The Day I Went to a Faith Healer

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I was fifteen, and I remember that the auditorium was huge, and we were up in the balcony. From that height the speaker looked tiny, but his voice was huge and blaring, and each word was shouted. Already there was something in my spirit that didn’t feel right, but when I looked at the friends who had taken me, they just smiled. I decided I would try to keep an open mind. 
 
His talk consisted of stories of incurable cancers that had disappeared when he rebuked the illness, legs that had grown at his touch. Everyone applauded after each story he told. Finally, he opened the Bible and preached from Luke 6:38, “give, and it will be given to you.” 
 
“There are seven adjectives in this verse,” he boomed. “Seven! That means, whatever you give to this ministry it will be given to you seven times over. You can’t lose!” 
 
Even as a fifteen-year-old I knew that’s not how God worked. The most generous givers I knew were not particularly rich. You give because it is good to give, and there was absolutely nothing in that verse that guaranteed a sevenfold-return on a donation to what now seemed like a particularly dodgy faith healer. But it was the next thing he said that enraged me. 
 
“Who is it that needs healing? Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s a loved one. Whoever it is, write their name on the envelope, and then consider carefully how much you want to give. Give generously. Remember—the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Then we will begin the healing.” 
 
I’m sure my eyebrows shot up involuntarily. Claiming to be a man of God, he had implied that you can buy healing. The manipulation was so transparent, so calculated; I wanted to walk out there and then, and turned to my friend to suggest we did just that. 
 
She was emptying her purse into the envelope, tears falling down her cheeks. On her envelope she wrote, “Mum.”
 
***
 
At the end of the meeting, the man gathered three people in wheelchairs to the front, shouted at them, and they got out of their wheelchairs and danced on stage. The crowd clapped in a frenzy, but by this point I was questioning everything. In a crowd this big, who’s to say they were genuine? The man gathered all the envelopes into a huge pot, waved his hands over them, then shark-grinned and proclaimed that healing was there to be claimed and believed.
 
My friend walked out elated, and I didn’t know what to say to her. He claimed to heal, but what he really sold was hope. 
 
***
 
I may have been fifteen at the time, but I knew that you couldn’t put money in an envelope and buy your healing. I couldn’t understand why my friend would believe it. Now, after almost a decade after being diagnosed with a debilitating illness, my mobility limited to a few metres, needing to be in bed 21 hours a day, I understand my friend a little better. Sickness is really, really hard, and as the years go by and the prognosis gets worse, people will do almost anything if they are promised healing at the end of it. 
 
***
 
We think we can buy healing. People of faith do it with earnest prayer; others of us do it with private doctors or alternative healers, fitness regimes and juicing. Of course, sometimes, for some people, it works, and their stories persuade us that it will work for all. Whether by prayer or our own efforts, we want to believe healing is within our control. 
 
But we can’t buy healing, at least not from God.
Can God heal miraculously? Yes.
 
Does he always? No.
 
Does he often? No. (That’s why they’re called miracles, not “everyday”>)  
 
Is this something we can control—by our devotion, our faith, our money? No.
If it were something we could control, it would not be a miracle but a transaction. It turns God into a corrupt salesman who can be bribed. 
 
***
 
Healing miracles happen today: I know this from personal experience. God miraculously healed me from a brain haemorrhage as a baby in answer to my parents’ frantic prayers. Equally, devout people cry out to God for years for healing and their prayers go unanswered. This, too, I know from personal experience. 
 
It would be okay if it were consistent. If prayer for healing either always worked or never worked, we would be happy because we would understand it. We can deal with rules, but miraculous healing is an anomaly and we don’t know what to do with it. We want to know the secret of the miracle, to turn it into a formula so we can possess it. If I just repent enough, pray enough, diet enough, exercise enough, empty my purse into an envelope, then I will get better. 
 
We cannot talk about miraculous healing without acknowledging the cloak of mystery around it. God is not a slick and sharp faith-healer who promises you health if only you give enough. God is bigger, purer, than that.
 
