I believe absolutely that God heals. But I don’t believe that he must, that he should, or that he necessarily will.
This is a tough question for Christians to deal with; and one that confronts me again and again. I’m hesitant to write about this. I worry that my discussion might be lopsided, or that there might be a gaping hole in my thinking. But my greatest concern is that what I believe (and writing seems to cement belief) might determine the possibility of recovery. There is some truth in that; but it’s a fragile way of thinking, and I wonder if it isn’t the nub of the whole issue? Surely God is much bigger than me.
I once knew a man who had been part of a small church whose pastor had lost the fight with cancer. This Christian group had steadfastly believed in the certainty of their pastor’s healing; so much so that he was finally buried with a bell in his hand, just in case he needed to announce his return to life at the last moment. Although on one level that story might speak of tenacious faith, I think it’s actually a terrible tragedy of misplaced faith. I can’t imagine how his family and friends would find peace again.
When I first read research that concluded that Christians have just as many motor vehicle accidents (and slightly more divorces) as those without faith I was taken aback. I was a lot younger then, and it just wasn’t what I was expecting the article in Christianity Today would say. But since then I have seen exactly this in many settings. As a pastor I’ve seen so much triumph, and so much trial. As a father my life seems as taxing and as rewarding as the next man’s. When we were building and farming we faced much the same round of ups and downs as everyone else. More recently I spent a week or so in a Neurological Ward where the Nursing Unit Manager was a very gifted person, and a sincere Christian. Discussing who meets with tragedy and who escapes it she said, “I see everyone here, there is no difference”.
Christians are not exempt from the trials of life, but they are never alone. Faith is no guarantee of an easy life; in fact I wonder if it isn’t more like a beacon, drawing the very opposition over which it triumphs. The characters of scripture seem to me to confirm this fact: by and large they faced insurmountable odds in life, and often ended up looking to a more distant horizon. Their hope was not finally for this world, but for the next.
In the Gibson Desert as an 18-year-old I was bemused by the dramatic tale a missionary brought back from her 2000km round trip to Kalgoorlie. It was a pretty rough and lonely track, much of it dirt, and Thelma had picked up a flat tire. Soon enough a police patrol came along and offered to change the wheel. It wasn’t until the policeman got down on the ground that the true crisis emerged: a fuel line was blocked and in the desert heat the petrol had boiled, forcing the tank to swell and bulge dangerously under the pressure. “Hallelujah!” she declared. “Thank you God for giving us a flat tyre!” My cynical response was to question why God didn’t simply unblock the fuel line and cut out the middle man. I thought the whole episode was silly. To my shame I sneered at this story for many years, until it dawned on me. It’s the journey God values, not just the destination. The explosive fuel tank wasn’t a disaster needing divine intervention as much as it was an opportunity for God to turn up, to get involved, to become flesh again and walk with the people he loves. If you’re looking for God you’ll always find him in the detail. He’s alongside us, getting his hands dirty. He wants nothing more than to be with us. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” says John 1.
Where, then, is God’s blessing? And where are the miracles? Ashley Barker describes shalom, God’s peace, as “a radical realignment to the way things are”. It seems to me that faith in Christ isn’t a way to change things; it’s the way to travel through things. The Blessing of God is seen in the extraordinary way he cares, protects, provides and loves us on the way. I encounter this blessedness constantly; most profoundly in the reassurance of peace, but wonderfully in a thousand other details of daily life.
I for one won’t hang my faith on something as fragile as my own future. My love for God will never be based on his performance, just as his love is certainly not based upon mine. Nor will I accept the hopelessness that results from having hope in healing alone. My hope is based in knowing God’s love no matter what the future holds.
God is indeed much bigger than me.