Healing Line

Healing Line

Healing Our Image of God

by Francis MacNutt
Summer 2000

My wife, Judith, often says, "The longest journey I've ever made is the 18–inch journey from my head to my heart."

Most of us have an intellectual, or "head." knowledge of what God is like: "God is love" as John the Evangelist writes; "God is just;" "God is merciful;" "God is wise."

And yet, in our heart of hearts we may feel something very different. Often, our distorted image comes from a teaching we heard as a child. For example, in Angelas Ashes, a bestseller which won the Pulitzer Prize, Frank McCourt writes about the time he found out he was born four months after his parents married:

"Why am I doomed? Tisn't my fault I'm a bastard. All bastards are doomed. They're like babies that weren't baptized. They're sent to Limbo for eternity and there's no way out and it's not their fault. It makes you wonder about God up there on His throne with no mercy for the little unbaptized babies. That's why I don't go near the chapel anymore. Anyway, you're doomed" (p. 319 in the Touchstone paperback).

This powerful book portrays a sad example of a child who grew up surrounded by "religious" people but was terrified by God, not at all encouraging an intimate relationship with Him. If you somewhere learned such an unmerciful view of God when you were a child from a parent, a teacher, a preacher or any other important authority — even if you learned something else later in life — that fearsome image may lurk in the corners of your mind to make it hard for you to develop a close relationship with God — or with Jesus.

This distance is very common, which is especially tragic since Jesus came precisely to enable us to develop an intimate, loving relationship with God. This is God's greatest gift to us. At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed that we would "know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved me" (John 17:23). The most beautiful change I ever see in prayer ministry is when people who don't really believe God loves them suddenly discover this truth and are dramatically transformed, their eyes filled with joy.

If you have been robbed of this great gift and feel distant from God, you should first deal with sin in your life, a subject covered in Norma Dearing's article, p. 6. Beyond that, here are two simple things you might do:

1) Fill your mind with reading that counteracts your image of a distant, threatening God. Paul encourages us to fill our minds with whatever is true, noble, lovely and admirable: " ... think about these things" (Philippians 4:8). For years, I struggled with feelings that God disapproved of me, even when I had confessed my sins — and for years, the best antidote I knew was to fill my mind with reading that reflected a gentler image of God. The first place to start is Scripture. But many moving books also will help, such as Brennan Manning's Lion and Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus or chapters seven and eight of David Seamand's Healing of Memories. (See Bookstore, page 11.)

2) But although reading does help, it is usually not enough. If you are wounded in this area, you need to pray for a deep healing that will reach into the harsh memories that have robbed you of a heartfelt belief in the goodness of God. For instance, many women in our society have been incested by their fathers. How can they ever feel comfortable when they hear about the love of God the Father? Or how can you ever get close to God if you have been terrified by a sermon that made you feel that you had committed the "unpardonable sin"?

The answer, thanks be to God, is that Jesus can heal us when we pray for healing of those dark memories of pain or rejection — or whatever else caused us to question God's love for us. Our image of God can be healed.

There are many ways to pray for this type of healing. We cannot manufacture it, because it is pure gift, but we can pray. Furthermore, this kind of healing is manifested in many different ways, as God communicates differently to different people. Sometimes, Jesus reveals Himself to the person with such a look of pure love that the distance is instantly dissolved. Just last week, I prayed for a small group and an older woman came up to say she had felt God take the little sad child that was still within her, put her in his arms and rock her.

There is no one way to pray for this healing, but I believe this is the prayer closest to Jesus' heart: that we come to know Him as our friend and brother, and that through Him we come to know His Father.

Consider the following prayer of St. Paul:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom His whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14–19).

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Summer 2000 Issue