Monday, January 17, 2011

Faith and Healing

During my daily activities talking with people is something that I commonly do. I talk with people about many subjects, but especially about matters of faith. This topic just naturally comes to the surface in our conversations.

In my conversations with people, I meet many very kindly people. Some of the people whom I meet are so amazingly sweet that I am in awe. These people are very easy to like. Their personalities are nearly irresistible.

Yet I often feel worn down by these same people. As much as I enjoy knowing them and being in their company, the differences that are expressed concerning the Bible and the faith of the Bible distresses me deeply. I generally leave these people with great sorrow and concern in my heart and soul.

I often even find myself questioning what I know and believe. It is very hard for me to admit that the way of salvation is as narrow as the Scriptures declare. I read it and I believe what I read, but I often challenge what I know and believe on account of the outward expressions of kindness and tenderness of people whom I meet. I deeply desire to embrace them as my brothers and sisters, and because of this I resist the acknowledgment that this is not who they are. They remain outsiders and foreigners. They are not confessing the sameness that St. Paul teaches in Ephesians 4, saying:

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

This causes me to hurt and even to ask, “Am I wrong?” But the Spirit brings to my recollection the many passages of the Scriptures that teach in accord with the narrowness that Jesus declares.

One such lady I encounter frequently when I shop at one of the local Sam’s Clubs. She is a delightful lady. I enjoy stopping and visiting with her, even though I always go away hurting. She has a radiant smile and personality. She speaks of trusting in the Lord with all of her heart. She speaks of caring for others. She speaks of receiving visions and hearing the Lord speak to her and of laying on of hands and healing people. She speaks of these as a very important part of her life and faith. In this connection I asked her what she believes concerning Baptism, and she shared what I expected to hear from her, which greatly saddened my heart.

In this most Christians share together, looking to many forms of temporal relief as their primary affirmation. I do not doubt that this sweet lady lays hands on people who are subsequently healed. I do not even challenge that this is of God, for healing is of God. But is this the faith that is of God?

Long ago I encountered an elderly couple who in the course of our visits together begged me to lay hands upon them and to pray for them. This was a number of years before I attended the seminary. They were hurting and wanted to be healed of their pain and I was sorely moved to do as they asked. But I resisted the urge, which became very strong. They pressed quite urgently, but I asked myself whether this is what the Lord would have me to do. I asked myself, what is the source of their pain? I told the couple that I did not believe that God desired such, especially without better understanding of their needs. After talking with them further I learned that they were hurting because they had been accosted by the man’s son. He occasionally beat them when they did not meet his demands. This began my addressing of their needs. We spoke concerning this abusive relationship. We spoke concerning the couple's own sins and needs for forgiveness. Eventually I did also pray for them regarding a rather broad spectrum of needs, most especially for their need to receive God’s healing in their hearts, minds, and souls, receiving His absolution and a change of life.

This is the way that the Lord Jesus did in His ministry. For healing of bodily diseases and infirmities is only temporal healing and does not treat the actual cause of our problems. While I have indeed seen God work to heal people physically through my encounters and prayers with them, this has never been the primary focus. Always the grace of God in Christ is the focus. This is what truly matters. This is the true healing that we all need to receive continually. Aches and pains and even terminal diseases are really only very small matters in our lives. Our sinfulness is the real condition from which we need to be healed. And this healing is administered through the blessed Sacraments. When this is the faith healing that is preached and practiced and sought and received, all else falls into proper perspective and loses all power over us.

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