Divine Healing

There have been a couple of articles in the Newsletter on Divine healing recently and I thought this might be an interesting time to look at a particular part of our religious sub culture.

The services in question have involved the Pastor Brian Madden of Tiger’s Bay Elim Pentacostal Church and a Bobby Sullivan from Canada who has also been at the church where a number of people report miraculous healing.

Many traditional Christians (including fairly fundamentalist types like myself) become very uncomfortable when this issue is mentioned. It tends to summon up images of people making claims of the ability to heal / having been healed, though it is worth noting that Mr. Sullivan seems very keen to ascribe credit to God and not to himself. Of course sceptics and atheists will dismiss such things but for Christians (especially fundamentalists) to do so seems odd: after all if one believes in the literal truth of the bible there are multiple episodes of people being healed and indeed raised from the dead by our Lord but also by assorted other persons in both the Old and New Testament.

A current Presbyterian minister who has been involved in Divine healing Rev. Stephen Williamson has also counselled caution over one recent claim of a man coming back from the dead and others have also warned of “possible deception.”

The Presbyterian Church has had a Divine Healing Committee (Presbyterians have committees for everything) and for many years its convener was one of our local ministers. I remember him talking about this issue and being very insistent that he had seen people healed but being even more insistent that he had no healing “gifts.” He would pray for people and indeed was willing to place his hands on them if they requested it but always denied any “gift” or power and, rightly or wrongly, studiously avoided publicity. The Reformed Presbyterian Church takes what is technically called a “dispensationalist” position and believes that gifts such as healing have ceased basing this on this passage from 1st Corinthians 13 v. 8 “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” The Independent Methodists have a relatively similar line to the Presbyterians. I am uncertain regarding the Roman Catholic position on these issues but it appears not vastly different to that of the mainstream Protestant denominations. I believe that at Lourdes for example there is always a doctor present in an attempt to establish the veracity of any episodes of miraculous healing. Most of the mainstream churches are extremely cautious about anyone saying that they have been given any healing gifts.

As well as the problem of deception noted above there is also the problem that some illnesses are self limiting and may get better themselves after a time: these include things like ME, other diseases are inherently episodic in their nature like epilepsy and yet others are what is technically called “remitting / relapsing.” In all these cases an improvement, which was ascribed to miraculous means, could actually be simply part of the natural progression of the illness. Even a small number of cancers and some forms of heart disease do occasionally show spontaneous remission. Equally, however, believers would argue that these cases are examples of Divine Healing; in addition there are a number of cases which medical science has been unable to explain. To Christians this is seen as an example of Divine Healing whilst to atheists it would simply be a phenomenon which has not yet, but may well one day be found to have a rational explanation. I suppose it is really a matter of belief.

  • Pete Baker

    “I suppose it is really a matter of belief.”

    No Turgon.

    It’s a matter of verifiable evidence.

    Didn’t the Pastor offer to resurrect a corpse in a Belfast mortuary?

    File under the Un-Enlightenment.

  • Pete Baker

    See Will Crawley’s coverage of this story last week.

  • joeCanuck

    This particular irrationality persists in a non-religious sphere. Healing hands or some such name. No touching at all at all. I prefer the hands on Swedish massage which I indulge in every fortnight. Marvellous.

  • Rory

    I have in the past related my own personal experiences under the tender and caring – and, I assure you, deeply spiritual – ministrations of the delightful Mlles Fifi and Trixibelle (“Masseuses to the Discerning Older Gentleman” is their watchword).

    Cetainly their “laying on of hands” has brought this old boy back to life on more than a few occasions. Need I say more?

    Which reminds me – I am booked in tomorrow. Hallelujah!

  • TAFKABO

    Stephen Williamson has also counselled caution over one recent claim of a man coming back from the dead

    Nice to see that they’re finally beginning to realise the Easter story is a myth.

    Move along, nothing to see here.

  • I reported on the healing services for Sunday Sequence. This link should take you to the broadcast report.

    http://malachi.podcastpeople.com/posts/24908

  • TAFKABO

    fascinating link Malachi. Out of interest did you do any research into studies of so called miraculous healing claims before you went along to the service, or were you more interested in going in blind (pun intended)?
    What intrigues me about the whole phenomena is that an abundance of evidence disproving these so called miracles is out there for anyone willing to search for it, but no one does.
    Your question at the end regarding placebo effects was a valid one, unfortunately we didn’t get to hear Brian Madden being challenged on his rather weak argument that it couldn’t be a placebo effect because it lasted for weeks.

  • Sam Flanagan

    The current round of modern day Montantism stems from a number of local, gullible, “pastors” visiting Lakeland Florida.

    They then came under the spell of Mystic-Hypnotic Fraud Bentley. Anyone can google “Todd Bentley Northern Ireland youtube” and see the whole deception.

    By the way, it is always unbelievers who fall backwards in the Bible. True believers fall face down when the presence of God was manifest.

