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.