Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Savior, Healer, Both?

"While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'

On hearing this, Jesus said, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.'" (Matthew 9:10-12)

"'Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.' So he said to the paralyzed man, 'Get up, take your mat and go home.' Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man." (Matthew 9:5-8)

"What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (Romans 6:1-2)

"...'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

When the Chilean miners were rescued last month, the whole world watched. Christians praised God as they heard the news and the credit the miners gave to their Lord. The miners become not only pop-culture celebrities, but also anecdotal heroes of the faith. But this religious fervor raises an important question. What if they weren't rescued? Would God have been there then? Just how much did God have to do with saving those miners? Besides the Evangelical response, was the ecumenical response, and the skeptic response. Which is right? Is it possible they all are?

Michael Spencer, in the twelfth chapter of Mere Churchianity, questions the "perfection" demonstrated by many Christians under the guise of Jesus being both healer and savior. The premise goes that since they are saved, they are therefore healed. Healed of malady, financial hardships, depression, addiction, their own sinful nature. Paul, in the passages above would counter that claim, praising God for his weaknesses in one breath while reminding us that we are dead to our sin in the next. In the miracle above, Jesus' acts of healing and forgiveness were not the same. They were two different events.

I've found there are two extremes to this theological and philosophical dilemma. On one side are those who praise God for being healed of everything under the sun. On the other are those who mope around acknowledging that they are sinners, always have been and always will be, who are just saved by God's grace. On the one hand are those who believe so strongly that God heals completely through salvation that any sin or weakness must be the consequence of hidden sin or a lack of faith. Then there's the temptation to over-rely on God's grace for forgiveness without accepting our part to die to our sins (Romans 6, above). At the same time many Christians feel defeated by their sin, looking at Paul's "thorn in the flesh" example from 2 Corinthians and just accept their sinful nature while not doing anything about it.  Each is dangerous because they lead to using their present condition to judge others. Michael seems to fall towards the latter extreme. I admire admitting weakness, but he seems to dismiss any healing or providence from God.
But it begs the question of just how involved is God in our day-to-day struggles? Is he only around in the big things (Chilean miners) or in every little thing? And if He is involved in everything, then why doesn't everything "work for the good"? Why do we still struggle with sin? Why does he have cancer, why did she lose her job, and why are they so "blessed"?

I don't have the answers. I wish I did. But I know from experience being and working with addicts, that God can overcome our sinful natures. I also know that when he does so, "blessings" pour out in abundance. And I also recognize that this is completely different than salvation and grace. We joke in my recovery group that if you show up single, you'll leave married. That's been the case for four now-married couples. One brother just celebrated one year of sobriety. In that year, he's returned to church, gotten married, and is now expecting a child. I would not be married to my wife if not for both of our recoveries. I've also seen the same number of marriages saved from the brink of divorce through recovery. Yet there are defeats as well. One couple separated as they both went through recovery and have had limited and mixed success in their sobriety. His heart is broken because a judge just ruled that she can move two states away and take their kids. He has since left church while she has stuck around. After the judge's ruling, she posted on Facebook, "praise God..." He posted, "please pray for me..."

God is still there, still involved, and still active. How things will ultimately work out, I do not know. But I also do not know if God will grant me another day of sobriety, another day with my kids and my wife, another day employed. What happens next I just have to trust in Him.

(And iteresting dichotomy considering God's providence: Michael Spencer died from a brain tumor before this book was released. Why him and why then? Yesterday was posted an interview with Matt Chandler, who one year ago was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Why him, why has he been spared? The interview is worth checking out.)


A Simple Country Girl said...

God does say to praise Him in all things. Praise and prayer. Praise and prayer.

In regard to your earlier mention of mopey Christians who act as if they are unworthy wretches slogging in the mud pits of life, that drives me absolutely buggy. We are new in Christ. Act like it!

In addition, I do believe God is with us in all things. How can He not be when the Holy Spirit indwells within?

Thank you for this thought-provoking post.


Anonymous said...

You are right, God is with us in things that areto us easy, wonderful experiences as well as in the things that are hard for us. God has His ways, and we don't see His ways clearly.

But, in all His name should be praised. Not an easy lesson.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.”

i was thinking about my own children, in how i expect them
to try and do the right thing,
but, i know that will not always
happen. Yet, it would have to be
pretty bad, for me to have to give-up on them. They would have to be totally lost to me and any of my ifluence.

When my children were small and i did something for my kids, that they liked, they were very happy with me.

But, when i did something that was for their good, but, that was hard for them. They were not so very pleased with me.

We are God's children, but, he is not a human parent, He is our creator and God.

He is not a our genie in a bottle, He is the one and only God.

We know all things work to the to the good for...who?

Those who do what?


for those who


who have been called

according to


God can do what He wants.
We can choose to follow or not.

The thing is, we don't know His ways, so we must always be following Him in the Spirit.
Always listening, always paying attention to His voice.

It's live and in colour, not written on a script.


oops, got carried away with the upper case type.

We can study all there is in the bible, we can know all there is to know...


it all comes down to Loving God and folloing Him.

And He Loves us enough give His Spirit to dwell in us, to guide our spirits, to always be with us, there, to guide us.

can you imaginge a parent that would alwyas be there to guide every moment? no human can do that. but, God can.

our part is to
Love God and to want to be lead...
and then follow in the Spirit.

we are so easily distracted, are we not?

we so easily want to do the leading, but, in this dance, He leads.

Glynn said...

What I particularly liked about chapter 12 was that Spencer clearly differentiates between salvation and healing. It's more process than progress -- and we often confuse the two.

Good post, Fatha Frank.

Fatha Frank said...

As always, thank you all for your thoughtful comments. Nancy, I love how I seem to provoke from you a post that stands on its own. It is a fight, it is hard, but like a watchful and caring parent God is right there with us.

Anonymous said...

you do write a good post.