Saturday, 6 June 2009

Gifts of Healings

I want to set the notion of healing within a bigger framework than most of us are used to thinking about it, especially considering the books I have read about healing. When we discuss healing we often think in terms of personal wellbeing. If we are well and feel well, all is well. I want to suggest that healing can be seen operating in three dimensions; personally, relationally and communally. I believe all three can be found in scripture. To focus on a person’s health without taking into consideration their context of relationships is to miss the full picture of factors that can affect health and wellbeing.

The nation of Israel was made up of Tribes, clans, families and individuals, within each family. We see this clearly in Josh 7.16-19 with the sin of Achan. The process of identifying who had sinned began with all Israel and was narrowed down by tribes to Judah, then by clans to the Zerathites, then by the families of that clan to the family of Zimri, and then from that family to Achan. Again in Numbers 1.1-4 the Lord told Moses to number the tribes of Israel according to their clans and families, man by man.

Here is my point. We are so used in the West of thinking in terms of personal wellbeing that we seldom think about how whole we are relationally and communally. Personal wholeness is important. Paul writes about this in 1Thess 5.23, May God Himself, the God of peace sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. There are many gifts of healing that enable us to gain or regain this sense of wellbeing. Sometimes it is about emotional healing. Other times it’s about physical or spiritual healing. There are times when we can have deliverance from demonization that can impact almost any area of our life. But all these gifts of healing help to restore the individual. I believe there are other gifts of healing that we seldom place in this category because we are not used to recognising them. They help us get well relationally and communally.

Gen 2 gives the first mention in the creation account when God says, ‘it’s not good’. I am of course referring to His comment about Adam, ‘It’s not good for man to be alone’. We are, like God Himself, relational beings. We need others. Any sense of wholeness that we seek must include these dimensions and gifts of healings exist for us to do this. Think of all the families, clans and tribes that exist in the world and how many of them are either at war or in conflict of some kind. Healing is needed. In Matt 18.15 Jesus outlines the way to restore broken relationships where an offense has separated two believers. Key elements are present, loving confrontation, an opportunity to repent and receive forgiveness. And this process is to be repeated, increasing the circle of witnesses so that others in the community can help bring healing to the rift through their impartial judgment.

Only two ultimate outcomes are envisaged by Jesus; reconciliation that leads to restored fellowship or excommunication. If restoration takes place the relationship is healed. Great. Life can go on. If it doesn't, the unrepentant brother is to be treated as a ‘tax collector or sinner’, an outsider who needs to be won all over again. It isn't just about two people now; it's a community affair. Everyone feels the pain of seperation. Imagine how much unnecessary church hopping could be stopped if we took this passage seriously. The body of Christ would be a lot healthier. Relationships would be more solid, more grounded, dare I say it, more real!

But Jesus doesn’t leave this teaching there. In answer to Peter’s question about forgiveness He tells the parable of the two debtors. This is of course the foundation to all healing, repentance, forgiving and being forgiven. What is instructive is how God the Father deals with those who refuse to extend to others the forgiveness they have received from Him. They are said to be handed over to the torturers, until they can pay the debt, Matt 18.34-35. The picture is graphic. God allows us to be tormented until we choose to forgive. This is not a picture of wholeness. Notice that unforgiveness is always relational. To withhold forgiveness from those who ask for it is a supreme act of pride. We, in effect, place ourselves higher than God in our judgement of others. This is why it leads to torment.

James has some sound advice for us, depending on what season of life we are experiencing, James 5.14-16. The man who is happy should sing Psalms. The person who is suffering should pray. The one who is sick should call for the elders who will lay hands on them, anoint them and pray for their recovery. James sees this as an opportunity to get real with each other over sin too, by confessing our faults to each other. Notice that in order to receive forgiveness we confess our sin to God but in order to receive healing we confess to one another; confess your faults to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed. Like Jesus in Matt 18, James sets healing of sickness in the context of healthy relationships that have open accountability, humility and the giving and receiving of forgiveness.

Imagine if whole communities dared to function at this level. And this is the challenge to the church. We are a micro-cosm of the communities we live in. So we are to model to them what this should look like. The most powerful testimony for reconciliation in the Middle East are congregations made up of Jews and Arabs who both love Jesus and have found forgiveness in Him. Remaining ethnically separated is not a mature expression of the church, though it may be politically expedient. In such a context to come together is to invite criticism from both camps that look on. I know congregations that do this. They risk a lot. They are persecuted. But they also model the healing power of the gospel. It speaks volumes.

Long before Wilberforce changed the legal and political landscape of Britain over the issue of slavery, he was part of a community that accepted and valued slaves and did all they could to secure their freedom, educate them and give them dignity as people. He lived it in community first and battled it through in parliament later. Changing legislation is ineffective unless someone models the value of the change.

I was involved with David Alton in the late 80’s in trying to change legislation in the UK over the issue of abortion. He brought a private members bill seeking to reduce the number of weeks terminations could legally take place. It failed. Instead of giving up I know many who got involved in counselling pregnant women, pre and post abortion. In an atmosphere of non-judgmental acceptance, many made a different choice as they were informed of alternatives to abortion. And those who did go ahead often felt deep regret and pain and sought forgiveness and healing. So despite the failure in legislation the church is still seeing many healed. It is making a difference.

All of this is to say that ‘gifts of healings’ are broader and more numerous than we often imagine. To reconcile two people is to be a peacemaker and requires a gift of healing. To reconcile communities torn apart through war requires great wisdom and a gift of healing. To heal a broken heart requires the flow of the gift of healing. To see bodies healed of such destructive diseases like cancer and AIDS requires the gift of healing.

Sickness is all around us. It has pervaded our fallen world. Let’s determine that we will be agents of healing, health and wholeness, co-operating with the Holy Spirit to bring about restoration of spirit, soul and body and reconciliation of families, clans and tribes.