Is 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. And 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. (James 5:14-15)
I have a cold. It’s just that time of year. It’s not a bad cold but I am congested and coughing and my chest and head hurts. With that in mind, I decided to look at some sermons about physical illness. Not quite as easy as I thought it would be, but I came across the following story:
In May 1983, the “Chicago Tribune” ran a story about a young father from North Manchester, Indiana. His name was David Gilmore. He told about the illness of his fifteen-month-old son, Dustin Graham Gilmore, that began in April 1978. At first his child came down with flu-like symptoms. The Gilmores took him to their church, and the pastor prayed for him. Members of that church believed that faith alone heals any disease and that to look elsewhere for help (for example, a medical doctor) demonstrates a lack of faith in God. Gilmore and his wife followed the church’s advice and simply prayed for their son. Over the next weeks they prayed faithfully as his temperature climbed, prayed when they noticed he no longer responded to sounds, and prayed harder when he went blind. On the morning of May 15, 1978, Dustin Graham Gilmore died. An autopsy revealed the infant died from a form of meningitis that could have been easily treated and cured.
Whenever I read about Christians that believe that the pure belief in God and his mercy can heal and that looking elsewhere for help shows a lack of faith, I am always saddened by the actual lack of faith people have in God. If you believe that God is the Creator of all things then he is also the guiding force behind modern medicine’s healing technologies. Furthermore, God expects us to be proactive in our faith. We cannot just sit back and wait for God to heal us, we must help God to heal us.
James says, “And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” This is one of the verses about healing that many interpret to mean that faith alone will heal what ails us, but this verse tells us to go to others to get help as well. You might ask about the “prayer of faith” as to what it means. Prayer is talking intimately with God and “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). It is mandatory that the person praying and the person being prayed for have a lively faith, but faith in itself does not heal, but it is God who does the healing. Our prayers are the beginning of the healing process; however, we must be proactive in the healing process. God waits for our prayers which are asked “….in the name of the Lord” (v. 14) before he steps in to take care of our requests. He answers our prayers according to His will. If we are not willing to get the help we need, then God will assist and guide our physicians.
The fact is prayer is an important tool, but it is not the only tool that can heal our ailing bodies. The idea that seeking help outside the church is a weakness of faith is merely an interpretation. I do not believe that the Bible is meant to be interpreted in only one way. When we see only one interpretation of the Bible we do not give enough credit to God, who is all things and all knowing. I believe that the Bible was written in a way to allow numerous interpretations. Just as prayer is personal, so is an individual’s reading of the Bible. The dogmatic beliefs in certain scriptures is one of the things that fragments Christianity and causes Christians to turn their backs on other Christians who do not follow their narrow interpretations.
God welcomes all of humanity. If the AIDS epidemic had broken out amongst homosexual men during the time of Jesus, he would have healed them as he healed so many others. Jesus healed men with leprosy, and I believe he would be in the heart of the Ebola epidemic. Jesus was the Great Physician and while he healed many who were sick, He no longer walks the earth as a man who is healing the sick and ministering to outcasts. Just because He no longer walks in a physical form among us, He is with us always among us. We can look to him in times of illness, but we should not depend on just our prayers to heal. We must be proactive in our faith, and proactive with our health.