Healing Line

Healing Line

Moving Beyond Physical Healing

by David Levy, MD and MaryAnn Nguyen–Kwok
Fall 2013

An air of tension greeted me when I entered the exam room. As a neurosurgeon who specializes in aneurysms, I am often met with distressed patients who convey their worry through coldness, impatience, or anger. Today was no different.

Talia was a thin, attractive woman wearing an exasperated, unhappy expression. Sitting next to her was her anxious husband, an equally handsome and trim man. Together they were an attractive pair — the picture of upper middle class fitness. Talia's mother was in the room as well and was sitting in the third chair looking apprehensive.

Two years of progressively worsening headaches brought her to me. Her primary care doctor had ordered an MRI, and the radiologist had reported an aneurysm. Sitting across from them, I turned the computer screen around so they could see the small bump on the vessel that had been labeled an aneurysm. The bump did not qualify as an aneurysm in danger of rupture, so I ordered another scan in the future. I informed her that the bulge on her vessel was neither dangerous nor was it causing her headaches. She was obviously expecting bad news and this was a surprise to her.

We discussed her headaches and symptoms. Talia said that her two years of headaches had begun to get more serious in the last six months, so I asked if she had experienced any emotional trauma. She paused and sat back in her chair. She had come in with an idea that she would need surgery of some kind. Now the danger of dying from a bleeding aneurysm seemed remote, and the visit was taking an unexpected turn. After a few moments, she said, "My son Robbie died two years ago…and I don't think I'm over it yet. The loss is so big that I doubt that I will ever feel the same again."

I probed further about the death of her son, and she told me that he was diagnosed with lymphoma. Everything was done to control the disease, but the cancer continued to spread, and he died at the tender age of eighteen. As she chronicled her story, her pain was visible.

"Do you have a faith or religion?" I asked.

She shrugged, "Christian, I guess, but I don't go to church."

"Did you stop going to church when your son died?" I asked.

"Yeah," she replied flatly, staring at the wall behind me.

I was hesitant to proceed because of her coldness. The fact that her husband and mother were present also affected the atmosphere. I feared she might be less likely to open up in the presence of those closest to her.

In addition, she appeared to be an educated woman with upper class mentality — meaning that she might be less inclined toward spiritual matters. Often, I have found that those in this upper socioeconomic group do not feel like they need God because of the resources they have at their fingertips.

I didn't want to offend her, knowing that she was no longer attending church. Her struggle with her faith indicated that she might have been hurt by the religious establishment. Despite this risk, however, I couldn't ignore this shell of a woman in front of me. For in a place where there was beauty and should have been joy, there was none. While her appearance was striking, her eyes were vacant, without warmth. I couldn't leave her like that without trying to rescue her from that place.

"Whenever a child dies before a parent, it is a tremendous blow. There is often a great sense of injustice," I said. "I can't explain why Robbie died, but I can attest that God gave him grace to go through his trial two years ago." She nodded. I paused, and then continued slowly. "Watching Robbie suffer, you may have taken offense at God. It is very common to become angry and take up a grudge against God when those we love go through difficult times, but when we do, we are in a dangerous and lonely place."

"You're right," she said, frowning. "Robbie seemed to have a peace about it, but I've had a problem with it for the last two years. I don't understand why God thought I could do this…that I could actually live without Robbie." Some fire came into her eyes.

But Talia was stuck. Many of us remain stuck when we do not agree with God's decisions. Talia was stuck because she refused to move close to a God who would allow Robbie to suffer and die. She had prayed repeatedly, and her prayers were answered…"No."

Although Robbie was not angry with God over his suffering, Talia was. I have seen such anger, if unresolved, turn into resentment and bitterness. Bitterness against anyone, including God, can cause illness. We must release our resentment toward God through recognizing that He loves us and always has the best intentions for us — even if it doesn't appear true because of the pain we experience.

"I wonder if there are some things for which you are thankful, that happened before and after Robbie died," I suggested, seeing if she was ready to move toward God.

She sat back in her chair again, thinking. After a few moments, expressionless, she began naming a few things. She was thankful for her job, her daughter, and her husband. I reminded her of her resources and education, and she lifted her eyebrows in recognition of blessings that she had taken for granted. Talia smiled slightly, and she said that she was thankful for those things. As she continued to give thanks, her countenance began to change. I hoped that she was softening.

