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.”