Cure vs. Healing

I always thought Cure and Healing were synonymous, but I’m learning to redefine them.

It’s like this: I used to enjoy going to the doctor. There was a big, old-fashioned rocking horse in the waiting room, which you could take a turn on. My mother pointed at my throat, the doctor put a lolly stick on my mouth and told me to say ‘ah’, and then scribbled on her pad. Within five minutes we were in the pharmacy, collecting what we called ‘banana medicine’ – a slightly bitter, sweet banana-flavoured liquid, forever etched on my tastebuds. (I presume it was penicillin, though I couldn’t tell you for sure.)

The process was thus:

Sickness; doctor; medicine; cured.

***

When I was a kid, God worked miracles at every Christian conference I attended. I saw people’s legs grow in length before my eyes, I witnessed a family member cured of a broken leg. We saw people near death receive full life again.

And although my parents were careful to explain to me that miracles didn’t always happen, and it wasn’t the fault of the person if it didn’t, I still witnessed this pattern over and over:

Sickness; prayer; God’s healing power; cured.

Both were very reassuring processes to witness as a child. But then I got sick with an autoimmune illness that has no cure – and I had to rethink everything.

***

The doctors can’t offer me a cure for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. The best research indicates perhaps a cancer drug or antivirals – but we’re years off bigger trials and prescriptions. The research they do now will affect the next generation, if we’re lucky.

M.E. patients around the world are often completely abandoned by doctors. Paradoxically, for most people with M.E., the more your health deteriorates, the less medical attention you get. Doctors often refuse house visits for severely disabled patients on the grounds that your ‘illness beliefs’ should not be indulged. In the years I’ve been dismissed by doctors because they’re not interested in a disputed disease with no definite cause or cure I’ve realised the value of therapy and treatment – ‘healing’.

Chronic illness has taught me that not every ill has a cure. In the absence of a cure, I am hungry for a type of ‘healing’ that enables me to live well while being ill. 

Fortunately, I have found doctors who offer this. They do this by saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t know much as you do about this, and I can’t offer you a cure. But I am still here to support you and I stand with you as you go through this.”

Of course, it would be nice to have a cure. But, strange as it sounds, a doctor admitting their ignorance is a great comfort for someone with chronic illness, because it is infinitely preferable to an ignorant doctor who does not admit it.

***

The church similarly needs to acknowledge its limitations.

Author Rachel Held Evans, in a stunningly good essay on healing, expresses it like this:

“But there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome.” ( Rachel Held Evans – Searching for Sunday, ‘Healing’.)

Sometimes illnesses have a cure, or people are miraculously healed. But the rest of us with incurable illness or ongoing pain, whether mental and physical, still need support. In dark times and messy situations we need people honest enough to offer healing, not cure.

We need doctors to walk with us in our journey, offering us wisdom. We need the church to walk with us, to commit to us, to acknowledge there are some things we can’t fix. The church is often most powerful when it admits its limitations.

I am not cured, and it’s unlikely, though not impossible, that medicine or God will cure me in an instant. But I am still in need of what Held Evans names as ‘healing’ – people to walk through the journey with you and hold you steady. As a carer, this feels insignificant, puny. But for the patient it breathes life.

I am wary of those who promise an instant cure, either medical or spiritual. They lose interest once they realise they can’t fix me. But for those who see my pain and hold it with me for a while, I am profoundly grateful. It makes more of a difference than you know.

***

All this makes me think larger than the realm of medicine – to the wider definition of pain and suffering in our world. Right now, racism and the evils of white supremacy is at the forefront of my mind, but this also applies to conflict, wars, abuse, suffering.

We desire that simple pattern:

Problem; prayer; God’s power; cured.

But our world is often messier than that.

So often as Christians we want to run in with a cure – for sick people, and the world at large – but we are called to the slower work of healing.

It takes discipline to put our own fears and discomfort aside as we listen to someone’s desperately difficult situation when we have no answers.

It takes courage to offer yourself as a supporter for the big issues facing our world today when you have no clear solution, only a conviction that you want to serve those in pain.

It feels silly to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t know much as you do about this, and I can’t offer you a cure. But I am here to support you and I stand with you as you go through this.”

But this is the call of the church – to hope for cure, but always to offer healing. We are to weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice – to enter into another’s experience, witness it, and dedicate it to God.

It feels puny, but perhaps it holds more power than we know.

Over to you:

  • What situations cause you to panic and want to run in with a cure?
  • When have you been on the receiving end of other people wanting to ‘cure’ you? Did it help or hinder? 
  • What difference does it make to redefine cure and healing in this way?

Photo credit: Gregory Tracy/The Boston Pilot Flickr Creative Commons License

Tanya Marlow
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Tanya Marlow

Writer at Thorns and Gold
Tanya Marlow was in Christian ministry for a decade and a lecturer in Biblical Theology. Then she got sick, and became a writer. She loves writing honestly about finding God in hard places at tanyamarlow.com. She also loves belting out songs without knowing the words. She is the author of Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty, using the biblical book of Ruth as a path back from disappointment, which you can download for FREE here.
Tanya Marlow
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