  • ben

    Stupid, gullible people easily believe ridiculous lies. If you believe in water turning into wine and Jebus coming back from the dead, then you’re an easy mark for related nonsense.

  • McGrath

    What intrigues me about the whole phenomena is that an abundance of evidence disproving these so called miracles is out there for anyone willing to search for it, but no one does.

    Posted by TAFKABO on Jul 01, 2008 @ 12:32 AM

    Because there is no benefit to it! No one wants to waste their time explaining reality to a bunch of nutters who will automatically write off a reasoned argument?

  • McGrath

    Bullshit is a hot commodity!

  • Rory

    If there is any credence to be had in all this “healing” and “resurrecting” business then we might consider it as an alternative comfort to any form of “Truth and Justice” commission.

    After all if, instead of attempting to heal the psychic wounds of grievous pain, we could have some fellows actually heal the broken and wounded and rise up the dead of the last 40 years then we would all be well fit to have another go.

    Just think of it – delusion of choice – God almost as flexible as SKY TV. Now that really impresses.

  • McGrath

    BS doesn’t get any deeper than this!

    The sad aspect is the only thing scared, insecure and desperate people will be relieved off is their money!

    Getting back to what TAFKABO may have been getting at, when BS turns into fraud maybe there should be some judicial oversight!

  • willowfield

    Why do so many people insist on referring to “the Newsletter”? It is “News Letter”: two words.

  • TAFKABO

    I didn’t do any real research before going there, but I had been to many similar events in the past, Medjugorje and related groups, too. In fact, the priest I went to Medjugorje with is now the famous Gery McGinnity, famed for walking out of nursing homes with millions of pounds of donations for the House of Prayer in Achill.
    I discovered that once you start looking for stories about miraculous healings and visitations of the BVM etc there is an embarrassment of riches out there.

    The striking thing about the Elim services is the scale and energy, and the numbers of people falling over and twitching on the floor.

    It’s mass hysteria of course but is it not also the sort of tribe bonding religious enthusiasm defined by Durkheim as the origins of religious cultural evolution? It is not stupidity that draws people into this, it is the real high of chant, rhythm, oratory and abandon. After four hours of this I was pretty much floating myself. That said, I didn’t feel remotely tempted to ask anyone to pray for my repetitive strain lumps.

    http://malachi.podcastpeople.com/posts/24908

  • Comrade Stalin

    I suspect the reason why the mainstream religions try to play this down a little more is because they realize that making direct and falsifiable claims about healing threaten to undermine what religion is surely supposed to be about – which is faith; not waiting for God to manifest his presence in some way ?

    Catholics go for this as well and you hear a lot about it coming from South America.

    The leaps required to actually believe this stuff are really astonishing. The idea that some people believe that God took time out from the universe to reach out and intervene in the life of one person, whilst injustice, war, famine and death rage on elsewhere on the planet, seems so fantastic that you really need to wonder if some people have their head screwed on properly.

  • Dave

    True, Stalin, but then again people must be crazy to want to stick their tongue in another animal’s bacteria-infested mouth, but some lips are just to die for. Love shows that we are not rational beings, so accept a little madness as being an intrinsic part of the natural order. 😉

  • Paul Paynter

    Sam Flanagan,

    How would you fee if a revolutionary type person, who was also the son of a carpenter from a very obscure unlikeable place, came into your community and mixed spit and dirt then put it on a blind persons eyes?

  • Greenflag

    ‘I suppose it is really a matter of belief.’

    No it ‘s not . It’s just another case of the ‘heaven magicians ‘ pulling the wool over the eyes of the weak and gullible . The fact that people are sometimes ‘cured’ could be for any number of reasons . Send Pastor Sullivans or Madden to a hospital to ‘lay hands ‘ on a patient suffering from ‘necrotising fasciitis’.

    This Sullivan and Madden combo will sooner or later turn out to be just another pair of con artists . And a lot of poor sods will be the lighter in pocket as a result of their ministrations .

    comrade stalin ,

    ‘ The idea that some people believe that God took time out from the universe to reach out and intervene in the life of one person, whilst injustice, war, famine and death rage on elsewhere on the planet, seems so fantastic that you really need to wonder if some people have their head screwed on properly.’

    Alas CS the heads are screwed on properly it’s just the internal thinking mechanism contained within is screwed up ‘

    In the middle ages they sold heavenly seats via the indulgence mechanism . And now it’s miracle ‘cures’ by dancing ministers .

    Who said humanity doesn’t progress 🙁

  • Dev

    It’s mass hysteria of course but is it not also the sort of tribe bonding religious enthusiasm defined by Durkheim as the origins of religious cultural evolution? It is not stupidity that draws people into this, it is the real high of chant, rhythm, oratory and abandon.

