Lecture 11

Toward a "Living Tradition" regarding
Divine Healing

Last week had us looking at Simpson's understanding of divine healing. This week our focus will move to the usefulness of these early insights in developing a living tradition. Again this lecture will not propose an Alliance approach to healing that can enter the 21st century as a "living tradition." However, we will look at some issues which need our consideration and make at least some suggestions as to how we could move ahead. With your readings, your group discussions, and these lectures, you have the resources with which to propose your own approach to divine healing. This is what I will look forward to reading in your Position Papers on Wednesday. Your comments on Thursday and Friday should interact with what your colleagues say, picking up good insights and pushing them to consider further where that might help. If we have a really good week maybe by Friday or Saturday we will have some solid proposals for a "living tradition" regarding an Alliance understanding of divine healing.

Before we assess the present context, let's take another look at Simpson and see what we can bring forward from his reflections and what we need to leave behind.

Assessing Simpson in historical context

From what I have read in your group discussion responses, we are all convinced that the idea that healing is in the atonement is sound but that some of the implications Simpson drew from this idea may be questionable. The key to locating a living tradition is finding contemporary ways in which a belief in healing in the atonement can and should be lived out. For instance, it doesn't seem to follow that, if healing is in the atonement, any acceptance of medical intervention is a denial of faith. This was clearly Simpson's view.

It is probably important to remember that Simpson was living in an era before antibiotics and before antiseptic surgery. During his life, medical treatment had about as much chance of curing you as killing you. Hospitals were not places people went to get better but were places poor people went to die. If you didn't die of whatever took you to the hospital, chances were you would die of something you picked up there. Medicines tended to be overkill (opium and cocaine being particular favourites) or "snake oil." Simpson's suspicion of medical treatment needs to be seen against this background. In the late nineteenth century they were convinced they were making major medical advances but by our standards available treatments were very primitive and quite dangerous. When Simpson cautions against going back to medicine after trusting in Christ for healing, he seems to be stretching to make a theological point.

Medical treatment does not appear to have the same effect upon those who have learned the better way and given up the good for the perfect gift. Even drugs have a doubly deleterious influence upon a body that has been cleansed and purified by the life of the Lord Jesus.

There may be no theological foundation for this point but there was probably lots of anecdotal evidence of people who took medicine and actually were worse off that before.

Simpson's rejection of medical "means" may in part be attributable to the historical conditions he lived in but it certainly goes much deeper than that. He shared with many in the late nineteenth and even into the twentieth century an assumption that there can be no overlap of the natural and the supernatural. This is at least in part connected to a particular kind of Christian apologetic by which belief in God was justified by gaps in human knowledge and understanding. Initially this provided a point of integration for faith and science. Science was granted explanatory power in the natural realm but only faith could account for that which was beyond the grasp of science. As science advanced throughout the 19th century, this arrangement turned out to be less and less favourable to faith. As the gaps in human knowledge appeared to get fewer and smaller, the role of faith and the necessity of belief in God was seriously undermined. Scientists now began to claim that the natural had swallowed up the supernatural and there was no longer any need for a "God hypothesis." The fact that both the faith and science sides accepted this exclusivist understanding of the natural and the supernatural made a conflict between religion and science inevitable in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Simpson's understanding of healing emerged out of this context. If someone got better after taking medicine, it must have been the natural process and not God that was active. For some reason it was unacceptable that God should work through "natural" processes. This dichotomy of the natural and supernatural continues to have some adherents, but I think we are increasingly able to see that God has made all that is natural and is constantly at work through the natural processes he created. God is active in all sorts of ways and it is limiting our experience of the grace to only see him in the "gaps." Our God is the Lord of all creation not a "god-of-the-gaps."

Assessing Simpson in our contemporary context

The context in which we live is radically different than the one in which Simpson lived. Much could be said about the amazing medical technologies constantly making the news. We are cloning sheep and not long ago someone in Chicago announced they were setting up a cloning for cash business. We now have the attitude that we have a right to health not because of redemption in Christ but because we believe that the medical profession and medical technology should be able to save us from anything. How, then, do we understand divine healing in this context?

Ken Badley suggests that we have abandoned a "god-of-the-gaps" view of the relationship between medical science and divine healing to such a degree that we are completely uncritical of whatever the latest medical "miracle" might be. In accepting the good gift of medicine we may have strayed too far from our tradition. Badley argues that viewing the body as the incredible machine, we entirely lose the spiritual aspect. How does our belief that we are created in the image of God and that God is active in directing our lives connect with genetic engineering and other practices on the current medical frontiers? I think we probably have more questions on these issues at this point than firm answers. However, we need to recognize that these questions are not only medical, they are moral and theological. We need to be sure that our faith in medical procedures does not out weigh our faith in God's care for us. Badley suggests that out of our tradition we need to find the resources to respiritualize the human person which is in danger of being reduced to a mechanism.

