Pray the Sick Away

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* Sorry to include an image of false teacher Benny Hinn. It serves a purpose *

Gentle Reader,

My last post generated some good discussion both here and elsewhere. I appreciate the respect with which these conversations have been conducted. Appreciated even more that a friend pointed out that I failed to touch on something important. Something that honestly deserves its own post.

Chronic illness and prayer.

I’m choosing to address this topic in the form of a letter.

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Dear you,

Thanks for telling me that I should pray and ask God to heal me. For telling me that I don’t need medical treatment. For telling me that I just need greater faith. For telling me that I need to repent of whatever. Maybe this advice comes from a place of genuine concern and love. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. But here’s what you need to understand: Your advice is hurtful and possibly dangerous, not to mention theologically unsound.

Do you honestly think that I don’t pray constantly for God to take this from me? Of course I do! I wouldn’t wish this pain on my worst enemy, and I certainly don’t want it for myself. Do you think that I haven’t asked Him to reveal any sin that might be related to this? Do you think that I wouldn’t do whatever He asked of me if it meant getting rid of this suffering? Do you think that I haven’t spent hours crying, pleading, even shouting?

Don’t make assumptions about my faith. What you may not realize is that people with chronic illness and pain very often have a deep, fierce relationship with Christ. We have to. We are the embodiment of 2 Corinthians 12:9a (NKJV): “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'” We can’t rely on our own bodies. We don’t take a single breath, a day outside of the house, a moment of fun for granted. We know that it is God who holds us up.

And this whole idea that sickness is always associated with sin? Well, you’re partly right. We live in a broken, fallen, sinful world. Things aren’t as they are supposed to be. So, in a general way, this connection is sound. But I direct you to John 9:1-3:

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.'” (NKJV)

Did you catch that? Neither the blind man nor his parents had done anything to cause the problem. There was no personal sin at play. There was no repentance needed. His blindness just…was. It was just a result of living in a world where genetic mutations are basically never good. Furthermore, Jesus chose this man as an avenue for His glory. 

Now, of course, sometimes people make stupid decisions. Drug or alcohol abuse, eating poorly all the time. Sometimes illness flows out of the wrong choices we make. But did you catch that? Sometimes. People who are stricken with migraines, Autism, cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, Cystic Fibrosis…well, you tell me what whopper of thing they must’ve done. I doubt you can come up with one. If you can, then I want to come live in your world where things are so perfect and shiny and you never have any problems or issues.

Oh, wait…

So, if you’ve given this advice of “pray the sick away” to me and it really does come from love, here’s what you should know:

You are ignorant. We are never guaranteed perfect health in this life. Never. In fact, we’re guaranteed to have trouble (John 16:33). Happily that same verse also guarantees the peace of Christ as we walk through trouble. He never promises to take that trouble away, though. Look at the Apostle Paul. Let’s place the words from the 2 Corinthians passage I referenced above in context:

“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 12:7-10 (NKJV)

We don’t know if this affliction ever left Paul, or what the affliction was, but we do know that at the point this was written healing was denied. God said no.

God can do that. God can say no. It doesn’t matter how sincere the prayer or how righteous the person praying. God can say no.

I don’t have space in this letter to get into the full scope of God, faith and illness. Suffice it to say that you need to do some study.

If you’ve given this advice of “pray the sick away” to me and it comes from a place other than real concern, here’s what you should know:

You are arrogant, and possibly more theologically unsound than the ignorant person. Take a look at your own life, buddy. Are you going to honestly tell me that you have no problems? You may not be sick, but is your marriage perfect? Do you never have issues with your kids? Is your job just fantastic? Are all of your relationships in harmony?

Actually, I hope that your life is good. I hope that it is wonderful. But I’m scared for you if you think that smooth sailing is directly connected to your faith in God. I’m scared of what will happen to you when the day comes (and it will come) when something doesn’t go your way. Is your faith strong enough to stand testing? Do you have eyes to see the Lord in the midst of the storm?

To both the ignorant and the arrogant: Stop shaming the ill. We didn’t ask for this. God isn’t punishing us. More often than not we didn’t do anything to bring it on. And even if we did, do you really think you’ve got the right to comment on it? Do you really think that you’ve got the right to assume that we never repented? And do you realize that in heaping condemnation upon a person, you’re actually doing the work of Satan, for there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1)?

Now, at this point you’re probably thinking that I don’t believe in divine healing. Oh, I do. God can do whatever He wants. Just recently He lifted breast cancer off of a woman I go to church with. But He would have been no less God, and she no less a true Christian, if she’d had to go through a mastectomy and chemotherapy.

All of us, the ignorant, the arrogant and the sick, we would do well to mediate on these words from James:

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” – 1:2-4 (MSG)

The sick need your support. We need you to pray with and for us; for strength, for peace, for wisdom in making treatment decisions. We need you to check in on us. We need you to take us to appointments, hold our hands. We need you to bring over a silly movie. In short, we need you to be a friend.

If you can’t be a friend, if you absolutely must air your views on how horrible we are because we’re sick, do us this favor: Don’t talk to us. Find someone else who agrees with you and go hang out in an echo chamber so your awesomeness will surround you all the days of your life.

