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And it’s time we saw a miracle,
Come on it’s time for something biblical,
To pull us through it all.
~ Apocalypse Please by Muse.
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Come on, it’s time to make this personal.
March 15th, 2007, just a few minutes before midnight, a couple doctors walked into my hospital room. At the time I was mildly surprised to see them walk into the room at such an hour, but by now I’ve learned what to expect when doctors travel in pairs; bad news.
I’d been overly drowsy for three weeks, unable to fight off a cold and hardly able to stay awake long enough to eat or drink, let alone make it through a day at work. I was literally wasting away. They’d admitted me when a blood test showed I was anemic earlier that day, and now they knew the underlying cause.
See, your blood should have around 4 – 8,000 or so white blood cells (WBC) when you’re healthy, maybe up to 18 or 20,000 when you’re fighting a virus. I, they informed me, had a WBC count of 290,000. No, that is not a typo. It was ridiculously high. And with a WBC count of almost 300,000 there’s really only one possible cause: Leukemia. Plus, my blood was so thick (the highest WBC count most of the doctors had ever seen) I basically could have died at any moment of a heart attack, stroke or aneurysm. My veins were in near gridlock. Needless to say they started treatment right away, as in, fifteen minutes later. Then, a biopsy the next day confirmed; Chronic Myeloid Leukemia.
Fast forward about two years later, I’m in remission and leading a fairly normal life. I need more rest than the average person my age, and I still have some side effects, but the drug I’m on is actually quite amazing in it’s specific aim and subsequent lack of collateral damage; especially when compared to other cancer treatments, like chemotherapy or radiation, and their bad habit of killing good, healthy cells along with the cancerous ones.
I’ll stop here for a moment, because I know what some of you are thinking. “Well, isn’t that a miracle?”
The answer, of course, is, No.
I still have cancer. Sure, my body reacted, over several months, to a regimen of medical treatment and fought this disease, but the disease is still there. And if there was ever a time I poured out my all, my everything into heartfelt prayer and supplication for healing, it would have been those several months following diagnosis. The times when the side effects were so painful I couldn’t even get myself to the bathroom and I’d have to hope my wife would get home from work in time. Thankfully, she always did.
But a miracle would have been a negative biopsy the day after their initial diagnosis, followed by a half dozen bafflingly negative test results, then me getting discharged with a clean bill of health. Going from almost dead to healthy overnight: Miracle. Going from almost dead to almost back to good health after a year or so: Yeah, not so miraculous sounding, huh?
Funny, because I know people who still think God performed a miracle in me.
“But Anthony,” you say, “maybe… you know… God works in mysterious ways. Maybe there is a miracle at work and you just don’t see it.”
Oh, right, in that case let’s pull out our Bibles and turn to the story where Jesus healed the leper over a period of 6 months. And then, how about the one where he shrunk the woman’s brain tumor to half it’s size. It was still there, of course, only smaller. Or the story where the blind man was healed up to the level of only being legally blind. Legally blind isn’t fully blind, you know.
Of course, we don’t find these stories in the Bible. And why not? Because there would be nothing miraculous about them and they wouldn’t do anything to…. that’s right, inspire faith.
The Bible says Jesus restored a man’s shriveled hand completely, and people were amazed, that Jesus healed lepers and that the lame were made to walk, and that he raised people from the dead. You can’t just half-resurrect someone. How awkward would that be?
“So… this is it, huh? I’m still a little stiff, and what is that smell? Is that me? Brilliant. I got one of the blue light special healings. Why couldn’t I turn out all healthy and new like that leper you healed last month?”
Okay, enough sarcasm for the moment.
I was taught that scripture is my basis for understanding God. If that’s the case, there is no such thing as half-way healings, or miraculous 6-month recoveries. The body takes time to ‘heal’ itself using it’s immune system and often in concert with drugs and other medical treatments. That’s nature, and while it may be the way God designed it, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. On the other hand, a miracle, the way it is presented in the Bible, is sudden and otherwise inexplicable. It is baffling and requires complete denial to not believe.
And this is where I think the church has gone so wrong today. We’ve traded the miraculous healings of the Bible for relatively short recovery times and people who end up with statistically less pain than the average patient over time.
When Paul was bitten by a snake, he didn’t suffer only mildly from the venom and surprise a few people because bounced back rather soon. He shook the snake off and never felt ill at all and the people were amazed.
Instead, we’ve come to call it a miracle when God heals someone’s broken spirit, or some other conveniently intangible, completely un-empirical, somewhat warm and fuzzy feeling. But let’s be honest, we don’t read about any miraculous warm-fuzzies in the Bible.
So what, then? Does God just not heal anymore? I suppose the bigger question would be; Is my faith in God totally wrapped up in a completely literal interpretation of the Bible? And I must admit, I don’t have an answer for this question just yet, I’m still working on it. I do believe history has shown the dangers of over-interpreting or over-literalizing scripture, but this healing topic is hard to let go. So I can’t give you a hard and fast answer as this is still something I’m working out. Instead, what I will end with is something interesting that struck me the other day.
What do all the people who were healed in the Biblical stories have in common?
Think about it. The one common trait among all those who Jesus healed in the Bible is that (drum roll please)…
They are all dead now.
Sort of a sobering thought, huh? And to me, this just might be the key. It strikes me that healing probably wasn’t the point anyway. Whether or not these stories took place I cannot say with 100% certainty, but it seems to me that the healings were a ‘means’ and not and ‘end’ in and of themselves. They have to be, because if the healing and good health was the point, well, God would have ultimately failed.
Therefore, when people ask if I believe in healing, today, my best answer is, I don’t know. I can’t say for sure because I have never seen it, but I would be remiss to rule out the possibility simply because it hasn’t happened to me. Like I said in my initial post, the same goes for the movie Beaches, just because I’ve never seen it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
So this is where I am today. If the Biblical stories are true, then God was showing His power through Jesus and other prophets like Paul, so that people would be drawn to Him. And if the stories aren’t true, then we have a group of first century believers simply writing in a style that would convey the message of God’s power to the people of their time in their vernacular with the same purpose, to draw people to their God. I mean, with all the faith healers of today who claim to heal people, many of them well-meaning folks who totally believe they wield God’s power in spite of any real evidence, is it really so hard to believe that people in the first century might possibly have been just as well meaning?
Or more pointedly; Do I really need to see a healing to believe in God, or is my faith grounded on something deeper than that?
I would submit it must be deeper than this. If not, we risk approaching God with a selfish agenda rather than an open mind and heart. And if that is the case, what happens when the chips are down and, say, we’re facing a terminal illness, like cancer, and it never goes away? Then, eventually, there is no reason to stick around, and we have to discard any previous connection we have found with God because, this time, He never said, “How high” when we asked Him to jump.