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Healing and the Kingdom of God

Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. – Luke 9:1-2

I have a confession to make: When I read the Bible, I tend to focus on those parts that fit neatly into my pre-existing worldview. This has always been true. I remember in high school I always focused on the places where Jesus had “ethical teachings,” and talked about himself in more human terms. I glossed over the places where Jesus emphasized his uniqueness and divinity, and I pretty much skipped the gospel of John altogether!

This should come as no surprise. It is hard to learn challenging new truth without any familiar context to lean on. When I am struggling to grasp new ideas, it is reassuring to focus on the things I already know. Realizing this about myself, it makes me wonder about all the truth that I am still oblivious to! What obvious realities do I fail to see because they are simply too far outside my current understanding?

This question feels particularly relevant for me right now as I become more aware of a part of the Bible that I have always sort of glossed over: Jesus’ acts of miraculous healing and exorcism. Throughout his three years of public ministry, Jesus was constantly healing people of physical ailments and exorcising demons that held people in bondage. He cured people of physical, psychological and spiritual sickness. Quite frankly, Jesus did some crazy stuff.

It is almost impossible to miss this aspect of Jesus’ ministry if one is reading the gospels with any attention at all. Until recently, however, I was able to mostly bypass those passages. I did not intentionally ignore them, but I did not give them much weight in my reading. I read them metaphorically and focused more on the way Jesus’ actions revealed a “deeper meaning.” In a real sense, I sanitized part of what is the scandalof Jesus for modern readers. My Lord and Savior went around casting out demons, healing the sick and raising the dead!

It was a pretty big step for me to believe that these events really happened at all, but for years now I have accepted that Jesus performed all of these miracles. I have even come to believe that these kind of things happen today. The Holy Spirit is alive and active, at work in the world in ways we cannot understand. This whole thing about faith healing and demon possession is a little bit outside my comfort zone, but I can deal with it as a possibility.

As I continue to re-read the story of Jesus’ ministry, though, I am increasingly faced with the reality that these miraculous deeds of power are not simply a possibility, not merely a sideshow to the work of the Kingdom. Instead, it seems increasingly clear to me that Jesus viewed these acts of very literal healing as essential to life in the Kingdom of God.

What is truly challenging for me now is that Jesus did not simply perform these miracles himself; he commanded his followers to do the same. When Jesus sent out seventy of his disciples, his charge to them was to “cure the sick… and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near you.’” Faith healing and casting out demons is not just special work that only the Son of God can do; it is the living demonstration of the proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom.

What am I to make of this? To my knowledge, I have never been used by God to perform a miraculous healing. Nor have I ever laid hands on someone and released them from mental illness or other forms of spiritual bondage. Am I missing something essential to the gospel of Jesus? Is this some of that truth I have been unable to perceive because it is so far outside my comfort zone? As someone who seeks to be a modern-day disciple of Jesus, should these be spiritual gifts that I seek after?
I do not know what form it should take, but I do feel convinced that wholeness – physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual – must be at the core of the gospel that we proclaim. There is an undeniable connection between the Kingdom of God and the restoration of wholeness to the entirety of creation, beginning with human beings. How am I to live this out? How can my life be so filled with the Holy Spirit that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them“?

  • I know a Friend from a liberal, unprogrammed meeting who has the gift of healing. She resisted the gift for years precisely because it made her so uncomfortable. Fortunately for me and many others who have benefited from her gift, she came to accept it and now shares her gift of healing with joy.

    Your post reminded me of I Corinthians 12:7-11,

    “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”

    So, in answer to your question, I say that you should pray for gifts of healing, but not for yourself. God has given you gifts of prophecy and faith; God has given another person the gift of healing. Pray that you will recognize gifts of healing when you encounter them, so you can encourage people with those gifts to use them for the common good.

  • Well said, Ashley.

  • Are you familiar with the ministry of John Wimber and Vineyard Christian Fellowships? In the 80s and early 90s they were masters of bringing the healing ministry of Jesus into modern practice.