Sincerely,

Me

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Yes, yes. This piece contains a good deal of snark. I really don’t know any other way to say it, though. The health-and-wealth, God-as-vending-machine, put-positive-energy-out-there garbage that passes for the Gospel these days is absolutely revolting. It’s not the truth and it helps no one, especially those who suffer.

My journey to faith. (15)

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19 thoughts on “Pray the Sick Away

  1. Wow! is all I have to say about the most recent post. You didn’t mince words (not that I thought you would) and your point of view is sound and well grounded (though I knew it would be!). It’s also an eye opener for those of us who pray for others – to keep in mind that God can heal and often does but we (I use the term “we” in a general sense but I can speak only for myself) also must understand that He can choose not to heal and HIS plan is always better than anything we can contrive. I, for one, will keep praying for you because !) I love you and 2) You are a sister in Christ and His word challenges us to “bear each other’s burdens”. So be it!

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    1. I love you, Aunt Lenore! In my experience, most “pray the sick away” advice comes from ignorance. I think most people do care and want to be helpful. They just don’t understand.

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  2. I SO agree with you!

    The docs say I’m dying, and already well past my sell-by date…and I am perhaps fortunate that I’m no longer well enough to get out and about, because anyone telling me to pray it away would get a rude retort.

    And anyone who implied that this is my own fault would be taking meals through a straw for a couple of months. I may be hurting, but if I need to, I can still bring the pain.

    I think that you caught the key point behind divine healing perfectly…that it’s done to channel God’s glory. In other words, it’s part of a larger agenda,and perhaps confers huge responsibilities on the recipient.

    One thing I have been told is that I just have to have a bit more faith…like the mustard seed.

    But the whole point behind the mustard seed parable was to point out that we can’t even have THAT much faith; we’re so flawed that we can’t even match the tiny yet perfect faith of the smallest of seeds.

    Thus, no need to duck. No depressed-trajectory mountain-moving today.

    I don’t like my illness, and can’t really greet it with joy, as Paul might suggest (well, except that it’s the one thing I share with Patrick Swayze), but I’m doing my best to spread the word, in my own blog and in comments on others, that cancer isn’t death. Every breath taken in faith, every act performed in hope, is the ultimate refutation of that last Enemy.

    And we snarky dudes gots to hang together.

    Good on you, and keep the faith.

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    1. Wow, Andrew.

      Your faith just absolutely shines through in this comment. You have had your relationship with our Savior tested and that testing has made it stronger – though I sincerely wish you’d not had to face that challenge. I am truly sorry that you’re going through this valley, but I’m so very glad that you know you aren’t walking through it alone. I have no doubt that you are blessing and encouraging others.

      There is much beauty to be found in the valley. In your darkest moments, in the deepest pain, remember that the Lord is near. He will never forsake you. He never leaves you to battle alone. One day you will hear those precious words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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      1. Thank you so much, Marie.

        I hope that one day in Eternity I will hear the :”Well done!”

        But I hear God now, and he’s more of a Hell Week training cadre…when I fall (literally, and often puking blood), I hear him yelling in my ear…

        GET. UP. NOW!!!

        I still have a job to do; my wife and I have a sanctuary for abandoned and abused dogs, and they are my charges. My doctor (and my therapist) feel that they are what has kept me alive. I agree.

        Fun is fleeting, and love becomes mundane, but duty never ends.

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      2. I am a dog lover, so I think your work is awesome! And I think I’ve heard those words a time or two myself. Thankfully He never tells us to get up without giving us the strength to do so.

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  3. Y’know, this is an area where I really, REALLY struggle with the theology of things. I’m right there with you in the chronic illness boat: having begged & pleaded, and asked God if there’s something *I* need to be doing differently. If it’s really so much to ask that I merely be able to *function*, to do all of the things His Word commands us to do. You know, like maybe parenting my children. So please do not *at all* take this as coming from a place of, “Well, if you just had enough faith…”

    But this BAFFLES me. You’re absolutely right about the man born blind. It’s absolutely true that Jesus said he hadn’t done anything to “earn” that sickness. But it’s also absolutely true that God healed him. And every. single. other. person. who ever asked. Paul is the only *possible* exception we have in the New Testament, and I’m not sure he’s even an exception. Nothing says his “thorn in the flesh” was a physical ailment; we make that assumption. Given the way Paul usually talked about his flesh, I’m inclined to think it was actually an ongoing temptation he had to continually struggle against.

    So we serve a God who told His people in Israel — under an *imperfect* covenant — that He’d never put any of the illnesses of Egypt, who promised that they’d flourish physically just as in every other way, because He’s their healer. We serve a God who came in the flesh and healed everyone who ever asked Him (at least as we have recorded). We serve a God who has now given us a *better* covenant, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever — and we have a church full of committed saints, fervently dedicating their lives to serving Him, and falling the heck apart?! That so does *not* make sense.

    But there’s no question that some of the godliest people I know are the *sickest* people I know. (It’s almost as if they are *punished* for being faithful.) The “if you had enough faith…” or “if you were serving faithfully…” paradigm doesn’t add up, either. That’s clear.