At this point, I sensed that she needed affirmation. I looked into her eyes and spoke truth to her. "God is not angry with you," I said. "He is not punishing you. He is not disappointed with you." I paused, and then said quietly, "I know that He misses you." Talia gave no sign that she had received my words. She was staring straight ahead, over my shoulder. However, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her husband nod, indicating that I was on the right track. I could tell that he hoped that his wife could be freed from her prison of despair.

"You have a sensitive heart and a sensitive spirit. You are still grieving the loss of your son," I continued. "And that's OK."

She nodded her head slowly in agreement.

I was then prompted to tell her what God thought of her. "Do you realize who you are? You are a daughter of the King of the universe. That's who you are. It's your identity. Nothing can change your identity. No matter what happens to you or to others around you, you are a daughter of the King. You are on this earth to do something special. Children are a gift from God and you are a loving mother, but you have a calling separate from your children. You have a destiny to overcome this and then to turn around and help others who are going through similar trials."

Her eyes glazed over. I thought that I had lost her.

"God's relationship with Robbie is between God and Robbie — just as God's relationship with you is just between the two of you. It may be hard for you to imagine, but God loves Robbie even more than you do."

She blinked and moved her head backward, indicating that she had never considered God's love for Robbie as being greater than her own.

"Unfortunately, the 'Why?' questions rarely get answered in this life. 'Why?' or 'Why me?' questions assume a victim mentality. You are not a victim, you are an overcomer. I encourage you to ask 'What' or 'How' questions. 'What do you want me to know about You that will help me through this?' 'How do You want me to move forward?' 'What shall I do with my feelings of despair?' Don't just ask these as rhetorical questions but take time to listen for the answers. God wants to speak to you."

She nodded but did not smile. I wanted to connect her with her God — the only One who could breathe life into the joyless shell.

I asked if I could pray for her, and she said, "Yes." I stood to the side of her with my hand on her left shoulder. I asked her husband to put his hand on her right shoulder. I asked God to bless her life with knowing how much He loved her, giving her clarity and purpose. I asked God to bless her with healing from her debilitating headaches. I blessed her marriage, sensing that it was at a breaking point because of her depression, and then I blessed her with good life choices and decisions.

Talia nodded slightly after the prayer but gave no indication that anything had changed. Her eyes appeared brighter than when she had come in. When she came out of the exam room, she seemed tranquil, but I couldn't tell if my words of encouragement had pierced her cocoon of grief, anger, and depression. Her husband and mother shook my hand warmly and thanked me for taking the extra time to talk with her. It was evident that they had felt as though they had lost her.

Days later, Sylvia, the physician who had treated Talia's son, came to my office looking bewildered. "What did you say to her?" she asked. "I was the one who took care of her son. He was a handsome boy and that was one of my most painful cases. It was a very depressing situation. What did you say?"

"I told her that God gave grace to her son to go through his trial, but her relationship to God is separate from her son's. God loves her son more than she does, and He always has her best interest in mind."

"Her son was an amazing boy with lots of friends," said Sylvia. "There were always kids in his hospital room."

"I think that she has been angry with God — very common when a child dies," I said.

"Do you know what she told me after her visit with you?" Sylvia asked.

"What did she say?"

"'He healed me,' she said. 'He healed me.'"

A few months later, I received a letter from Talia, indicating that the healing she had experienced was more than just physical.

"Thank you for choosing to listen to your heart, looking beyond the surface and really seeing 'me.' Since Robbie died, I had convinced myself to never relinquish my grip on my grief. I had confined him to a timeless loop of goneness, a place where it is cold — like the emptiness between planets. This space was safe because it helped me avoid terror and truth. I had locked up my heart and lost myself and Robbie in the process. That is where you came in. You recognized the death in me — but also, life — and that is what you focused on. Thank you for speaking life into the vortex of darkness, because as you did, I was able to breathe my first breath since Robbie died. Since that hour in your office, I've had many conversations with God — of sadness, anger, love, hope, and joy — and have come to the conclusion that He is still with me. I am experiencing transformation, healing…and a new beginning."

Experiences like these remind me why I take the time to ask my patients spiritual questions, and see them as individuals with unique life stories. This is particularly true when I have no physical explanation for their symptoms. It can be an "open door" for God to heal a broken heart and set a captive free.

*The article Moving Beyond Physical Healing originally appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Today's Christian Doctor, a publication of Christian Medical & Dental Associations. Used by permission of Christian Medical & Dental Associations.