As a child, I knew that God was big because He had the power to heal me when nothing else could. As an adult, I know God is big because He has the power to heal me and yet He doesn’t. I want to understand it, but I don’t. The best I can come up with is there are things I don’t know about God, because He is God, and I am me. After all these years, I’m still learning the Sunday School lesson I thought I already knew at the age of fifteen, “My God is so big.” 
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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  • This is where God works. In words like yours that are written out of love and the real movement of God’s spirit. That picture of your friend filling the envelope was heartbreaking but a testament to our desperation and misplaced hope. Such a powerful story, Tanya.

    • Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words, Amanda! I really appreciate them.

  • Caiobhe

    Maybe that’s why healing doesn’t always happen, because we would then believe it to be transactional ? It would certainly be a temptation to think we could understand it in that way. ‘God is bigger, purer than that.’ Tanya I’m sitting in the unknown, the awkward space of not healed, and not understanding the whole conundrum of miraculous healing or not, with you. I’m glad you wrote about it. Because it is the everyday, and we need to recognise and become comfortable with that .

    • Yes – healing as transactional. That’s a good phrase. Thanks for sitting with me in this awkward space of not being healed – I always appreciate your company in the difficult things.

  • Mark Allman

    I have struggled with prayer in the sense that I am tempted to think that if I make my request the right way; if I say the right words, if I approach God correctly, if I am worthy then my prayers will be answered. I force myself to know that this is not the way I need to think about my requests. I would be so pissed at God if I got to heaven and He told me I just did not ask the right way or say the right things because I don’t really want my prayers answers to hinge on that trivial stuff. Really what do I have to trade for answered prayer?? I don’t want to trade anyway. I want to do things in my life because they are the right thing to do not because I hope that God will look at me and say Mark’s one up on me so I got to send a big blessing his way. It is difficult to not want to have a sure fire way to buy what I want through gifts or services but really I want to trust that God is bigger than my imagination and trust that his decisions are so pure that I need to accept them as such and be thankful even when I’m left struggling.

    We all want hope. We all need hope. The hope that I hope I can get to and the hope I hope the ones I love can get to is one that even when their requests are met with silence that their hope remains. The hope that all is as it should be and that what I am left with is a blessing and I need to make the most of it.

    I also know I don’t really know what a miracle is in this life….. is a miracle that my prayer gets answered as I requested or is the miracle that God gives me grace to live without an answer.

    • This is such a great comment. You articulate so well what so many feel – that if God doesn’t answer our prayers, it’s because of the prayers or the pray-er rather than God himself. There is so much uncomfortable mystery here, and it’s really good to see it wrestled out in your words.

      Also, for what it’s worth, I always think of you as a person of hope, Mark.

  • Rebecka

    “God is bigger, purer, than that.” Amen. As much as I, if I’m honest, wish I could control God and somehow make Him heal me, and you, I’m glad He is bigger and purer than that.
    Thank you, Tanya, this was beautiful. x

    • I really get the weight of your words as I read them, lovely Rebecka.

  • Amazing and wise words. Thank you for taking God out of the box and trumpeting His absolute sovereignty. I don’t like the fact that I don’t always understand His ways, but I certainly don’t want a God that I can buy favors from!

    • Thank you so much, Michele! I really appreciate it. We do so often put God in a small box.

  • adrian tremblay

    For me it comes down to Isaiah 55:8,9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
    Aren’t we glad of that! I had an experience that showed me this so clearly. My grandmother was 90 years old living in a nursing facility, bedridden for a number of years. She loved and served the Lord for decades. I would ask the Lord,” Why don’t you take her home, she has suffered for so long” God’s timing is perfect. At her memorial service the pastor explained salvation
    and gave a simple invitation. That day he gave my husband ears to hear and eyes to see for the very first time….. I am sure my grandmother would say the suffering was all worth it.
    .

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