Interestingly Keith Bailey has concerns on the other side. He points to the new interest in spirituality as a part of the healing process. At the same time some scientists are working with a mechanical model of human persons, other scientists are convinced that spirituality is central to healing. Bailey wants to make it clear that the kinds of practices carried out in the name of spiritual healing should not be confused or identified with divine healing. The distinction being made by Bailey is not exactly clear to me but it seems to be a return to a variety of the "god-of-the-gaps" model. Here, healing is divine only if it can't be accounted for by some psycho-somatic effect which he presumes will explain these other practices. One of the most useful parts of Bailey's article is his call to a new Biblical psychology. His evocation of the ideas of 19th century Delitzsch is rather curious and really doesn't seem to move us any closer to understanding the integration of the spiritual and the physical. Clearly it is just this that we need and it would seem that the Alliance emphasis on healing in the atonement would give us cause to explore this integration.

What both Badley and Bailey point to, but neither really resolves, is the intimate connection between spiritual and physical reality. In some profound way our physical and spiritual dimensions are connected. The implication of some of Simpson's teachings is that, if we are well spiritually, we will be well physically too. This seems to oversimplify the relationship but the reality of this relationship can alert us to the variety of ways in which God is active in our lives.

Elements of a Living Tradition

The issues we are dealing with here are important ones that go to the heart of what it means to be a human person living in physical and spiritual wholeness. The idea that God is interested in our bodies enough to include physical renewal in Christ's saving work is not familiar to us. Yet, if we can grab hold of this and find ways of living in this reality, we will be well on our way to finding new ways of making the tradition live. The following are some suggestions for where this might lead. None of these directions is fully worked out but I hope there is enough here to get you thinking about ways to understand and to teach divine healing and to enliven it as a vital part of our tradition.

Connections between the physical and the spiritual

The first thing this teaching does is break down the dualist tendencies which are so much a part of western thinking. This dualism has tended to exult the life of the mind and/or the spirit over that of the body. My spiritual development made much of God's interest and love and concern for my spirit, but I remember little or nothing of God's interest and love and concern for my body. Physical activity was not viewed as having eternal significance while spiritual activity was.

A doctrine of healing in the atonement which looks to Christ's resurrection body as the source of renewal for our bodies in the present needs to develop a whole new theology of physicality. If we are to be renewed in body as well as spirit, it would seem that what is done in the body is of some interest to God. We need to care for our physical well being as we do our spiritual. Moreover, if we are take the Gospel to the nations, it needs to be an embodied Gospel. We cannot offer a "spiritualized" Gospel which shows God's interest in spiritual change but pays no attention to God's interest in people's physical needs. Because God in Jesus Christ atoned for the spiritual and physical results of the fall, we, as witnesses of the good news in Jesus, need to model both spiritual and physical renewal. As we minister to the physical as well as spiritual needs of those we bring the good news to, we represent the full salvation contemplated in the Fourfold Gospel.

A wellness model of divine healing

I mentioned this idea briefly in my last lecture. The idea emerges out of Simpson's idea that "whole people" need divine healing as much as the sick. This was a completely revolutionary thought for me when I first encountered it. Healing had by definition been for the sick. The analogy which Simpson draws between sanctification as an experience of the indwelling Christ and healing as an experience of the indwelling Christ is very useful here. There is never a time we will not need to draw on the spiritual resources of the Spirit in our lives as we are being spiritually renewed.  It makes sense that the same is true physically.

This has helped me understand that divine health is available no matter what our physical state. People who have chronic health problems which bring pain and physical limitation have described their experience in these terms. Divine health in this context does not mean no pain or no limitation but a physical strengthening and renewal even in the midst of the pain which is experienced as the strength of Christ in human weakness. Our salvation is such we can know the resurrection life of Christ in our bodies whether we are in the best of health or suffering terribly from some chronic physical difficulty.

The role of faith

Understanding the role of faith in the process of healing - or more significantly when God does not bring miraculous healing - is critical, particularly in a pastoral context. One of the things that makes me most leery of strong calls to healing is the devastating effects in people's lives of poor teaching and irresponsible practice. If healing is presented as a redemption right which is to be claimed definitely and without doubt, what are we t do when healing doesn't follow? Too often a crisis of faith ensues and accusations of lack of faith fly around. Many of you may know of a situation like this where people have been lost to the faith and deeply hurt by misplaced expectations.

Simpson was clear on the need for certainty and the readings from A Cloud of Witnesses make unwavering faith in God's work a central theme. Clearly a high level of spiritual discernment is required in these cases. It is essential that God's gift of healing is always presented as a message of grace and never as condemnation or judgment for what God didn't do. God's condemnation of Job's "comforters" is a constant caution to all who would presume to know why God's people suffer. The true source of comfort in any affliction is our intimate connection with the indwelling Christ.

Divine healing and eschatology

Divine healing is a foretaste of the benefits of resurrection life. Sin, sickness, and death are all defeated in the death and resurrection of Jesus and are replaced with a new quality of life which we will experience in eternity. Divine healing is an experience of the future in advance. However just as sin and death are defeated yet are still very much apparent in day-to-day living, so too sickness is defeated but is still around. We will not experience the full benefits of our redemption right until Christ returns and ushers in the full benefits of the atonement. We can't expect, then, to never be sick or to never die. These are part of a reality which is still to come. However we can know the resurrection life of Christ in our bodies renewing this body of death and empowering us to live in the world as the people of God, the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit. In our lives, God is showing the world which has rejected him the benefits of life under his rule in his Kingdom.

  Kenneth L. Draper, 1998