David I. Levy, MD, practices neurosurgery in San Diego, California. He specializes in brain aneurysms and diseases of the blood vessels of the brain. He attended Emory Medical School in Atlanta, Georgia, and did his neurosurgical training at The Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. He did a Fellowship in Endovascular Neurosurgery at The University of Vienna, Austria. He is the author of the book Gray Matter: A Neurosurgeon Discovers the Power of Prayer...One Patient at a Time. The book was written with Joel Kilpatrick and is available through Tyndale House.

MaryAnn Nguyen–Kwok is a freelance writer who is currently in the Masters of Divinity program at Bethel University and whose passions include understanding and revealing God through studying and teaching the Scriptures.

Fall 2013


by Liz Bailey
Fall 2013

  Who is this coming up from the wilderness leaning on her beloved? Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. — Song of Songs 8:5–7  

I was Christian for a long time before I really knew what it meant to say that I was the "bride of Christ." I had heard it, sung it, probably even declared it, but I never completely understood the significance of Jesus the bridegroom, and me, His bride. To suddenly come face to face with the reality that we have a God whose love for us is not only sacrificial but relentless, jealous and unyielding, was, for me, mind–blowing. I understood better the fullness of my inheritance in Him, and that He was pursuing me in love. When the Lord began to open my eyes to this reality, everything changed. There was a dramatic shift in my heart, my attitude, my behavior, my…everything. What I thought about today, as it was happening, no longer had the same meaning, and the way I looked ahead, at tomorrow and beyond, was dramatically different. There was a desire in me that had never been there before. My heart softened to Jesus in a way that I had never experienced. It was from this place of longing and pursuit within me that gave way to a genuine excitement and expectation of what the Lord had planned for our 3rd annual Women's Conference.

The Captivate 2012 Women's Conference last year exceeded all of our expectations. We gathered together in mid–September to take an intimate look at what it truly means to be the bride of Christ.

There is nothing, in my opinion, more beautiful than watching the Holy Spirit at work. There is a promise in Scripture that when two or more are gathered in Jesus' name, He will make His presence known. (Matthew 18:20) That promise is what keeps us at CHM going; it is why we continue to host conferences. There is something so unique and powerful about a unified body of believers coming together and calling on the name of Jesus. Beyond that, what is most rewarding is the reality of another promise from Scripture — that because of Jesus' work on the cross, we are transformed more and more into His likeness. The more we behold Him in His beauty, the more like Jesus we become! (2 Corinthians 3:18) At CHM, we see this promise fulfilled at every event we offer, which means we've got the best jobs in the world!

To say that the Lord "showed up" at Captivate 2012 would be an understatement. As we gathered to seek the face of Jesus, He made Himself known — to us corporately and also to each woman individually in very deep, personal and intimate ways. From the moment worship began on the opening night, the presence of the Lord was tangible. One conference attendee wrote to us recently and said:

"Kelanie (Gloeckler) reminded us over and over in worship 'I know the end of the story, I come up from the wilderness leaning on my Beloved.' And this was only the first evening! The hope of leaving my wilderness — how could this be? So many years of being lost, broken, less than…and now suddenly redeemed."Since September, we have heard countless stories similar to this one, and as we reflected on the conference, we realized that Jesus completely prepared us for Captivate 2013. The common thread that we observed was that people found joy that they never knew was available to them. Joy is an interesting thing because it has absolutely nothing to do with our circumstances or our emotions. True joy that is given from the Father is supernatural. It has the ability to lift us above what is happening in the natural. I know in my own life, I have experienced intense joy in seasons in which you would think I should be experiencing the exact opposite…which in the natural makes no sense. How in the world do we find joy when there's no money in the bank? Or relationships are falling apart? Or upon receiving a bad medical report? Or when the evening news opens our eyes once again to the dark, fallen and painful world we live in? The answer to this question is found in Jesus. Jesus, who is the giver of life and of every good and perfect gift, has the ability to release healing and freedom and joy into places our humanity tells us are impenetrable…simply because He is good and He desires to lavish His love on us.

I recently heard an interview in which someone was asking a worship leader how to define joy, and she said something that struck a chord with me. She explained, with great humility, that she feels like she is still discovering what true joy is. The Lord has taken her on a journey of understanding that true joy is not related to our emotions or our circumstances. She went on to say that some of her greatest times of joy have been in the middle of pain, hardship, lack, and longing for breakthrough. And then the Lord highlighted Psalm 16 to her:

  The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
 — Psalm 16:5–11

She finally concluded that the definition of true joy has to do with proximity to God…because in His presence we find FULLNESS of joy. What's more, in the presence of the God who embodies joy, there is Jesus at His right hand, which also happens to be the place in which we discover our inheritance — pleasures forevermore.

