Inspired by an excellent sermon on healing by my colleague Rev’d Jim Gorringe, a Methodist ‘by ordination’ but, an ecumenist ‘by inclination’, I thought I would offer a few brief thoughts on the Ministry of Healing.
It seems to me that the Church and its ministers are mandated to provide such a ministry. Why wouldn’t we want to in any case for surely healing testifies to love?
But, perhaps here is the nub of the issue: is there a difference between healing and curing and, do we frequently get the two mixed up?
Let’s start with some ‘definitions.’
Maybe the ‘molecular structure’ of healing is made up of reconciliation, to a particular circumstance or relationship plus, the potential for personal, spiritual and relational growth, irrespective of whether the symptoms of the ‘illness’ or ‘disability,’ persist.
Cure, by contrast, might be considered to be the removal, or reduction of, symptoms associated with the dis-ease. (Deliberate spelling mistake, as I am trying to stress a lack of ease / reconciliation). Using these two definitions we can see that:
It is perfectly possible to be healed without being cured
It is also perfectly possible to be cured without being healed!
However I suspect that the Bible allows us to identify two other theological truths:
Healing and cure are related but not necessarily synonymous
Healing may lead to cure and, vice-versa
Looking at the gospel stories it is easy to identify cases where people were cured by Jesus, without being healed. Think of the examples of individuals who experienced the complete removal of physical symptoms and were then instructed by Jesus to remain exactly where they were and reflect (do a Theore0) on the magnitude of their encounter with Christ. Sadly, despite being cured, their very next act was one of disobedience; cured yes, but, healed, definitely not!
Perhaps the best example is that of the ten lepers, all of who were cured, but only one of them was healed (Luke 11, 17-19). Listen to the words of Jesus to the one who returned to thank Jesus (go on try and imagine you really are listening to the words of Jesus!):
17 Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19 Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
Jesus clearly makes the distinction between cure and wellness!
Why are we tempted to prize cure over healing? Three reasons I suspect:
First, cure seems somehow more dramatic, powerful, dare I say it, charismatic. We need to beware of reducing God to the ‘game show Lord,’ idolised because of what he does rather than worshipped for who he is.
Secondly, cure lets us off the hook. God has taken the initiative, we no longer need to! The requirement to love neighbour as we would like to be loved in a similar set of circumstances has been removed! We no longer need to offer practical love, walk the extra mile, visit the prisoner, give them our tunic etc! Bliss!
Thirdly, because we find it difficult to recognise the image of God in the ill and disabled. If this is our perspective it becomes virtually impossible to see how an individual can grow and flourish through their illness or disability. Under this scheme we start over time to create an idealised picture (surprisingly, one that looks just like our selfie!) of what it means to be made in the image of God, leading to all manner of consequences for those on the receiving end of our ‘theological’ misjudgements.
So as Christians lets focus on healing and not simply on cure, and where cure takes place lets try to make sure we act like with the one leper who was made well!
Finally a plug: for the last three years in collaboration with eleven friends I have been working on a project called Theonomics – its been hard work – our book, which seeks to examine how economic life, can be guided by faith / theology, is at the printers! The book contains some interesting reflections from Christians involved in a wide range of economic ventures. If you would be interested in purchasing a copy of the book please go to:
God bless, Andrew