Go and Sin No More: Faith Healing, Part 1
I decided to switch things around and put the post about male authority last, as that will likely unleash a big ball of crazy and needs some fine tuning. You can find the introduction here.
So let’s take a look at faith healing and related supernatural practices.
We’re all pretty familiar with the televangelist form of faith healing – this is the type of faith healing that Derren Brown seeks to expose. But it is practiced much more widely than Brown probably even recognizes. It is practiced in charismatic churches around the nation – even the Baptist church I attended during college would do healing services about once a month.
I want to make things clear from the get-go: I am not against asking God for miracles. I am not against prayer. My grandma has been in an out of the hospital recently, and I’d be lying if I said my family wasn’t praying fervently for health (good news is that she’s begun to recover and is more like herself than she has been in months). But to eschew medical help in favor of some ecstatic hope that God will respond miraculously is damaging, spiritually, emotionally and physically.
Faith healers have to deal with the problem of evil on a much more ready and immediate basis than most in the church. For many, especially in the American Church, the problem of evil – while a problem – is a basically settled issue. By settled, I mean, we have pat answers prepared and even though they don’t always work, we face that problem directly only a few times in life (deaths of family members, natural disasters, etc).
For those who claim faith healing as an every day occurrence, however, they will butt up against the problem of evil far more often, and the pat answers are far harder to swallow.
The biggest question that faces a proponent of faith healing is “Why did ‘x’ person get healed and ‘y’ person did not?”
The answer: Sin in their life.
There is something this person is doing, some persistent sin that prevents God from healing that person. I should note that I have not heard this doctrine espoused just by faith healing televangelists, but by friends and acquaintances who go to faith healing churches. It is the standard response.
It’s a variation of the free will answer to the problem of evil – because God granted humans free will and we are living in a broken world, our free will means that preventable evils will otherwise occur – poverty, war, famine, etc. Because the person has not dealt with a form of sin in their life, God either can’t or won’t grant their request to be healed.
This is problematic for many reasons, most prominent of which are what this says about God’s sovereignty, and our sin.
The Bible tells us that everyone is a sinner. This is basic Christian doctrine. It’s also basic doctrine that no sin is “greater” than another. So where do we get this idea that one person’s sin is somehow greater than the other, enough that would prevent a miraculous healing?
When Jesus told the blind man to “go and sin no more,” it was AFTER he had already healed him. The only places where he refused to do miracles were places where the community rejected him outright – towns where he was basically run out of town. And it wasn’t because of the town’s sin, but because they weren’t open to him. While many will read that as the same thing – not being open to God being the same thing as sin – it’s a false equivalency. A whole town saying no to a man they viewed as crazy is not the same as the whole town who believes in God but is still engaging in sin. If this was the case, an atheist’s desperate prayers for healing of a loved one or himself would never be answered.
It’s kind of a frightening prospect: We have to be “good enough” before God will or can do a miracle on our behalf. It sets a standard that we have to be something in order for God to answer our prayer, that there are levels within Christianity that we upgrade to somehow. And that is contrary to Gospel.
Second, this idea that sin can prevent miraculous healing undermines the sovereignty of God. You’re telling me that the God who created the universe, the God who became man and lived and died and rose again, the God who overcame death and sin on the cross, the God who does MIRACLES can’t overcome SIN in my life to answer a genuine prayer for healing?
In order for this answer to faith healing’s problem of evil to be true, either God can’t do something because of something we did, which is contrary to Gospel, or we have to be good enough for God to act, which is also contrary to Gospel.
This is the main problem I have with faith healing as a regular practice within the church, but it’s not the only one. And I want it noted: I do believe God does miracles. I just don’t think we can control them.