I believe with all my heart that when this truth takes root in us, we change. Our focus shifts away from our immediate circumstances and the way they make us feel — suddenly our attention is no longer simply on the here and now, but on eternity and our inheritance in God. When our gaze is fixed on Jesus and we really start to look into His eyes — the eyes that burn with love for us — there is a shift in the way that we respond to our present circumstances. When the word of God and phrases such as "I shall not be shaken" and "my flesh also dwells secure" really begin to take root in us, our nature begins to line up more and more with the nature of God, who is unshakable. The fruit of that is, no matter what is going on around us in the present, we are able to not be rattled by it, to see beyond it, and most importantly, have an assurance that regardless of what it looks like, the Lord will see us through. It is from that place that true joy is released in us.

There's a chorus of a song that has ministered to me so much over the last couple of years that says, "When all I see and all I feel is empty, I turn my eyes within me. I find I'm right by the River flowing down from the true joy giver." When we are so immersed in the Lord's presence and His unfailing love and anchored in His Word, the natural and genuine response from within us is gratitude and joy. I feel so certain that this is what happened at Captivate 2012 — we found ourselves so nestled in God's presence, very near to His heart. So many women connected with the Father in that intimate way and experienced the presence of God in a way that opened them up for the Lord Himself to minister healing and release freedom. As prayer ministers, we hardly had to do anything except agree with what the Lord was doing! And then…joy came. As women continued to press in to His presence, chains were broken, bodies were healed, hearts were mended, and joy was poured out. The remarkable thing about joy is that it is contagious! An army of laughing, dancing, joyous women was released from Captivate 2012 and we are still in awe of what God did.

As a result of the great outpouring of joy that we experienced last September, we are eager to press in for more — which is why the theme of Captivate 2013 is Fullness of Joy. We will be taking a deeper look at what true joy looks like and feels like — and we will explore the heart of God in ways that guarantee an even greater outpouring of joy.

It is our JOY to extend an invitation to women of all ages who are hungry for more, and who are eager to embrace the fullness of God's joy that is available to all of us. Joining Judith MacNutt as a special guest speaker will be Michele Perry, founder of Iris Ministries Base Camp in the South Sudan. Michele brings the light, life, love and joy of Jesus wherever she goes. Additionally, she will amaze you with her stories of life among the poorest of the poor and the ways she has embraced joy in the most horrific of circumstances. You will truly be blessed by Michele. Joining us again to lead us into the Lord's presence through worship will be Kelanie Gloeckler. Kelanie is a prophetic singer/songwriter based in Jacksonville. She is on staff at New Life Christian Fellowship and is the chief musician at the International House of Prayer in Jacksonville. Kelanie has quite an anointing to take us straight into the Father's Heart and we are thrilled to welcome her to our Captivate 2013 team. We are certain that the Father has something special in store for each woman who plans to attend. Please mark your calendars now for September 19th through 21st and join us for Captivate 2013: Fullness of Joy!

*All quotes taken from Captivate 2012 attendees and used with permission.

Liz Bailey Liz Bailey is the Events Coordinator for CHM. Fall 2013

The Power of Inner Healing Prayer

by Linda Strickland
Fall 2013

It was after midnight, and thinking everyone who wanted ministry at the healing service had been prayed for, I was gathering my things to leave. Out of nowhere I felt a soft tap on my shoulder, and as I turned around to see who it was, all I saw was the quick jerk of a head before someone leaned close and nervously whispered in my ear, "I don't belong here. I don't belong anywhere." The timid words and awkward behavior did not match the outward appearance of the young woman standing in front of me. Stunningly beautiful, she looked as though she could have been a model on the cover of a glamour magazine. When I asked her to tell me what she meant, she began pouring out her story of the verbal, mental and physical abuse she experienced — all hidden behind the walls of a perfect Christian family. I was overwhelmed by the contrast of her striking good looks and the ugliness of her personal truth; her outwardly picture–perfect life was actually a well–constructed façade of secrets, lies, fear and shame. Growing up with an abusive father and emotionally detached mother had produced disastrous personal and spiritual consequences in this young woman's life. It was evident that she was emotionally damaged and was now on the brink of self–destruction. When she finished her story, she fell limp into my arms and desperately held on as she wept uncontrollably. When she was finally able to speak again she asked a question I will never forget, she said, "Do you think God could really love someone as ugly as me?"

