Part VII of our series on Healing and Comforting
We talked in the last post about whether healing is a spiritual gift, reserved for only a few Christians, or a Work of Mercy to which all are called. I place it in the latter category not least because Jesus commands all his disciples (not just a few) to heal the sick in Matthew 10:8.
Wherever you land on that debate, however, I think we can all agree that healing should never to be practiced as mysterious magic. No incantations, spells, potions, dances, amulets, or wild-eyed crazy healer types.
For the Christian, healing is always about simple trust in God and heartfelt petition rooted in the knowledge that God wants to heal. He created human beings to host him, not sin, illness, or death. So check out the simplicity of James’ instructions (in 5:13-16) on how we’re supposed to heal. The script is really simple, memorizable even:
13Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him,anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16Therefore,confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:13-16)
Think about how simple, trusting, and God-focused this is; especially in contrast to other religions where healing is pretty complicated! Iowa State University Religious Studies Professor Hector Avalos offers this typical example, from the religion of ancient Assyria for the cure of malaria. In order to perform the healing ritual, a person needed:
- a figurine of the daughter of Anu (the primary sky god)
- a figurine of Namtar (a minor god of the underworld)
- a figurine of Latarak (a little-known figure)
- a figurine of Death
- a substitute figurine made of clay
- a substitute figurine made of wax
- 15 drinking tubes of silver for Gula (goddess of healing) and Bēletsēri (mistress of the desert)
- 7 twigs of tamarisk
- 7 bottles of wine
- 7 bottles of beer
- 7 bottles of milk
- 7 bottles of honey
The figurines of the deities, which were probably assembled in the presence of the patient or in some sacred area, represent the supernatural beings that needed to be appeased. The foods were probably intended as offerings to gain the favor of these deities. Prayers to the deities were probably combined with medical treatments applied to the patient, and the entire ritual might have lasted hours or even been spread over a few days.
What’s the message in that kind of religion? “The healer is very mysterious and powerful; we’d best pay him a lot of money. And the personal effort to overcome illness is significant and depends heavily upon our actions.”
That’s fundamentally different than in Christianity, where the message is, “God is very, very good. He heals when the church (represented by the elders) come together to pray for the sick person and anoint him or her with oil.” And in Matthew 10:8, Jesus directs us explicitly not to charge for that house call: “Freely you have received,” he says, “freely give.” Note how healing is mirroring into the world what we first received from him.
So the direction the Apostle James gives is simple. But in this case, simple does not mean shallow—far from it! In fact, James shares something in that Scripture passage that has been, at best, forgotten by modern Christians and, at worst, badly mangled. Take a look at 5:16:
16Therefore,confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
Here’s the wrong way to read that verse (i.e., how Christians mangle it if they remember it at all these days): “You are sick because you sinned.”
Want to know the right way? I guess you’ll have to tune in to the next post!
In the meantime, share your thoughts on the right way to read this verse.