener. One-sided listening should open out into mutual interaction. The healing of a troubled person is enhanced by engaging in human conversation

As soon as possible, the person should be encouraged to express his or her feelings and concerns in conversational prayer with God. Those who struggle need to depend on God and be sustained by the community. This is a resource that is not available to counselors who choose to leave God and the church community out of their therapy.

Some Are Not Healed

God can heal everyone, but not all are healed in this life. Stephen and James were martyred; all the apostles died with others of their own generation. In each case, no doubt people prayed for healing or deliverance from death. Perhaps some of these leaders were anointed with oil and had elders come and lay hands on them. It is simply not true that if there is enough faith, physical healing will always occur. Paul himself was not healed from his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

Here then is a motto for the disabled: "We are weak in him, but...we will live with him by the power of God" (2 Corinthians 13:4). As the prophet said, "Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

But there is also the gift of a handicapped life. The power of God does not despise but makes use of weaknesses. In any church there are whole and infirm, wise and foolish, strong and weak. All are valuable to the community, and none can be dispensed with. Each has his or her charism in the body of Christ. The strength of God works in every disablement. And any life can shine when the love of God falls upon it. We need both weak and strong members in the body of our crucified and risen Lord.

God loves us all and has made us for resurrection. Everyone will be perfectly whole and healed in the end. But the sequence and timing must be left to God. God's-timetable may seem slow by our reckoning. But we will receive the healing we need for our work on earth, and we will receive the remainder through death.

Doctors are trained to think that the object of their practice is to prevent death at any price, but that is not our supreme value. Partly through the work of the hospice movement, the importance of dying with dignity is now being recognized. Heroic methods of keeping the body alive at any price are no longer accepted. There is a time to live and a time to die. But whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's and we are destined for his new creation.

Chapter 15 .....