Earlier that same evening I had ministered to a young man whose story had uncanny similarities. He was also from a well–respected Christian family, and he told me that his parents were very loving and that his childhood was wonderful. I could tell he was carefully choosing his words, and after a while he finally relaxed and admitted that, in reality, he could not remember much of his childhood. The things he could remember were mostly memories of his family working at the church or passing out evangelical tracts in their neighborhood. He suddenly seemed embarrassed and told me that he felt bad for talking about his parents, especially because he had nothing but the highest respect for them. He said that they were amazing people, and that everyone loved them. He also told me that for most of his life he had felt invisible, insignificant, and empty. Although I was looking at a 30–year–old man, I was listening to a neglected, love–starved little boy. Isolated and shamed for wetting the bed, he told me that the deepest desire of his heart had always been to experience the love and compassion his parents showed to everyone else — everyone but him.

Of all the kinds of healing, inner healing touches us in our deepest suffering — that of the heart, the mind and the inner core of our being. When we have been deeply wounded through past experiences, we carry the memories and the feelings associated with those experiences. In contrast to the strengthening and life–giving effects of positive memories, painful memories can damage the emotions, crippling and binding us in our personal, emotional and spiritual lives. Unless God heals us in our areas of brokenness, we will not live and grow into the people that God created us to be. We will live as prisoners trapped in the bondage of our deep wounds. Inner healing is God's way of liberating and restoring us from our brokenness and the deepest wounds of our heart.

In his book, Healing, Francis MacNutt writes about our need for inner healing — "Inner healing is indicated whenever we become aware that we are held down in any way by the hurts of the past." He goes on to say, "We are deeply affected not only by what we do — our own sins and mistakes — but by what happens to us through the sins of others, and the evil in the world (original sin). Our deepest need is for love, and if we are denied love as infants or as children, or anywhere else along the line, it may affect our lives at a later date and rob us of our peace, of our ability to love, and of our ability to trust other people — or God."

How to Pray

At Christian Healing Ministries' School of Healing Prayer®, prayer ministers are trained to pray for inner healing by first listening to the person's story. As the person shares, the Holy Spirit will highlight areas that need to be addressed. Several vital questions should be asked to help discern the root causes of the problems, including: When did the problems begin? Who was involved? What is your image of God? (It is very helpful to find out how the person actually perceives God.) If the person has experienced severe trauma, they may not be able to remember events in a timeline. The memories will likely come out in bits and pieces and very disjointed. It can be very difficult for people to share experiences that have caused deep pain and shame, and some will be in a state of denial. Emotional honesty is the first step in healing and what sets inner healing ministry apart from other healing (such as physical healing or generational healing) is that these emotions and memories have to be acknowledged and dealt with. Most people hide their wounds, not understanding that their wounds can be the source of healing. The pain shows where the injury is — it directs us to the memory that needs healing, just as a pain in the foot shows us that we may need to see a physician. A prayer minister must demonstrate tremendous patience in this listening phase while the person tries to reveal their memories. Prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to bring to light whatever memory needs to be healed.

Positive, life–giving memories are equally important. Everyone has some good memories, but a person in chronic emotional pain may not be able to remember these. The Holy Spirit often releases these positive, loving memories, because they are strengthening and healing.

Inner healing can be blocked by many obstacles. Again, as you hear the person's story, listen sensitively for the leading of the Holy Spirit into areas that need to be explored. We have found the following areas are common blocks to healing:

  • Unforgiveness — either the need to forgive others or to be forgiven for one's own sin.
  • Disappointments, failures, lost dreams or hopes.
  • A distorted belief system about oneself (i.e. believing other people's lies).
  • Guilt and shame. Guilt can be a God–given emotion we have when we have sinned. Shame, on the other hand, is one of our biggest enemies, which can make us feel like we should never have been born. Guilt says, "I made a mistake;" whereas shame says, "I am a mistake."
  • Demonic interference will almost always block healing. Remember to pray the binding prayers and ask the Holy Spirit for discernment.
  • Inner judgments — negative words uttered against us may eventually become our own judgments; "You're stupid" becomes "I'm stupid."
  • Extreme emotions (i.e. excessive anger or fear) indicate the person's emotions have been damaged.
  • Too little emotion — apathy. Apathetic people do not know how they should feel in a given situation; they have denied their emotions.

