Healing Line

Healing Line

Is it Truly a Miracle?

by Francis MacNutt
Apr/May/Jun 2012

All of us in the healing prayer ministry deeply desire that all Christians will come to believe that healing really takes place on a regular basis when we pray for the sick. Nevertheless, among those who believe in healing prayer there are two points of view that seem to be in conflict. This conflict centers around what we mean when we call something a miracle. Both points of view differ, yet they also have elements of truth that we must put together in order to see the whole picture. Let me explain.

One group is enthusiastic and gives an exciting testimony about what they sense God is doing on an almost daily basis. To them, miracles are common. They see God’s hand at work almost every day of their lives, even though they also try to be honest and admit that not everyone they pray for seems to be healed. The other group is a more cautious group. This group also believes in healing prayer but is much more evidence–based and rational in their approach. They are often known to think that most “charismatics” are much too free in their approach and are much too quick to call a healing a miracle. The medical community, in particular, is not ready to call something a miracle unless there is hard measurable evidence that healing has taken place through prayer, not just through natural causes. (Realizing this, in 1999 we did a scientific study led by Dale Matthews, MD, in praying for rheumatoid arthritis, a medically incurable disease.)1

At times my own approach in our conferences has been criticized. I’ve been told that I call a healing “supernatural” too quickly when it might possibly be the result of the “power of suggestion” or the “placebo effect.” These are scientific–minded Christians who are quick to recognize that more than 20% of sick people are healed when they believe that something extraordinary might take place. To them it’s not miraculous; it’s just the power of suggestion. One of my friends whom I was trying to convince by telling about the wonderful healings that I had recently seen said, “Francis, you are simply a charismatic figure, and when you pray for people more than 20% are going to get well through the ‘placebo effect!’ Isn’t that what you are talking about?”

One of the best example of this rational approach is the Medical Bureau of the Shrine at Lourdes, France, where thousands of sick people visit daily seeking healing. With those thousands, only about one healing every two years is declared to be a truly miraculous healing. Lourdes has six conditions that have to be met for a miracle to be proclaimed, and it’s almost impossible for all six conditions to be present. For example, one condition is that the person cannot be receiving any medical treatment that could possibly lead to the cure. So, if the person has cancer what are the chances that he/she isn’t receiving medical treatment? We have prayed for cancer patients who have been healed but it’s hard to prove that the prayer is the reason for the healing.

Christians who come from this kind of intellectual background can be very critical of the typical charismatic groups who talk so easily about miracles. They might ridicule charismatics for praying for the provision of a parking space. And they might be totally turned off by the dramatic healing spectacles they encounter on religious television.

Now, both of these viewpoints are, I think, very understandable from their special points of view. Christians who have experienced the Baptism in the Holy Spirit can be in either one of these two camps. The important thing is that we appreciate where the other group is coming from and not look down on them as being over–emotional enthusiasts or, on the other side, as intellectual control–freaks. We need both, but not in excess. We need enthusiastic testimonies about what God seems to be doing to bless His people, and we need scientifically–minded believers who are willing to write up case–histories, and ask physicians to attest to an occasional miracle of the stricter sort.

Since some of my background is medical, I cringe when I see a healing service where spectacular results are over–emphasized while they ignore the great majority of the sick who seem to be improved — but are not completely healed and who will need more prayer after the healing evangelist leaves town. We are trying to reach all the people in our country (or in the entire world) who are open to the truth about Jesus’ healing, provided it is presented in a way that seems honest, with clear examples of recent healings to which we can testify.

Was it prayer that caused the healing or was it medical treatment or was it the amazing natural resistance of the human body? Or was it a combination of all these channels of healing? Usually, we can never be sure. Nevertheless, God is behind it all because He created the human body as well as medicine. We therefore have a wonderful reason to thank God whenever healing takes place, because God is always somewhere in the process, whether the healing is miraculous or whether it happens through ordinary natural remedies. In all things we have an excuse, as it were, to praise God. When the human body heals itself God is in that process, too. And yet sometimes God intervenes in an extraordinary way. Those who are sensitive to the presence of God can thank God for all the ways they sense He helps us even without proof of an extraordinary intervention.

I want to be one of those who recognizes the power of God in the ordinary wonderful things that happen in our lives. At the same time, I realize that I cannot prove that prayer alone causes the healing. I do not expect that the healings we see almost every day here at CHM can be shown to be miraculous in the strictest sense. As human beings we describe events and healings as “miraculous” and recognize that we are speaking loosely. At other times we want to speak more strictly and show that a healing probably qualifies as a miracle, strictly speaking.

We have recently heard about a healing of someone diagnosed with dementia. Dementia , as far as we know, continues to get worse in the natural course of events. And yet we have a friend who received prayer and the dementia — that had progressed to the state that he had to give up his driver’s license — has now had his license restored because he proved to the licensing bureau that dementia no longer affects his decision–making ability.

The healing ministry is so exciting because we are continually finding new areas that Jesus wants to heal in our lives, and we are also finding new ways in which to pray more effectively. For example, a major health problem is Post Traumatic Stress syndrome (which used to be called “shell–shock” or “combat fatigue”) in many veterans who return from Afghanistan and Iraq. This condition never gets totally resolved in the natural order, and so, when remission occurs, it seems the most likely cause of the remission is that God intervened in a truly miraculous way.

At any rate, those of us in the healing ministry need to recognize that there are at least two ways that we can talk about the miraculous and that we need to speak in both ways and be aware of the difference. We must realize that both are true and not scorn one of the views as either hyper–rational or overly enthusiastic.

All of us need to appreciate the desire of church authorities to be cautious in making claims of healing when they cannot be proven — which is most of the time. But we can rejoice at all times when the sick get better and we can praise God, because God is ultimately behind any healing that happens, whether natural or supernatural.

This study can be obtained on DVD from the CHM bookstore and is titled Shall We Pray?

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Apr/May/Jun 2012