Faith and healing, in which I discuss faith-healing, prayer and Christianity

I recently read this thoughtful blog posts by @latentexistence, in which he documents his on-going faith story, and the challenges he has encountered due to his illness and the efforts of his faith community to heal him.

Firstly, let me say: it is an incredibly brave thing to document stuff about faith in your blog, and I’m really impressed by @latentexistence. Inspired by his example, I’m going to address some similar issues around my own faith.

I was raised as a Christian. We went to church on a weekly basis. During my school years, I went to church and proudly sung in the choir. After school, my faith lapsed. As many young adults do, (and I think it’s a good thing, too) I searched for my own meanings. I explored other faiths. I attended meetings of a wide range of religious groups- from Hare Krishna to Quaker, and I read religious texts and attempted through Gnosis to look for answers to the questions that inspire many in their spiritual search. Who am I? Why are we here? What is the purpose of my life?

I believe that many faiths are able to bring comfort, and help people to find answers to these questions. And I know that a spiritual community can offer support and love to many people. I missed the quiet meditation of prayer and worship, although I still did meditation and relaxation exercises, which I think appeal to the same need we have as humans to have processing time to reflect and recharge.

After the birth of my first child, I started to attend church again. It was largely thanks to my partner’s family, who went weekly to church. When we visited, we went too. We discussed the sense of community at his parent’s church, and agreed to look for a similar community of our own. Our local Anglican church turned out to be friendly, and we started to attend regularly. We soon felt part of the community, and it was fantastic to feel like part of something greater than our own small family. We loved helping out at events, and I loved trying to look in on the elders from the church when I had the chance. In turn, when I became disabled, I was grateful and thankful to receive fantastic support from the community in turn.

But one thing that did bother me, was that some members of the church seemed to be very concerned with “healing” me. When they visited, they often prayed for my healing. Now, I think prayer can be a huge comfort for people. It certainly brings me comfort to pray. I like to get to a point in meditation or prayer where the rest of the world slips away, and I’m content to sit, with my breath, for that brief glimpse of completeness before the world comes back into view and life carries on. But I don’t believe that prayer is an effective way to “get” something, whether that something is spiritual (greater closeness to God), or more mundane, like a new car or physical healing.

I believe that we are all here to pursue our own journey of faith (even atheism is a faith). I do not believe that we are here to impose our own ideas of faith on anyone else.

As a Christian, I believe  my faith means that my (frequently unsuccessful) efforts to live a Christ-like life make me happier than I would be otherwise. But happiness isn’t a straightforward positive mood- far from it. But faith can help me to paddle through the dark times and hope for more positive things to come. Faith can fail, too; there are times when my doubt wins out, and I lose my faith. But, so far, it comes back. But I don’t believe that God does some of the things that I sometimes feel other Christians believe:

  • God doesn’t treat Christians and non-christians differently.
  • Being a Christian doesn’t guarantee you an easier ride through life.
  • Prayer helps- but not always in the way we expect.

I believe that prayer really helped me to get through becoming disabled. It might sound strange to non-believers, but prayer really helped me.

How? If prayer was so helpful, then why weren’t you healed? Why do you still have so many problems?

The way I saw it was this. God didn’t heal my physical problems. Through prayer, I was entering a state which helped me to deal with everything I was going through. Rather than ask for a particular outcome, I prayed for God’s grace to adapt to my changing circumstances. I tried to trust that God knew better than I did about what should happen in my life course.

Actually, I really did feel “healed”. I found the strength to keep going, when it was really hard to do so. I was able to be a good Mum to my kids. I managed to keep my relationship. I didn’t flip out; I calmly went through the stages of becoming disabled without getting angry with life. I was able to laugh, still. I was able to feel joy, still. Okay, I would’ve laughed and been joyful a lot more if I hadn’t been dealing with pain and fatigue. But I would have laughed and felt joyful a lot less if I hadn’t prayed.

Some members of my church seemed to believe that by praying with me they would effect a physical healing. They believed that the Holy Spirit would somehow rearrange my bones, my joints, remove my pain, and this would happen in testament to their faith, or my faith (I was never quite sure which).

  • Now, what kind of God would take away my pain, but not the pain of another person who happened not to have faith? Not the God that I believe in.
  • What kind of God would leave me in pain until I asked in prayer to be brought out of pain? Not the kind of God I believe in.
  • What kind of God would use my agony- and relief from agony- to prove to me He exists? Not the kind of God I believe in.
  • If an all powerful God could take my pain away but chose not to, what would  that say about God’s love?
Faith-healing has been de-bunked by many. I think that Paul McKenna’s recent programme about how he could train someone to use the same tricks that many faith healers use to con their audience was very telling. I was going to post a link, but couldn’t find one on YouTube, I’m afraid.
Faith healing has it’s believers. But they are not a homogenous group with people of faith.
In fact, I wonder if faith healing is more akin with fundamentalism than mainstream religion.
Fundamentalism, of any religion, has at it’s core a belief that the “in-group” has special status, hence will be saved whereas the “out-group” (everyone else) will be excluded (from the afterlife). It isn’t a stretch to realise that fundamentalists can accept the idea that their pain could be relieved by prayer; and those of the non-believers would not.
I am happy to report that for many Christians, including me, this is an abhorrent idea. The overriding message of Christianity is one of love. God’s love for us means He will always help us to find a way through the pain- to give us strength when our strength fails, to provide hope when times are dark. And by that, I mean everybody- we are all equal in His eyes. Since we are all sinners, none of us are better than any others, whether we express faith or not. So how could having faith ever get us special treatment? It couldn’t. That’s what’s so radical about Christianity. It is God’s grace that saves us, nothing that we do, or fail to do, ourselves.
God doesn’t remove the pain that I’m, in any more than neglect to remove the pain of someone with no faith. But the act of prayer provides me with patience and grace to deal with the pain.
Faith has therefore played a part for me in dealing with disability and pain. As a therapist, I am rightly wary of discussing my faith with people I work with, and would never wish to assume that others would benefit from my experience of faith. But Occupational Therapists are perhaps unusual in that the spiritual dimension of people we work with is specifically indicated as an area of occupation we would wish to facilitate, and I wonder what my experience of faith and healing will mean for me, when I eventually return to practice.
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4 Comments

  1. Real hi retesting post Claire. Thanks for sharing. I’d not heard of the Paul McKenna show, I’d be interested to check it out.

    Reply
    • A good friend on Facebook pointed out that it’s not Paul McKenna, it’s Derren Brown- oops! But he also said that Channel 4 had pulled the film from YouTube- so I don’t know where you could see the show. It was fascinating, though- showing you how unscrupulous people can use tricks to convince people they’re in touch with God and therefore you should hand over your money…. scary stuff!

      Reply
  2. Christine

     /  September 25, 2011

    Thank you for this. As a christian, I do believe that God can heal miraculously if He wishes, but I do not profess to understand why or how He chooses. Like you, I have not been healed of my medical problems, but have been given grace and comfort that helps me to deal with life. I don’t think that healing, or comfort, is contingent on the belief or non/belief of the recipient, and anyone who says that it is so has got it wrong. Certainly faith-healing (healing prayer or whatever you want to call it) is not suitable for an entertainment show or for monetary gain.

    Christine
    (PS. I’m @latentexistence’s Mum)

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Christine. Im glad you’ve found some comfort and can continue.in Faith. Thanks

      Reply

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