Feeble Knees

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Sick Happens

It struck me yesterday morning how much differently my perspective on the whole diabetes situation could have been if I was still in my old church. I can almost picture it now.

I would naturally mention my results to my friend, (that is, if we were still speaking). She would have taken the initiative to drag me up to the altar the very next Sunday to be anointed with oil and prayed over by the pastors and elders. And oh, what a prayer they would pray! They would pray their hardest, beseeching God to heal me and protect my unborn child as other congregants would, one by one, make their way over and stand behind me, hands outstretched towards my back. I'd probably cry, not for any particularly spiritual reason, but because such episodes tend to wind me up emotionally. This would be misunderstood by those around me, and people would assume I was fearful, or devastated, or desperate for God's intervention. So they would try their darndest to pray harder until something miraculous happened then or there, or I stop crying, whichever came first.

Eventually the pastors would wind down and move on to pray for the next person, but there'd be a bunch of lingerers who would remain with their hands all over my back and head, trying to wait an appropriate amount of time before disengaging themselves. I'd sit there and wait until they were all gone, so I could get up and turn around and not be faced with all these people so packed in around me. When the coast finally cleared, I'd high-tail it out of there back to my pew.

Each Sunday thereafter, people would inquire after my health. If I had not been miraculously healed of diabetes, they would seek to drag me back up to the altar again for more prayer and anointing. Depending on where I was emotionally and spiritually, I'd either wonder why God wasn't healing me, or I'd start looking for places to hide.

That's probably how it would have been, if I was still going there. People would want me to be healed, and they would care what happened to me. And that's nice, really. But...

I always had this deep down feeling that my church really couldn't handle sickness. I'm talking about serious, chronic conditions that aren't curable or easily treated. There was almost an irrational fear of it - not that serious illness isn't something to fear and dread, I don't mean that. But if you live long enough in the world, you know it happens. It happens to people you know, people you love. It happens to you yourself maybe, at some point. And while I do believe God does and can still heal people, miraculously or otherwise, I know from personal experiences that sometimes He doesn't. But my old church didn't seem capable of accepting that, much less coping with it.

Illness and death is part of this life we live. And while Lazarus was raised up and out of his tomb, the man must have died again at some point, because he's no longer walking among us today to tell the tale himself. We forget that part. So when a person gets sick, we're all about trying to move heaven and earth to pray them back into good and perfect health. I can't help but wonder if sometimes we do the person a disservice when we do that - not by praying for them, per se, but carrying on as if God must prove his Sovereignty by healing that person, right now.

I lost a friend, some years ago to a very rare and fatal disease. It was idiopathic, meaning there was no way to determine what caused it. The only treatment that could potentially save her was a bone marrow transplant. She lived through two failed transplants, but died a few months later. During the time from her initial diagnosis to her eventual death, people prayed up a storm. Special evangelists were brought to pray for her. One dastardly charlatan even claimed that she was healed, after he had prayed for her. (Boy would I love to find that guy and give him a piece of my mind today.) But her condition worsened. She weakened. She wondered why, if so many people, including her pastors, were praying, why wasn't God answering? Why was He letting her die?

Everyone got so hyped up about keeping her from dying, no one went about the business of helping her live out the time she had remaining. Instead of bolstering her faith, our frantic prayers for healing shook her faith. No one would come out and speak frankly with her about the very real possibility that she may die. So in addition to feeling all the pain and terrible side effects of her treatment, she had to struggle with the burden of an entire congregation's fears and expectations. Somehow, if she didn't get well, if God didn't heal her, maybe it was her fault. Maybe it was some secret sin she was being punished for. The burden was too much for a well person to bear, never mind someone clinging to life and small shreds of faith that God still loved her. Had it not been for the grace and intervention of God, we would have wrecked her faith.

It was during those days and the days following her death I learned that there is an ugly, destructive thing that may look and sound like faith, but in reality acts like fear. And it can be pretty hard to discern "impostor" faith from the genuine article. The real thing knows that even if the worst should come, God is good and faithful, in every circumstance. It doesn't pretend to be able to explain why, or how it can be so sure, it just knows this and rests in full trust, regardless of the circumstances.

A faith that is shaken by circumstances that don't go our way is no faith at all. It is and always will be just wishful thinking. It is worse than a leg gone out of joint in the midst of a long hard race. It will not serve us through difficult times, times of loss or struggle. It is worse and potentially more damaging than frank and honest doubt....
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