by Rev. Samuel Son
At 54, my grandfather moved up to Seoul to study theology and become a pastor. My grandmother balanced rice bags on her head to sell on the streets to support her husband. Two years prior to the move, my grandfather was beating his wife for tithing all his hard earned money to church until one day he was struck dumb. He penciled to his wife to bring in the village pastor. The pastor rushed to his home,and the pastor and his wife began singing a hymn. My grandfather joined in on the 3rd verse when his mouth opened again.
Healing and miracles are not a sideshow entertainment or stories strung by gullible ancient folks with pre-scientific ignorance. Neither is it the main show. Healing and miracles is one way the Kingdom of God becomes more apparent in our fallen world.
Here is a short theological reflections on miracles and healing and some Q&A.
· We don’t believe in miracles. We believe God works today.
Miracles have to be understood in the larger worldview of God at work. We are not interested in miracles to feed our faith or our curiosity for the supernatural. We just believe God is not limited by His creation (Deism).
Orthodox Christians believe God was incarnated in Christ and the Father resurrected Christ. To believe in those doctrines is to believe God works miracles. (“The revelations of God in the flesh implies miracle”-Karl Barth). To believe God works miracles is to recognize God’s Freedom Deism always transmogrifies to idolatry. God who is hamstrung in His work becomes the work of human hands.
Paradoxically, the emphasis on miracles can be a sort of Deism. If miracles are the only place God works, then the natural processes of life are self-run. They are run by laws without need of God after he has wound them up on creation. This is not the biblical worldview. God doesn't create and then punch out. The world continues to revolve so faithfully because God faithfully sustains it. It is literally true that even the simplest daily act (like you making sense out of the blips on this screen) is a miracle. But God sometimes makes his presence more conspicuous by miracles we cannot fully explain and we term "supernatural." But the division into the "natural" and "supernatural" betrays the boundaries of our knowing. "Supernatural" is simply what we don't have explanation for yet. God is at work in all things. What is important is the recognition of the freedom of God to work in both what is common and what takes away our breath.
· Healing is the the sign and the manifestation of the Kingdom of God
In his first sermon (Luke 4:18), Jesus boldly declares that the day of the Lord’s favor, as prophesied in Isaiah, has come true with him. After that proclamation, Jesus demonstrates the presence of the Kingdom through rebuking of evil spirits and healing. The healing do not prove the Kingdom. It is simply what happens in the Kingdom. For in God’s Kingdom, there is no sickness. Healing is that reality of God’s Kingdom being experienced now. Yes, the Kingdom is not fully established so we experience death. But its presence is not less real. It is like engagement. The wedding day is still months away but the engaged couple already lives, and thus experiences, the the joyous life of commitment. As the sun gives light warming our body, so when the Kingdom of God nears, it gives health to our whole being, body and spirit. Even Jesus’ healing is less about the power of the individual Jesus, and more about the Kingdom of God which is more apparent with Jesus.
Moreover, as healing is simply one of the manifestation of the Kingdom, our trust is placed on the entire reality of the Kingdom which includes prisoners from debt being freed, and the oppressed being liberated. The confidence to work for social justice is the same confidence behind our prayers and expectations for healing for God's Kingdom, where both the society and the body is made whole, is already present because it is surely coming, just as the engagement makes the commitment of marriage real at the moment of engagement.
· But not all are healed? What happens when a person is not healed?
Not everyone is healed because the Kingdom of God will not be fully established until the King (Christ) returns. Until then, we have partial experiences of it. Until then, we seek fuller expressions of it.
Additionally, if everyone is healed, than it turns the freedom of God on its head and reduces God into a controllable tool of the human healer. God chooses to heal through the hands of His followers. Which means God can choose not to heal through those same hands.
We have to hold these two paradoxes together. That God wants to heal everyone and that God does not heal everyone. Both are reasonable in their own logic, and both have evidences to uphold them. Though as a statement they seem to contradict, the tension between the two take makes better sense of the world. For example, scripture tells us Jesus healed everyone but also that he did less healing at his hometown. Now, even science does this, holding two contradictory statements in tension. Science believes (cannot proven but assumes) that everything is knowable and that everything cannot be known. Without holding those two assumptions, you cannot begin to do science.
We have clear cases where healing did not work. As mentioned, Jesus did less healing in his hometown. Jesus’ enemies mocks him with the words “Physician heal thyself” which meant Jesus probably got sick and caught cold and needed bed rest. Paul’s sickness, the thorn on the side, was not removed though Paul himself was healing everyone he touched.
