I remember several years ago being at the bedside of a dying member of my congregation in Tacoma. I was there with a Lay Minister, who did a lot of visitation and was very gifted in her ministry to the elderly. We were called because this member had hours to live and the family wanted a commendation (a service kind of like Last Rites). We completed the service, kept vigil with the family for a while, and left. Days later, this member was up and around, and soon after moved to Eastern Washington where she lived for another 4 years, Both the Lay Minister and I were so taken aback by this miraculous turnaround, and honestly, weren’t sure what to make of it. What we could agree on was that this member was healed. Or was she? I guess what I could say for sure is that she was cured.
This event was surprising because, I think, we are not used to healings. In fact, I know those who are downright angered by all of the healings in the Bible. Why? Because some look at those healings and then look at their loved one and say, “Okay, God, how about a healing for my sister/parent/child/etc?” This is a fair question, because it seems like everyone who comes to Jesus has a pretty spectacular result to their request for healing. Jesus bats a thousand. And yet a careful look at those healings reveals something – what we think of as the healing is often not the focus of the story. And that fact carries into other healing stories as well in Old and New Testaments (listen to the sermon on Naaman – Direction Correction).
Let me pause to make a distinction here between healing and curing. When we talk about healing, what we are most often talking about is what I woud call curing. The lame walk, the blind see. and even the dead are raised. But what often seems to accompany the fireworks of the cure is Jesus telling the person that their faith has made them well, or some other thing that points to the fact that more has happened here than just a physical cure. There is a transformation, a wellness or wholeness that accompanies the cure, and that is what I would call the healing.
Healing is what my wife and I experienced in the 8 years from diagnosis to recovery from a chronic illness. In the process of being angry at God, of mourning losses of friends, work, assumptions, etc., we had the chance to see what we were made of together and individually. There was a cure of sorts in the end, but through that often difficult and dark encounter with debilitating illness, we were healed (transformed, made whole). Just as an example, Karen looks at illness and death in a very different, very healthy way (and VERY different from our culture). I am better at understanding chronic illness and being with people in difficult times because of this experience (As a side note, I strongly believe that our culture expects the ill to get better or to die, and don’t deal well with the chronically ill). I don’t think God caused the illness, but I am convinced God healed us through it. I am grateful for the amount of recovery she experienced (cure), but I think the healing would have come regardless.
I like to say that in those many curing stories of Jesus, the kingdom of God leaked out. It’s like the power of his love is so overflowing he can hardly control or contain it. One of my favorite examples of this is the woman who grabs Jesus’ hem and is instantly cured of her hemorrhage. She is cured, and yet Jesus still seeks her out in the crowd. If it were just about the cure, why would he do that? He seeks her out, and speaks both of the faith that has made her well, and the cure that has happened. He bestows upon her his peace, which may be the greatest healing agent of all. I have seen many, many people hope and pray for a cure that never comes. And in the midst of that, I have seen much healing. It doesn’t always happen this way, but I have seen families come together or even reconcile; I have seen individuals deepen their faith walk and conversation with God and others; I have seen honest assessments of life in the pause that is forced by illness or disability. These are all healings that take place with or without a cure.
I have a good friend who is a fabulous pastor. Her husband died suddenly of cancer at 42. Now she has cancer – really serious cancer – in her early 50’s. I pray for a cure for Laura, that those God damned tumors would shrivel up and die (yes, God, send them back to hell where they belong). But I know that my friend has, and is, being made whole by God. I know that her soul is well. I know that she both carries and reflects Christ’s peace. And I know that the God in whom her faith is centered, has healed her.