Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Daughter, your faith has healed you..."

This is an oil painting of my wife, Amy. She has many terrific qualities but suffers from a chronic and incurable disease. It's chronic, but low intensity, it hurts but it's not acute all the time. It started about three years ago, coincidentally the length of my Master of Divinity at Ridley College. Although we've been blessed remarkably by the medical system at Mercy Hospital for Women, its been a constant difficult theme in our lives for the last three years. For the last two and a half years we bounced around between specialists until recently when Amy had some exploratory surgery at Mercy Hospital and received a diagnosis. The symptoms are annoying and sometimes debilitating but manageable and this experience has given Amy insight into other people's suffering and its also taught us to be thankful to God for things we may not have otherwise noticed.

I wanted to post about this because I wanted to process publicly some of the theological issues associated with Amy's long running physical illness. (Amy and I aren't bothered by where the brokenness of our bodies comes from, we instead want to think about how to go on.) Many of the Biblical stories of physical illness end in healing: Naaman, the gentile Army general who suffers from leprosy is eventually healed by Elisha (2 Kings 5). In biblical times the word “leprosy” probably included a broad sweep of aliments. Jesus heals a number of people suffering from leprosy (Matthew 8:3, Mark 1:42 & Luke 5:12). Then there are several general references to Jesus healing “the sick”. (E.g. Matthew 4:24, Mark 6:13, Luke 4:40 & John 6:2) But probably one of the most striking healing stories, is the one of the woman who touches Jesus when he walks through the crowd (Mark 5:25-34). Amy and I pray often for her healing, maybe the Lord will grant a miracle and if Amy is healed we need to be immediately thankful and be confident in identifying it as a miracle!

However Amy may not be healed, how do we go on? On the other side of eternity God promises real physical healing: “on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Rev 22:2) Jesus, the first of us all to be resurrected, shows his disciples the healed scars on his body and eats food with them. (John 20-21) So we have a promise, and so we know that this pain is only for a time. Paul had an unspecified thorn in the flesh, which he asked to be taken away but it wasn't (2 Cor 12:7-10). So Paul writes this: “But [the Lord] said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Whatever it was, it wasn't bad enough to totally incapacitate Paul, so in some senses it sounds like Amy's pain, in the background, hurting. But then God's grace is highlighted in the midst of Amy's weakness, it's hard, but for the sake of Christ, we honour God as we go on serving Him.


goldy said...

Thanks for posting that. As someone who suffers from chronic health problems that was encouraging.

Randle Bond said...

I've heard good things about "The Healing Promise: Is it always God's will to heal?"
However, it seems you've got a good handle on the theology..
I am confident that God will use you and Amy through this suffering and moreso as a result of it.
I have found in my life that God has used injuries as a way to bring me to my knees in prayer and brought fruit as I sought his way and not my own. I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if God hadn't brought these injuries into my life (I know a number of people like this).
I still have injuries that stop me from doing what I want. I spent 2yrs of stretching/exercises at 20-30min a day & still couldn't get better:( Yet God allowed me to hike Nepal and travel Cambodia with no issues.
The lesson I've learnt and continue to learn is that God works in my weakness for his glory - blessing others and me as well. And that these struggles continue to bring me into deeper reliance on him.

Randle Bond said...

However, I know people with chronic health issues that haven't experienced the same.
Particularly suffering in the lives of non-Christians where the reality of a disordered world as a result of the fall is plainly obvious but where the reality of new life in Jesus hasn't been found.

Luke said...

Thanks for book recommendation and encouragement Randle.

Thanks for stopping by goldy, I hope you're able to make more sense of your suffering.

Andrew Bowles said...

Thanks for sharing your struggles honestly Luke, and you have our prayers for healing and grace for you both.

I preached a sermon on suffering earlier this year, and found a quote that expresses my own hope well. It is from a 4th-century Egyptian Christian leader named Macarius.