    Posted by malachi on Jul 01, 2008 @ 09:06 AM

    Good point, well put. I’m a firm and committed athiest but I think sometimes we non-believers can get too caught up in what we percieve as silly rituals & fairly tales & this inhibits the ability to understand why so many people across the world place so much importance on religion. Perhaps some athiests genuinely couldn’t care less why people feel they need the rituals & tribal bonding which accompany religious belief but I personally find it facinating.

  • Moochin Photoman

    Anyone see My Name is Earl last week (thurs) when Earl was “healed” by Gods Little Finger.

  • Greenflag

    ‘the ability to understand why so many people across the world place so much importance on religion.’

    We know why . It’s because they are ‘brain washed ‘ at an early age and never become educated enough or ‘free ‘ enough to question the assumption ‘ on which ‘religions ‘ are based . The tribal bonding and social rituals are all added extras of course.

    ‘ but I personally find it facinating.’

    Fascinating too were the Nuremberg rallies as was also the Spanish Inquisition . Stalin’s show trials were equally fascinating .

    Never doubt the ability of some political /religious leaders to mesmerise an entire population into acting on certifiably insane belief or ideology aided and abetted by fear mixed in with large dollops of ignorance and greed.

    Lower down the food chain you have of course the the Lakeland Florida Freaks and associated international partenrs (for extra credibility -see folks it’s not just stupid Americans who get cured ‘) (of their dollars 🙁 . The world of the ‘unenlightenment’ come again. Next stop the crystal shop and the astrology section in the bookstore and the mind wasting new age shite of believing the next elixir of eternal salvation road show in town !

    Anybody know when the next Comet is due ?

  • Dublin voter

    “I am uncertain regarding the Roman Catholic position on these issues but it appears not vastly different to that of the mainstream Protestant denominations.”

    First – great post, Turgon.

    On the RC position. I’d agree that at the official church level, it’s probably not that different from the mainstream Protestant denominations. But the fascinating thing about this sort of stuff is that it’s a kind of underground within the churches. At official RC church level there’s a kind of dualist approach – scepticism of phenomena which start from the ground up, but also official sponsorship of other things which might also come from the ground up e.g. the digging up of Padre Pio’s body for veneration (sorry, Boom, Boom). From my observing of Roman Catholics in Ireland (I’m one, ethnically anyway, but really a bit of a relativist which wouldn’t pass muster with the current Pope), it’s amazing what otherwise perfectly sane people will believe – about healing, power of prayer and so on.
    One obvious difference with the RCs would be the beliefs attached to the Virgin, icons, relics, moving statues – a lot of which as I understand it, most Protestants would dismiss as superstition.

  • I once wrote an article on how Protestants and catholics do the miraculous differently.

    Protestants, for instance, don’t have visions, because they wouldn’t trust them theologically – but they have speaking in tongues and quickenings of the spirit.

    Both have healings, and Catholics are now going in for the touching and falling over thing, though most of their healings seem to be at Marian sites or miracles prayed for. Some people in Newry have recently been healed by a bone from the corpse of Edmund Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers – making up for all the grief he brought into the world, perhaps.

    Catholics have the BVM and saints for most of their healings,Protestants have Jesus, which at least goes by the book.
    God the Father was more into plagues and making people break out in boils.

  • Sam Flanagan

    Malachi, it would be quite amusing to see a group of “Republicans” attend one of the ongoing Montanist meetings.

    Can you imagine the fevered reactions during the “Word of Knowledge” portion of the get together. “The Lord is speaking,he has told me there is someone here with a stomach tumour, there is someone here with a pain in the back, there is someone here who has had severe neck pains for 3 months, there is someone here who is working for MI5, he is going to receive a pain in the back of the head!” Glory, Glory, get the Glory.

    With reference to you previous post regarding the article you wrote about how Catholics and Protestant do miracles differently, you may find it more useful to write an article upon;
    2Th 2:11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:

    You could major upon what the term “strong delusion” means. A pretty easy task for man of your undoubted ability.

    I hear another Republican is about to be outed? any truth in it?
    Was he at the theatre on the Whitrock Rd when the Mitchell play about “loyalist” drugdealers was performed? You did have a little chat with Danny Morrison during the interval perhaps he may know?

  • Dave

    Atheists, like all parents, think that their child is the most precious thing in the world. Is that faith based on a comparative assessment of their child compared to all other children, objects and concepts in the world or is it merely an irrational belief derived from genetically programmed value/belief system? Would atheists kindly please stop the nauseating deceit that they are rational human beingswhen they are compelled by the same irrational human dynamics as theists. Thanks.

  • Dave

    By the way, there is at least a rational basis for the new breed of women who refuse to have babies because they are environmentally-unfriendly. Oddly enough, that rationality doesn’t compel them to commit suicide.

  • TAFKABO

    Atheists, like all parents, think that their child is the most precious thing in the world.

    Aye, and they’re right as well, what’s your point Dave?
    Since when is the instinct to protect one’s offspring based upon faith?
    I don’t think the words you’re using mean what you think they mean.