    The whole *thing* just doesn’t come close to making sense to me.

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    1. I really wish that I had something brilliant to say to you right now. It’s obvious that this is a real struggle for so many of us and I don’t want to be insensitive or flippant in any way. I know that your heart is tender and that you’re frustrated. I so get that.

      “The whole *thing* just doesn’t come close to making sense to me.”

      I think you hit the heart of it right there. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t know why some people suffer and some don’t. I don’t know why the most committed of Christians have constant difficulty and why truly evil people slide by. I don’t know why cancer strikes some and not others. I don’t know why God says “no” to some prayers for healing and “yes” to others.

      God is the only one who knows. I have to rest on Jeremiah 29:11 or I’ll go crazy. I have to trust that He sees the whole picture and knows the plan inside and out. I have to trust that He knows what will bring Him glory and me good. While I don’t think that God inflicts illness on anyone, I firmly believe that He has used it in my life to keep me close to Him. I know myself well enough to say that, without the struggle, I’d be an arrogant little snot, content to stand on my own laurels and sprinkle a little Jesus on things. This may not be the case for everyone, but it’s definitely true for me.

      I have read before (though I don’t recall where) that the healings Jesus did were for that specific time and place, meaning that they were signs of His identity as Messiah. I am not a cessationist in terms of miracles, but there does seem to have been a shift from “outward” signs like healings, fire from Heaven, etc. to “inward” signs, the changed life. Perhaps God shows His power these days by granting people the endurance to push through suffering.

      In a way, it does make sense that we’re falling apart. In 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 Paul talks about how we “groan” for the better body, the lasting body. The body eternal that will never know suffering or death. Sin (in general, the fallen state of the world) quite literally sucks the life out of us, even if we’re seemingly perfectly healthy all our lives. These bodies are temporary and fragile.

      I don’t know if any of this makes sense to you or encourages you. Ultimately, we have to “be still and know that [He] is God” (Psalm 46:10). We have to trust that He is there with us, whatever happens, and that every “no” to a prayer for healing means a greater “yes” somewhere. I have seen that in my life. I have greater faith and greater compassion for others than I would have without this illness.

      I pray that the Lord comforts you today. He loves you so!

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      1. Thanks! And it’s okay; you don’t have to “having anything brilliant to say.” 🙂

        I guess part of me is just acknowledging that I understand where the “pray the sick away” people are coming from. It kind of seems like that SHOULD be true. So when you haven’t wrestled with the other side of it…it’s really, REALLY hard to “get.” ‘Cause it’s even hard to “get” when you HAVE!

        God is just not as simplistic as we’d like for Him to be.

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  4. I rest in the knowledge that I cannot fully comprehend His thoughts and ways. He is far beyond human understanding. But, I trust in the love displayed by God, and particularly made manifest in the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.

    I want a simple quid pro quo deal with God. I will follow Your commands and I want you to heal me. It sound like a good idea-except…what about the times I am selfish and keep the best brownie for myself? I would be deserving of death for getting tired and saying something cross if my human deal with God were really the covenant. St. Paul asked who would save him from his human fraility- Jesus Christ. He doesn’t give us what we deserve. Sometimes He trusts us to bear chronic illness.

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  5. Very well put Marie. This is a subject that needs to be spoken about. I have always been offended by the teaching that God would heal you if……He wants to heal you but…..He was ready but you just didn’t quite have the faith . This is not how my God treats me. He doesn’t dangle our healing like a carrot before us. He loves us, loves. He responds to us as a father. I know God heals. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it, but I also know sometimes He says no, not now, and other times he completely heals and takes them home. I also know whatever He does He does out of love for me. Thanks for the message.

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  6. What an absolutely incredible post and the comment threads that follow. Marie you have set out so clearly in your words what has been in my heart for so long. All I can say is thank you for your brutal honesty and integrity in backing your words with God’s Word.

    Life seems so unfair in many ways and these health and wealth preachers prey on that. God’s Word warns us to beware of false teachers and I believe we are seeing more and more pop up. They are not called by God if they are not preaching from the Holy Word of God. They are self appointed gurus looking for a following to add to their bank account.

    God’s Word also tells us “no one knows the mind of God” and I have to rest in the knowledge that He is sovereign in ALL things, whether I understand or not. He doesn’t owe me an explanation of how, why, or when things happen. He is God.

    Having a chronic illness or standing by someone you love who is in constant pain strips away our dependence on us and places it where it belongs – on Jesus. My prayer life has become so much richer through times of pain and suffering, as I pray God’s Will for others and for myself.

    It is by His stripes we are healed, and if not here , most certainly we are promised an eternity of no more pain and no more tears. Oh, how can I not see God’s Love in that promise? He also promises to never leave us and has sent the Comforter. It is my choice to accept or reject.

    Thank you for this post! One day we will see clearly, but until then, all I can do is rest in my Creator’s arms, trusting in Him. Hard? You bet. But the peace I have knowing He already knows the end of the story? Priceless!

    Blessings to you sister, Dianna

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