The Faith Healing Problem

I recently read a news account of a Philadelphia couple who lost a second child because they relied on prayer instead of bringing the child to the doctor for care. In 2009, Herbert and Catherine Schaible was told their toddler was infected with bacterial pneumonia. Members of a fundamentalist Christian church, the couple relied on faith healing and did not bring the child to the doctor. The child died. Last week, their eight-month old son, Brandon, died after not eating for several days and complaining of breathing trouble and diarrhea. Again, the Schaibles sought God’s healing instead of that from a doctor.

The losses are tragic not only because neither child likely had to die, but also because there is some seriously flawed Christian theology behind the decision to not seek medical help.

First let me say that I believe that God can and will do miracles – including healing miracles – in our lives today. In fact, we see it regularly. I know a woman who was supposed to be dead last Christmas due to her cancer and now is in complete remission. I am convinced that prayer and God’s hand is the only reason she’s still with us today. That said, however, we need to really examine who God is and how He works to understand why faith healing is not a fundamentally sound way to treat illness.

For many, there is a conflict between science and God. It seems as if science is always trying to find a way to eliminate God from our lives. However, I don’t fall into that camp. I believe science is man’s way of trying to figure out how God does what He does! Science itself is not a bad thing; scientists who reject God are the problem, and many scientists actually are believers and see science and God as inseparable.

The question with faith healing comes down to two distinct questions in my mind. First, does God expect us to rely solely on Him for healing and to shun worldly medicine? Second, is the cause of illness a matter of sin and as such a show of faith and repentance can allow God to forgive and heal.

The first question is a bit tricky; here’s why: All good things come from God, including wisdom. Yes, God expects us to rely completely on Him for healing and part of that reliance is using the tools He’s given us for healing! It reminds me of an old joke.

There’s a flood coming and a guy is praying that God will save him. A local cop comes by his house to evacuate him, but the guy says he’s relying on the Lord. The flood waters start to rise and a boat comes by to rescue the guy, but the guy says he’s relying on the Lord to save him. The water rises to the point where the guy is on his roof when a Coast Guard helicopter comes to rescue him. The guy refuses, saying he’s relying on the Lord. He drowns.

When he gets to heaven, he meets Jesus and asks why didn’t Jesus save him? Jesus tells the guy, I sent you a cop, a boat, and a helicopter! What else did you expect me to do?

It seems to me the faith healing crowd is like our guy waiting for God to save him. God provides ample provision, yet it is ignored, because of either false teaching or simple ignorance of how God works in our world.

I don’t see in scripture where God hates medicine. The Gospel of Luke is written by a physician. If God was against medicine, He certainly would not allow a doctor to write one of the four Gospels. Further when I read the Book of Leviticus, I see God clearly outlining health and welfare requirements of this new nation called Israel. Why would he spend an entire book in the Old Testament doing that? Because God cares about us and wants to give us the tools we need not to kill ourselves off with disease! God didn’t say, “When you touch a dead body you are now unclean so pray to me for healing.” Instead, God outlined clear procedures and steps to take to stay healthy. That tells me that God expects us to use the resources we have to help us when we become ill.

Yes, God gets ALL the glory for any healing – that done by pray and that done by penicillin – because all of it is due to Him. But we are not to ignore those things God has given us by wisdom only because they did not come by miracle.

The second question also is tough. There is a school of thought that all illness – physical and mental – is due to sin in our lives, so if we pray and repent, all illness can be healed by the Holy Spirit that indwells us as Christians. That logic is both right and wrong at the same time.

At the 40,000 foot level, yes all illness is cause by sin – original sin! When Adam fell, we all fell and have to live in these fallen bodies. That means God’s original plan for us to be perfect and walk with Him in Paradise was perverted by sin, and sin causes us in our fallen state to get sick physically and mentally.

But here is where the argument that sin is behind your illness falls apart. Jesus Christ died on a cross of all sin for all time. God sees us as holy in His eyes due to the work of Christ. If our sin is causing cancer, than Christ really didn’t do much on that Cross for me in my life today and only secured my salvation after my death. I personally have to reject that. My personal sins (of which there are many) have been completely forgiven by God because of Christ. There is nothing that I have done, am doing, or will do that will cause me to get sick, because that would mean that my sins are not already forgiven and in fact are causing illness in me. Again, I reject this idea.

Yes, there are sins I can commit that will make me sick, but I believe that is more a cause and effect thing. For example, if I drink too much and get drunk, which scripture tells me not to do, I can get alcohol poisoning which can lead to death in some cases. But my death would be because I was stupid and drank too much not following scripture’s words not because I sinned and my penalty was death for that sin. See what I mean?

It would be easy to write off the Schaibles as some right-wing nuts who didn’t love their children enough to see past their zealousness and killed their children because of it. I choose not to go that route. Instead, I am praying for them, their church, and whoever their leader is who may be teaching what I consider unbiblical practices. I pray that God through His Holy Spirit will show them the truth, which is all good things come from God, including what may seem a worldly thing called medicine.

Yes, God heals when it is in his will, but He does so both through miracle and through the gifts He’s given us. To ignore either one is to ignore God’s provision in your life.

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