Healing Line

Healing Line

Can You Answer the Mystery?

by Francis MacNutt
Jul/Aug 2009

Right now I am in the process of writing a book that is meant to encourage Catholics to launch out and pray for healing. Beyond our belief that Scripture encourages us to pray for healing, we also have a very human reason to pray and that is simply that many of the sick for whom we pray really do get well. This has been our experience.

And this isn’t a small group. We have prayed for thousands of people and my impression is that most do experience some measure of physical improvement, and some are totally healed. One thing we haven’t done (we just haven’t had time) is to document the numbers, although we did collaborate with Dr.Dale Matthews, M.D. on a medical study in 1996 in which we prayed with 40 patients who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, a medically incurable disease. The results were published in a medical journal and were extraordinary. We try not to exaggerate or hype the testimonies of healing and we do recognize that the power of suggestion (the “placebo effect”) may lead to some healings due to human factors. One of my agnostic friends once told me “I have no difficulty believing that when you stand up there and pray for the sick, 30% of them experience some healing because of the power of suggestion. That’s just normal. You are simply a giant placebo.”

And we certainly accept the possibility that the power of suggestion is a reason for why some people are healed. In other words, the healing is real, but it is caused by human psychological reasons. But I’ve always believed that God often moves beyond the natural, human factors. Occasionally you recognize this because what happens is beyond the natural dimension. For example, we have sometimes seen a crooked bone straighten while we prayed. This, to me, indicates that God sometimes does come to our assistance in his compassion, although it may not always be possible to prove anything scientifically.

But at the same time that we believe that we are seeing God at work healing the sick through our prayers, we are also very aware that some reputable Christian authors are skeptical. They tell Christians to cool their ardor and stop encouraging people to pray for healing. To these leaders, false hope is engendered by people like us who are encouraging Christians to launch out and pray to heal the sick. Some of these authors are marvelously gifted with insights into the Gospels, and I have been greatly blessed by reading their books. In fact from where I now sit I can see several of their books on my book shelf. Nor do I have any difficulty believing in their honesty. They simply say that, in their experience, people who pray for healing are usually disappointed, and we should stop giving them false hope. Miraculous healing just doesn’t happen.

How do we resolve this question: their experience is that healing prayer doesn’t work? Our experience is that prayer often leads to amazing results, and for those who are not healed, they deal with it in the same way they deal with disappointment when they receive medical treatment, but still don’t get well. Right now I have friends who are getting radiation treatment for cancer but no one says that they should stop seeing a physician because they may not get a total healing from their radiation treatment. If there is even a 10% chance that a medical treatment will cure the cancer, they don’t argue that we should shut down the cancer clinic because the other 90% are dealt a devastating blow to their faith in the medical establishment.

The answer must be that these critics of healing prayer simply haven’t seen anyone healed through prayer.

But how do we explain this discrepancy? We believe that prayer often heals; others say we are just setting people up for heart-break.

Why the difference, assuming that everyone is telling the truth about the evidence? And I do assume that they are telling the truth.

I think that there are some possible reasons for the discrepancy. One, for instance, is that the minister of healing prayer needs to experience the Baptism of the Spirit. On the day of Pentecost a real change took place in the Apostles and the 3,000 people who were baptized that day. Did the change that took place include a change in the power to minister healing?

Another possibility is that the person who prays for healing needs to have some degree of expectant faith. If we pray without believing that God wants to heal his family will any healing take place?

I just don’t know. These are just a few reflections that may help to answer our question, but I am as baffled as anyone by the difference in the results of healing prayer. Assuming that everyone is accurately reporting on what they experience in their Christian walk, there must be a difference in the prayer ministers themselves. Perhaps some of you, our readers have thought about this very real question.

What is your answer?


Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Jul/Aug 2009 Issue