§ Healers did not heal oneself for the same reason we don’t save ourselves. Part of being saved is that we depend on God by depending on the people of God. We must hear the gospel from another human being. An angel appears to Cornelius to send for Peter. Why didn’t the angel just tell the gospel himself? It is part of the humility necessary to accepting the gospel that we need trust another human being for the truth of the gospel. Likewise, we are healed by others to know that healing is not from ourselves. The power is not inherent but divine.
· Is faith needed for healing?
o Faith is not needed for healing. Healing is the prerogative of God. If God desires to heal, God will, no matter how doubtful a person is. If God chooses not to heal, than no matter how much faith a person has, it won’t happen. If healing is dependent on faith, then healing is reduced to human psychological state or will power.
· Then what is faith?
o Faith is our willingness (it is more a matter of our will over our intellect) to accept the reality of God. It is the act of aligning our life to the reality of the Kingdom of God. The more we align to the Kingdom, the more we see the Kingdom (this is not that different from when we set out heart on buying a minivan, we begin to see more of them). In reverse, the less we align, the less we will see because we will misinterpret all the signs of the Kingdom. Even genuine healing will be explained away or misinterpreted for those who lack faith. Christ did less healing in his hometown who did not have faith for this reason: not because Christ could not, but all healing was and would be misinterpreted by their doubt. This is also why when his enemies come to him seeking signs, Christ doesn’t give any.
· Do I have the gift of healing?
Healing is not a gift. It is the expression of the Kingdom that is here. So if you are baptized, you have the spirit of Christ. So it is your privilege and duty to preach the good news, and with it to demonstrate it. You demonstrate it by praying for people. And if there are people suffering, pray for them boldly. Pray for healing. But remember, healing is not the main point. Praying for healing is one way of expressing God’s love for them which is the essence of the Kingdom of God, God's Loving-Rule.
· How should I be praying for healing?
As said, healing is just one part of you praying for the Kingdom of God made more apparent. So when praying, simply imagine the resurrected Jesus standing next to you (for this is what the Spirit-in-us means). What would our risen Lord do for your friend? Then pray. Keep it simple and bold. You can even imitate the way the apostles prayed: “Jesus Christ heals you” and then give them simple commands to act as one healed. Praying such prayer is as much a practice as a preacher practices preaching.
· Is healing against science and medicine?
God working does not negate human working. God working actually encourages greater human endeavor. The Cornelius conversion is a good analogy. The Holy Spirit is given to Cornelius. This was not the work of Peter. Yet, Peter was needed. Peter was called to speak the word and not the angel. And it is in midst of Peter’s preaching that Cornelius receives the Holy Spirit. Peter’s preaching is not the cause of the Holy Spirit, but it was the occasion. The relationship between God’s work and human work is mysterious in every case. But it is God’s humility to bring divine agency and human agency into partnership. Just as Peter must use his skill in his preaching, so we are to use our skills to use the wisdom of science and medicine.
Isn’t this just God filling in the gap? Of course God would fill in the gap. This doesn’t make him the God of the gap as if human knowing will finally remove him. As much as a father will fill in for his child and will let the child do more as he matures, so God will do the same with the increasing knowledge of human beings. And God is not jealous of the growth of human knowing. God welcomes it. But all that knowing will not make us more independent. Rather our maturity will bring wiser dependency on God. True knowledge, after all, leads to true humility. So we should seek doctors and modern medicine, while praying for healing. We have to do our part of taking care of our body, getting good rest, eating well, with greater confidence because we know God is healing us through such natural means and God can heal us immediately and beyond our current ability to explain them.
· Then what about suffering?
The truth that God heals does not make suffering meaningless or a manifestation of doubt. There can be meaning in suffering. Christ’s suffering was necessary for our redemption. Paul suffered greatly and saw it as part of completing the sufferings of Christ for the church. Here too it is best for us to hold the two paradoxes. God wants to heal everyone’s suffering. God uses suffering. It is by holding these two that Paul can actually tempt the sea of the Roman court and Jesus stays on the cross. Both believe that suffering can be used by God but they also know it is not the ultimate will of God. Both know that there is joy at the end. Christ knows there is resurrection, a body that will no longer suffer evil and sin and pain. And for that joy, he endures suffering and shame.