When we pray, God's love and healing power can transform painful memories and free us from emotional and spiritual bondage. The Holy Spirit never erases a memory; he simply reframes it with his truth and removes its crippling effect. Deliverance prayer, binding prayer, cutting–free prayer, which are all prayers of authority, may also be necessary. Always follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, asking Him to reveal any blocks to healing that need to be prayed through. Inner healing is usually not instantaneous, but requires time as God removes the layers of woundedness in our complex emotional framework.

God's love is central to the restoration and healing of damaged emotions. People who need inner healing often suffer from a 'love deficiency.' Of all our emotional needs, love is the most important, and a love deficiency results when a person has not received sufficient love in their life. The capacity to trust is second in importance to love, and arises out of feeling loved and secure. Most people who need inner healing have trust issues, and their lack of trust inhibits their relationships with people and with God. Healing of damaged emotions can help reunite them to others in their personal relationships, and to God.

Francis and Judith MacNutt describe inner healing this way, "Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, takes the memories of our past and heals them from the effects of those emotional wounds that still remain and affect our daily lives. He can fill with His love all those places in us that have so long been empty. He can give us the grace to forgive past hurts and resentments. We can ask Jesus Christ to go back to the time when the hurt occurred and free us from the effects of that wound that still remain in the present. This involves two things: bringing to light the things that have hurt us and then praying to the Lord to free us from the binding effects of our hurtful past."

Inner healing is the ministry of Jesus — healing the broken–hearted and setting the captives free. Our joy is serving Him and sharing His healing love with the suffering in this broken world.

  "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations." — Isaiah 61:1–4  

(It is important to note that medical intervention may be helpful and even necessary for some people. If a depressed person suffers from a chemical imbalance, medication may be needed. Or, if you minister to someone like the young woman I spoke of at the beginning of this article, you may need to alert the person's family or pastor that you suspect they may try to harm themselves. Since I was a visitor at the church where I was ministering at that time, I immediately alerted the leadership there of my concerns.)

*Taken in part from the teachings: Introduction to Inner Healing, SHP® I and How to Pray for Inner Healing, SHP® II. Visit our Schools of Healing Prayer® page for more information.

Linda Strickland Linda Strickland is CHM's Associate Director of Ministry and Assistant to Judith MacNutt. Fall 2013

Who Causes Us to Suffer?

by Francis MacNutt
Fall 2013

Who causes the suffering in our lives? We open that difficult subject by saying right from the start that the origin of evil (including suffering) has always been seen as a great mystery in Christian life — a mystery impossible for us to understand — second only to the mystery of the Trinity (three persons and one God). How can you reconcile personal suffering with an all–powerful, all–loving God who creates everything that exists? Does God send you the suffering and sickness you endure? Would you as a loving parent inflict your child with terminal cancer to teach him/her a lesson? Jesus himself asks this question: "Is there a man among you who would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread?" (Matthew 7:9)

The Old Testament stresses the point that there is only one God who created the world and causes everything, and most of the ancient Biblical authors assume that evil is caused by God! This leaves us with problems, but if you believe that God causes everything, what else can you say? For example, when King Saul grows jealous of young David's popularity, "an evil spirit from God seized on Saul and he fell into a frenzy while he was indoors. David played the harp as on other occasions; Saul had a spear in his hand. Saul brandished the spear; he said, 'I will pin David to the wall!'" (I Sam. 18:10–11).

The traditional view is that we endure our lives while "mourning and weeping in this valley of tears." According to this view of the universe, God causes everything, so you end up with the question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" And how can an all–holy God cause evil, or things such as murder? You can only explain that in terms of God punishing evil people, like Saul, for their sins. This leads you to a further conclusion — if you lead an upright life, God will always bless you, even in this life. If you sin though, God will punish you with suffering. Many of the Psalms reflect this attitude.