  • I was drawn to join with Quakers after experiencing a meeting for healing at Pendle Hill at the culmination of a workshop with John Calvi, a Quaker with a gift for healing. After I hesitantly walked into the center of a circle of prayer and sat down on the empty chair in the midst of it, John came and moved his hands around my left shin. There was nothing visible to show that that leg had once been broken. What most deeply moved me, however, as I sat in that chair in a profound silence, was the palpable sense I had of the power of the silent prayers of the people gathered in the circle around me. I don’t know if there was any physical improvement to the once-broken bones of that leg, but I am certain that emotional and spiritual healing happened. It helped me to walk more surely on my own two feet, and it led me to start attending the nearest Quaker meeting.
    Years later, around the time I became a member of a meeting, I received a message in the middle of the night. I was told that I had the gift of healing. I understood that this specifically meant the gift of physical healing through prayer or spiritual means. I did not respond in a grateful way.
    “I haven’t asked for that gift!” I told God. I feared two possibilities especially: 1) what if I imagined I really had that gift, but failed to heal someone? 2) what if I had that gift in large measure? Then my life might be crowded by people asking for healing. I was fascinated by the story of Aimee Semple McPherson (see Halprin’s book, Sister Aimee), who had an extraoridinary gift for making the healing of Jesus available to people in her day. Thousands flocked to her revival tents, more than she was physically able to pray over, and she wore herself out in more ways than one in the effort to meet every need.
    I believe now that all human beings have the capacity to bring God’s healing to others, through prayer and the laying on of hands. I believe most of us use that gift in small measure every time we put a loving hand on another person. I have struggled to understand and faithfully make available whatever measure of this gift had been given to me. I participated for many years in the Sunday evening meetings for prayer and healing held at Pendle Hill. Most of the prayers were silent ones, in response to verbal requests for prayer, often for loved one at a distance or for situations in the world beyond, but there was also a chair in the center of the space, and many times a member of the community would sit in it and ask for prayer. It was a very moving thing to witness, over and over again, members of the community gathering close, putting a loving hand on knee and arm and shoulder, praying silently and sometimes with words spoken out loud. I have witnessed healings of many kinds that happened in the Barn at Pendle Hill on Sunday nights; frequently after morning meetings for worship there were announcements about healing and renewed hope that happened both for members of the community and for those who had been prayed for at a distance. I have witnessed the same in many other meetings for healing, and prayer groups, in other Quaker settings. In a few cases the speed and extent of the healing has been so startling as to be considered miraculous. In many more cases, the healing effect has been more gradual, less visible outwardly.
    I believe that the Holy Spirit wants to do more healing of this kind among us.

  • I know what happens to brains after a short period of time without blood flow (oxygen). I know what happens to bodies after several days without blood circulating to bring oxygen to cells (incidentally, the biological changes in a dead body after several days are not pleasant to see and smell, especially when the body is exposed to heat — this has undoubtedly been a big motivator for quick burial or cremation after death in hot climates). So I dismiss the assertions of bringing the dead back to life. I’ll believe in the recovery of life when it occurs after a proper medical determination has been made that death has occurred (this would include ruling out a very deep and lengthy coma — although rare, these have been documented).

    I’m awaiting scientifically rigorous data about the therapeutic efficacy of healing by prayer and by laying on hands. An array of rigorous experiments have been conducted to determine whether prayer could have a healing effect. One of these studies involved persons, like my youngest grown daughter, who were diagnosed with MS. I fervently wish those results were positive, but the results of all of the experiments concur in failing to find even a hint of the healing power of prayer.

    There are an array strong and replicated studies that support a placebo effect. The mechanism(s) of action are as yet undetermined. So, encourage positive expectations. But don’t ignore medical and psychological interventions for which there is an evidence-base for efficacy.

    And, for those who have a healing touch or power, seek collaboration with a scientist for a rigorous evaluation of therapeutic efficacy. Data should rule.
    I would love to see support for efficacy from rigorous experiments.

  • why, oh why must data rule? why must EVERYTHING in our lives be subject to a scientist’s necessarily rigorous, and limited, method and perspective? thanks, but i’ll remain open to a more holistic understanding of healing. if placebos ‘work’, then they work. it matters little that the effects cannot be replicable under lab conditions using a very specific method. sorry. science and rationality do NOT understand all things…and they were never established to do so. we have given them tasks that they simply are unable to fulfill.

  • For me, my gift of this sort has not been easy to carry. Because it comes with it an awareness of things many others cannot sense. The reality of miracles is part of my day to day moment to moment awareness. It means that my day to day reality is difficult to articulate to the average person. It means that engaging in ministry is a little more complicated for me. But it also enables me to be a channel for God’s help to others.
    It is important as Quakers to approach these gifts in the same way we would approach any gift. Otherwise these gifts are idealized, which hinders ministry, or they are treated as unreal, which also hinders ministry. They are gifts like any other gift, to be used for ministry. However, they are also simply part of the normal existence of the individuals who carry them. These people are just normal people, same combination of light and imperfections as everyone else.
    In my continuing development of my gifts, one thing that I found helpful was learning of the energetic equivalent to vocal ministry. For a period of time I experienced being channel for divine energy. It guided itself, and went out of me to do things of its own volition. In a bible passage, describing healing, a woman touches his robe and Jesus feels power going out of him. The energy guided itself, in the same way I experienced this divine energy.

    As with all ministry a useful question is, am I loving the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my soul and with all my strength through this action?

    Of course, this is all according to my own light. Please hold it against yours, what does that of God in you say about this!

  • Hi Micah, I’m exploring this in my own life. It would be good to talk with you about it sometime.