An essay on the ministry of healing.

By his wounds we are healed – Isaiah 53:5

My father is blind.  He became blind when my son Eli was 9 months old.  I used to pray that the Lord would heal his blindness however after a few weeks I started to pray that he would see Jesus before he saw my son.  I guess in a way I was still praying for dad’s healing but from a different perspective.

Reflecting on healing today leads me to ponder the nature and essence of healing.  I have many questions and I am sure you have many more.  Questions such as, does God play a role in every healing whether physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, or social in nature?  Is the source of healing inside people (such as in their minds), outside people (e.g. God, medicine), between people (as in a therapeutic relationship) or a combination of these?  Are healing ministries of value within the Kingdom of God?  What is the primary purpose of healing?  This reflection has been prompted my appointment to Salvos Counselling.

Many of the traditional ways of understanding healing from a Christian perspective do not easily fit with the real life experiences of those who work within or access Christian healing services[1].  To speak in a meaningful way about a ministry of healing in the 21st century requires us to enter into a dialogue between traditional perspectives and contemporary experiences.

My theological compass always returns to a familiar answer to each and every theological reflection I engage in.  That is, that the place to begin is with Christ and his perfect adequacy.  In Luke chapter 8:43-48 we see Jesus encounter a women that needed healing.  On the surface the woman was suffering from a seemingly incurable and chronic bleeding.  Yet in the climax of the story we hear Jesus speak grace to her saying, “Daughter, your faith has healed you, go in peace” (v48).

What is fascinating about this story is that there are four different Greek words in the narrative to drive home the message that healing is not an end in itself but functions so we can become what God intends us to be.

Firstly, we see Luke use a word to describe the woman who had no medical hope of a cure, being healed (therapeou) from her hemophilia (v43).   As the story develops the author describes how she had been instantly healed (iaomai, v47).  The word is a translation of a Hebrew word rophe[2] and indicates that this woman was being repaired and restored to healthy functioning.woman-with-the-issue-of-blood1

In verse 48 Luke uses a word for healing (sozo) that in this context means to restore to health but in another context can mean to rescue, set free from sin, or bring to salvation so that they can fulfill their purpose.  The final words in verse 48 go in peace (eirene) has the same meaning as shalom in the Hebrew.  It refers to the woman’s general wellbeing, her positive social relations or welfare and capacity to live with integrity.

The rich interpretation of healing described in this passage by Luke depicts the woman who reached out and touched the cloak of Jesus as experiencing the fullness of what it means to be healed from a Christian perspective – she was cured physically, restored into her community, repaired so that she can now serve her God and her community, while being restored into a peaceful and right relationship with herself, God and others.  For me this is an awesome picture of a woman who is healed, made healthy and set apart to fulfill the purpose God has for her life.

This biblical interpretation raises some important questions for our healing ministries in the 21st century.  In particular, what role does a ministry like Salvos Counselling play in the mission of God for the Salvation Army?

It should be noted that healing is always contextual and can be very subjective.  We also give categories to types of diseases that require healing.  These include physical, psychological and spiritual disease.  If there is diversity in disease does this allow for diversity in methods of finding healing, wholeness and holiness?

Have you ever experienced healing?  When, where, why, and how?  “Healing is what people most need; often, but not always, it is what they most want”[3].   If you are a Christian and you lose your partner, your child, your job, your physical or psychological health, your self-esteem, your freedom, your hope or your sense of meaning and purpose, where would you turn?  Would you turn to your local pastor, who may have deep love and understanding for you and your situation but quite often simply doesn’t have the time or ability to address your need?

Alternatively, would you consider a person who has committed themselves to Christ and dedicated their vocational life to helping people heal?  People like those I work alongside at Salvos Counselling every day.

I would suggest that if you have had the personal experience of your pain or distress finding the healing grace and hope of Christ in therapy then you will have an appreciation of the value that Salvos Counselling offers people.  If you have experienced the healing power of God at work through counselling, then you probably have a genuine understanding of the kingdom value it supplies to the faith community.

Is there kingdom value in a woman who finds freedom from the emotional abuse suffered from bullying in the workplace?  Is she not healed for the purpose of serving her Lord in her local faith community? Do you think there is value in a husband discovering psychological freedom after visiting a Christian counselor for his pornography addiction?  Is there not value in a person being restored from the emotional distress in her life that prevents her from serving God and others and fulfilling her purpose in life?

healing-and-restoration

Sadly, healing ministries are often misunderstood and undervalued, because the priority of mission is seen in conversion, membership and public affirmation.  To comprehend the ministry of Salvos Counselling in a meaningful way, we have to reconcile the competing voices of tradition and contemporary experience.  We need to appreciate that all people need healing most of the time and that healing is not an end in itself but functions so we can become what God intends us to be.

[1] Stephen Pattison, The challenge of practical theology: Selected essays.  Jessica Kingsley Publishers.  2007, 125-6.

[2] See Exodus 15:26 where the Lord is described as ‘Jehovah Rophe’ – The Lord who heals.  The idea is that I am the Lord who heals/restores you to what you were meant to be.

[3] Stephen Pattison, The challenge of practical theology. 2007, 130.

4 thoughts on “An essay on the ministry of healing.

  1. I love this, thanks brett. Have thought deeply about this issue. I recently read a quote which I love : the opposite of depression is not happiness but vitality.

    This seems to speak of the fullness of life I believe you are referring to. A kind of thriving, rather than surviving…

  2. A couple of years of us being here in the US and
    the Reverrnd Martin Luther King Jr. Thomas tninks churches need to do the same thing abc as” feeling blue” or being” down”.
    This means that the discussion isn’t about the fact
    they are having problems wifh being depressed. If he wants to talk
    about their problems more than men; the stereotype of men showing weakness by showing emotions
    still holds true. You know, you’ve gotta get out of bed wasn’t an option for a full fifteen minutes.

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