  "The wicked, enemies of Yahweh, will be destroyed, they will vanish like the green of the pasture, they will vanish in smoke. Now I am old, but ever since my youth I never saw an upright person abandoned, or the descendants of the upright forced to beg their bread." — Psalms 37:20,25  

The entire book of Job, on the other hand, calls this pious attitude into question. Job is an innocent man who suffers, and his "friends" give him all the traditional answers: "Job, you must be guilty. Confess your crimes and God will restore your health and property." Job keeps on defending himself by claiming that he is innocent and has done nothing wrong to deserve his miserable fate. At the end of the book, God finally speaks and says, to paraphrase, "None of you know what you are talking about, but Job is closer to the truth than the rest of you, and I'm going to restore everything to Job; more than that, I am going to double it!" It's important to note that Job is one of the last books of the Old Testament to be written (probably in the 5th century B.C.). The culmination of the Old Testament teaching on suffering then, is that its ultimate cause is a mystery. The final lesson is that "faith must remain even when understanding fails" (Introduction to Job, p. 755, New Jerusalem Bible: Doubleday, 1985). It's significant too, that Job's friends think that they are defending God's honor by repeating the traditional argument that you must have sinned to deserve sickness.

These legalist "friends" have many parallels in our own Christian world — some leaders still teach that the only reason you are sick is because you have sinned. They counsel, "If only you had faith, you would have been healed," or "You must harbor unforgiveness or your arthritis would have disappeared." Such teachings remind us of the exhortations of Job's friends. (This is not to say that some arthritis could not be connected to unforgiveness, but many other factors can also be involved, such as diet, stress, heredity, etc.)

But then when Jesus comes on the scene, the teaching on suffering is further refined beyond what we read in Job. In His teaching, you see Him picking up on the mystery aspect when He asks whether the 18 people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them were any worse than anyone else living in Jerusalem. "They were not," He says (Lk. 13:4). He goes further than that when He picks up on the Genesis theme of the Fall affecting all of us with a global evil — ultimately Satan is the one causing our sickness, not God. Jesus always rebuked sickness when He met it; He saw it as an enemy, not as a blessing sent by God. He healed everyone who came to him for help. He never told invalids to suffer patiently because God sent them their illness as a "blessing" to test their endurance.

Humanly speaking, Jesus' attitude is far healthier than the view that God tests the saints by sending them illness — the belief that disturbed C.S. Lewis when his wife, Joy, died of cancer (see his book A Grief Observed). It defies logic to believe in a God who makes us sick in order to test our loyalty. Any parent who acted that way would be seen as sadistic. Isn't this exactly what Jesus is getting at when He says, "If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for a fish, do you scare him with a live snake? As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing — you're at least decent to your own children. So don't you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?" — Matthew 7:9–11 as in The Message

There is so much more we could say, but for now here are a few simple reflections:

  • God loves us, truly loves us, more than any human father or mother can, no matter how wonderful our parents may have been. When you suffer, know that most of it comes because of the broken, fallen, and evil state of the world into which you are born.
  • Jesus died for us and gave us the Holy Spirit, whose love and power will undo the effects of sin, including sickness. Jesus, through His Holy Spirit, forgives our sins and begins to heal our broken hearts, our broken bodies and our broken relationships.
  • Much healing occurs in this life (Paul calls it a "down payment" on eternal life), but the rest will happen only after Jesus brings us total victory over our ultimate enemy, death.
  • Nevertheless, Jesus tells us we will suffer in this life. The forces of evil will cause us to suffer. We will, for example, suffer rejection and persecution.
  • Nowhere does Jesus say we must endure sickness. Sickness is not the same thing as suffering, but it is a condition that causes suffering. It's just one among many conditions that cause suffering. The Gospel shows us that Jesus wants to heal our sickness — certainly for the most part.
  • There are root causes of sickness that we may have to overcome before we are healed. It's not that Jesus doesn't want to heal us, but we must do our part (see the chapter in my book Healing on the various reasons people are not healed).

Yet, ultimately, we are dealing with mystery. Author Jamie Buckingham, shortly before his death, said, "I understand much less than I used to, but I believe more."

In sickness and suffering, we want to continue to praise God — not because of our sickness, not in spite of our sickness, but we praise God in the midst of our sickness.

  "Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death I should fear no danger; for You are at my side. Your staff and Your crook are there to soothe me." — Psalms 23:4  

When you experience sickness, some is directly caused by demonic influence, such as the "spirits of infirmity" mentioned in the Bible. But most is indirectly caused by Satan, who has drawn the world into its fallen, broken, wounded state. Ultimately, the cause of all sickness and suffering is Satan, who hates us, not God, who loves us.

*Who Causes Us to Suffer? was originally published in Healing Line, Spring 1996, under the title Why Do We Suffer?

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Fall 2013