'The heavenly fire of the divine nature, which Christians receive in this world, where it works within their hearts, this fire will work from outside, when the body is destroyed; it will restore again the disjointed limbs, and will bring to life the bodies which have decayed…
At that time, everything which the soul has stored up in its inner treasure, will appear outwardly, in the body. All will become light, all will be penetrated by uncreated light. The bodies of the saints will become like the glorious body of the Lord, as it appeared to the apostles on the day of the Transfiguration. God will be all in all, and divine grace, the light of the Holy Trinity, will shine forth in the multitude of human persons, in all those who have acquired it; they will become like new suns in the Kingdom of the Father, resembling the Son, transfigured by the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Light.'

David said...

Had a brother (sibling) who died at 31 years of non-hodgkins lymphoma. The pain after the last round of chemo-therapy was too much - he chose death instead. He was a Christian. Memory of visiting him at his Adelaide home, with his "pastor" present (not sure of the denomination), where I detected a very unwelcome feeling coming from this "man of God". I'm sorry the pastor didn't understand the need for close relatives to have some last moments with their brother. Doesn't really matter now, 13 years later. Hundred's of people at my brother's funeral. That's one advantage of Christianity - they'll all turn up for the funeral and the tea and cakes afterwards. But none of them wanted to speak to the "non-Christian" black sheep of the family. Not one of those hundreds of people made a connection or wished to keep in contact. Nor did they at my father's funeral (different church) 6 months later. He died after 12 years of heart disease and related surgery including bypasses.

We all die of something sometime.

It's just a matter of time.

Get the best medical advice and take it seriously. Politely avoid the wierdos with their wacky "alternative" medical approaches. None of it works, including prayer (if any of it did work, there would be scientific evidence for it, wouldn't there?). Have you noticed that God does not feature in serious medical treatment at public or private hospitals? God only makes an appearance at wacky preacher entertainment spectaculars and apparitions in pieces of toast. God is absent from the operating theater. He is not to be found guiding the movement of surgical instruments or travelling alongside the medication coursing through a patients veins.

If God healed why would Christians get medical advice in the first place?

Luke said...

Hello again David,

Death is always a sad event because it's a departure. I'm sorry to hear the pastor was cold and people didn't want to talk afterwards. It's good advice to pursue sensible medical help although interestingly in this case a diet from a neuropath has really helped Amy with managing the symptoms.

I started reading Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity and will have a review out some time next month. So I guess the issue of prayer will come up then. At the moment I'll just say that prayer is part the way Amy and I make sense of the world. However stick around and I'll look forward to your comments about the book and other stuff as it comes up.

Thanks for that quote Andrew, I really appreciate your comments.

Luke said...

that hilarious: I wrote "neuropath" instead of "naturopath" (Dyslexics untie!)

David said...

To further qualify the phrase "avoid the wierdos", I mean the following types (and others):

a: Those who suggest abandoning orthodox medical treatment, and instead suggest using some pill, powder, potion or process that may be dangerous or only provide a placebo or illusionary benefit. Examples would include those people who, having come through a serious illness from the edge of death, write a book and/or promote their perceived method of cure as being widely applicable. These people are dangerous - they have let some deep emotional experience win out over a sense of scientific objectivity. As a result they can sound pretty convincing with thier evangelical sincerity.

b: The well-meaning friends (including Christians) who suggest a special herbal mixture, grandma's remedies or some other apparently harmless change. These people are not dangerouse, but more time-wasting; following their advice is a distraction from pursuing benefical courses of action. Their emotional and practical support is more valuable than their medical tips.

Of course, there is that borderline area of alternative medical practice that currently has no or not enough scientific evidence (which conspiracy nuts like to explain as pharmaceutical companies not being able to profit, or brainwashed doctors not seeing "the light").

Some dietary changes are probably in that grey area. Without knowing or wanting you to disclose the type of diet, there seems to be enough evidence around that our standard western diet underlies a lot of disease. I'm not surprised that dietary changes can be hugely beneficial.

Anyway, it sounds like you already have worked out a rational approach. It's comendable that metaphysical mumbo-jumbo is not clouding the issues for you.