Not Much of an Almighty God

Bible Belt Blogger (whose site I lost for a long time and recently discovered again) writes about a story told at Oral Roberts' Funeral:

Pentecostal televangelist Marilyn Hickey preached the sermon at Oral Roberts’ memorial service today. And she shared an insightful story about her faith and ministry, laughing while she told it....
She said the first time that she preached at an Assembly of God Church, she commanded a man in a wheelchair near the back of the sanctuary to stand up and walk. But the man didn’t budge. So she hollered at him again: Stand up and walk. But still he did not move. So a third time, she thundered: Stand up and walk. But still no movement.
About that time, the pastor of the church stepped to her side and whispered: “Mrs. Hickey, he’s not going to stand up and walk. He has no legs.”
Oh, the story brought laughter to Oral Roberts’ memorial service. And Hickey laughed along.
 BBB's Frank Lockwood's response was profound:
I didn’t laugh, however. I’ve seen too many self-proclaimed faith healers use desperately-ill people as props over the decades.  And if Hickey’s Almighty God is incapable of healing legless men, he isn’t much of an Almighty God.
I had two responses to this story:
  • When I posted this on facebook, a woman who identifies as deaf wondered why people believe that "healing only means having senses and limbs that function "normally"?" 
  • I remembered that last month a youth told me about a friend who is missing a limb, and was told by her pastor that she was made "wrong" on earth and she would be made "right" in heaven, if she got there.
There's a problem when power is translated into miraculous healing. When power is defined as miraculous, then one starts to wonder about the limits to such powers. And if one believes in an almighty powerful God, then nothing could logically be impossible healing-wise. It's a slippery slope that leads to disillusionment and abusive concepts of God.

In Kester Brewin's book Signs of Emergence, Brewin writes often about God changing the world through evolution not revolution.  Christ's victory would not come in a flash or militant Messianic mob, it would come slowly over time of changed hearts and minds.  A creeping light rather than a flashbang.  This isn't a claim against God's sovereignty but rather an understanding that power to God may mean something else altogether.

Even though good faithful people die everyday with us left wondering why and how, I can believe in an Almighty God who heals people.  Healing comes in many forms, physical and situational. But even if it is a physical healing, it is a slow process of forward/backward, good days/bad days, God working within our biologies and situations rather than dictating change.  Often our situations overcome us before we think God is done, or perhaps we don't see the healing until later.  In short, as my friend on facebook reminds us, healing may not mean a return to normalcy or "completeness" but may mean something else altogether.

Like Jesus in the desert, we are also tempted to believe in revolutionary change of miraculous healings.  We are tempted to abuse that belief by becoming healing preachers who turn loaves of bread into empires of money.  We are tempted to believe an Almighty God doesn't love us enough to send legions of angels to heal us.  We are tempted to look across the landscape of our world from the top of the temple and declare that we know what God's power is like.  We are tempted. 

May we resist the spectacle of healings and instead see healing all around us, in tiny sparks, that give light as we walk together the road that leads to life.

2 comments:

pblaauw December 28, 2009 at 10:03 PM  

His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

John 9:2-3

I was born with a hole in my spine, causing me to have no use of my right leg. I was also born with a condition called Hydrocephalus, which necessitated the implantation of a shunt at birth. This, compounded by the fact that I was born half a generation after my two brothers and I, led me to question 'what the *bleep* am I doing here, anyway?'

Then it dawned on me (before even reading the above passage): I know very few people with spina bifida (the aforementioned hole in my spine) who are older than me. If I'd been born chronologically closer to my two brothers, I might not have survived.

To top it off, from the ages of 13-26, I suffered from what I'm pretty sure was clinical depression, although it was never *clinically* diagnosed. It's my personal belief (and I speak only from personal experience. I have NO authority to speak for others, of course.) that the state of being suicidal is a lot like alcoholism: you never stop being suicidal, you just count the days since you last thought of it. It's been so long since I seriously thought about it that I've lost track.

It wasn't until about 3 weeks after I started going to church again - I accepted Christ when I was 8-ish, but left the church because hanging out with my dad at the flea market on Sunday morning was more fun - that I was able to break out of that depressive state.

God bless you, Jeremy.

Rev. Jeremy Smith December 29, 2009 at 9:14 AM  

Wow, pblaauw. Thanks for sharing a bit of your life with us. I particularly like your insight into the state of being suicidal...I know several people who would agree with your assessment.

Do you have any specific reactions to televangelist faith healers?

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