[Faith ‘n’ Begorrah, Part 2]
When I wrote previously about the faith healer who came to our town in March, I promised to follow-up with a post on the theology of faith healing. What was I thinking??? Certainly I have not figured out “how it works,” at least from my perspective.
I need to say up front that I tend to be a cessationist. This is the name given to those who believe that the Sign gifts of the New Testament (tongues, miracles, healing, prophecy) ceased after the completion of the canon, the Scriptures. Therefore, theologically I am outside the Pentecostal or charismatic camp.
However, as in so many things, there are degrees of cessationist. For example, Harold Camping of Family Radio believes that all charismatics and Pentecostals are deceived by Satan and not saved at all! Happily, he represents the farthest extreme of cessationism and few share his viewpoint (however, his influence through his radio stations is frightening).
Some would accuse cessationists of not believing that God answers prayer, but that is a misrepresentation of the viewpoint. I, for one, believe that God still heals and performs miracles today, but that he does so in answer to prayer and not through the power of a gift transmitted through a specific person.
Unlike many cessationists, I have come to believe that God may still speak to unbelievers through dreams and visions to draw them to Jesus Christ. Admittedly this is based more on experience than on systematic theology (although Joel 2.28-29 certainly talks about dreams and visions in the End Times). It seems as though God will speak to a person through a dream who does not have access to the Word of God. The testimonies of those who have experienced this is usually of seeing Jesus and being told to seek out and believe the Bible. This is how many Muslims come to Christ.
When I wrote previously [see http://jenniferabowers.blogspot.com/2010/03/faith-n-begorrah.html], I talked about the West African acceptance of the supernatural as a normal part of everyday life. Therefore in the churches it is quite natural to accept that God still works miracles today. Believers, even pastors, are not theologically sophisticated for the most part, to question whether this should happen through the agency of a person. If God has anointed someone to do such a work, why not? When some of my Christian lady friends were telling me about what they saw in the meetings, my face must have expressed some skepticism because one of them said, “Jeneba (my Malian name), what do you think of all this?”
Oh, my. Did I want to really get into this with them? I finally answered them honestly. The women I was talking to were pastors’ wives. Two of them have chronic illnesses for which they have prayed for relief for many years. One has a handicapped child they have prayed for God to heal for over a decade. So I said, “I’m not saying God doesn’t heal through Pastor Michel. I really don’t know. But I look at you, devout Christians married to servants of God. For many years you have prayed for healing while serving him faithfully. Now, if Michel came along and God healed you through his intercession, I would have to ask myself, Why? What was wrong with your prayers?” They nodded and acknowledged the sense of what I said.
Then one of them told us a story: “I went to my mother’s village recently to help with the harvest. The first evening when I was settling in, someone said, ‘There’s a mat over there and water, so you can do your salat (ritual Muslim prayers). I told them, ‘Oh, I don’t do salat. I’m a Christian.’ The response was immediate and surprising. ‘Really?’ they said, ‘Tell us what that means! We don’t know what a Christian is and we want to know.’ It seems that a sick woman from a nearby village had traveled to see Pastor Michel, and returned healed. All they knew was that Michel was a Christian and healed with the power of Jesus, but they didn’t know who Jesus was. Word got around that there was a Christian woman in the village and several evenings after work in the fields was done, they gathered round to ask me all about Christianity. Once or twice they kept me up until 3am!
‘Then they told me about a crazy woman in the village. She hardly ever slept. She would get up in the middle of the night and wander off in the bush. So her people were exhausted, either from searching for her out in the bush, or from sitting up late to make sure she didn’t wander off. They asked me, ‘What can be done?’ so I told them, ‘I don’t claim to be a healer like Pastor Michel, but I can pray in the same name as he does, in the strong name of Jesus.’ So I did. She had been put to bed, so I stood in her doorway and prayed for her. When I got up in the morning I went to the latrine to wash, and I could hear people outside saying, ‘Where’s that Christian woman?’ I came out and said, ‘Here I am.’ They said, ‘Look, the crazy one, she’s still asleep! She hasn’t slept through the night in ages!’ It got to be 9am and they said, ‘She’s still sleeping!’ I told them she was probably exhausted from not sleeping for so long, so they should let her be, and she slept until noon. Now they want someone to come to their village to preach the Gospel.”
Praise the Lord! If Pastor Michel’s ministry made people curious about Jesus Christ, then it is properly bringing glory to God. However, not everyone perceives that what he does is in the power of Jesus. He proclaims it clearly, but in the excitement of what is taking place, some people miss that and just focus on him and the events.
I was in a store the week after the crusade and the clerk said to me, “I believe in Michel. You do, too, don’t you? My back was hurting when I went there and now it feels better.” I was quite uncomfortable with the terminology “believe in Michel” and was caught off guard, so my response was not very clear. Knowing that we leave soon for four months, I wanted to go back and leave him with a tract or something. So on Saturday I gave him a Gospel of John. I said, “You told me you believe in Michel. Well, all that he did was in the name of Jesus, and this will tell you about Jesus.” His response surprised me; he had not gotten the Christian connection at all! He said, “Michel did all that in the power of Jesus? He was a Christian?” I assured him that was the case, and he said, “Well, then Jesus must be pretty powerful! I’m definitely going to read this.”
Then he asked a hard question, “Well, if Michel believes in Jesus, and you believe in Jesus, why can’t you pray for people and they get healed?” Gulp. Good question. I replied, “I do pray for people to be healed. Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. But sometimes God gives someone a special gift like that to bring glory to himself. He wants Jesus to be glorified, so he gives someone like Michel the power to heal in his name. It’s all about Jesus.”
So, maybe that’s my theology of faith healing! Like many people, I still confess a certain skepticism about the healing of potentially psychosomatic illnesses (like this guy’s back, in fact). But if Jesus is lifted up and it draws some to him, I can live with my doubts.