Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Looking forward . . . do we WANT to be healed?

In Philippians 3:13-14, St Paul says: ". . . one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." 

The words "I press on" are so important. Looking forward, not looking back. 

One of the most amazing blockbuster sermons I can remember from my teenage years was at a healing service. It was one of those few sermons that was like a riveting personal counselling session - except that there were about 1500 other people present! The preacher was basing his remarks, his stories and his "therapy" on John 5:1-9 where Jesus asks the man by the Pool of Bethesda who had been paralysed for 38 years, "Do you want to be healed?" 

The preacher pointed out that most people could not think of a more stupid question to ask such a man. 

But he went on to explain how - having been slapped down by people, circumstances, bad fortune, illness etc etc - most of us tend to "settle into" our predicaments and allow them to rob us of any dreams for the future. Eventually our sickness (or whatever the situation is) becomes reassuring like an old friend, a crucial part of how we define ourselves as persons, and even the means of gaining attention or feeling special. If we allow this to happen, whether we are talking spiritual, psychological or physical sickness (or even - as we would say today - "stress"), there comes a point at which any kind of intervention by God, including the gift of supernatural strength to cope better with our circumstances, is more or less unwelcome because of the challenge we are then faced with - the challenge to define ourselves in some new way . . . by faith. 

Regular readers of this blog won't be surprised that I have something on this theme by that most practical of no-nonsence Anglican spiritual directors, Evelyn Underhill. It comes from her book, Light of Christ: Addresses Given at the House of Retreat Pleshey, in May, 1932, available from Amazon.com HERE:

In every healing act of Christ, the patient’s own will must be called out to complete the cure. “Immediately he rose up before them,” says St Luke, “and took up that whereon he lay and departed to his own house, glorifying God.” He had recognized and accepted the gift of healing love and was not under the weather any more. His psychological renovation was complete. His full manhood, responding to God and His human world, was restored and brought into play, That alone is health.

Even the influenza patient is not cured while he still crawls about saying, “You see I have had a touch of the ‘flu!” but only when he forgets all about it and gets on with his normal life. In the same way when the healing touch of Christ is laid on our souls, His real successes are not those grateful patients who never forget how ill they have been and are terribly afraid of another temperature: they are the ones whose faith and gratitude make them forget themselves and their poor little sins, who stand up and glorify God and go forward in the new energy of His power and love, dropping themselves and their unfortunate past. 

Some of the greatest of the Saints are among Christ’s moral cures — from Mary Magdalene to Charles de Foucauld — but they always look forward, not backward, with a wonderful combination of fresh vigorous initiative and absolute and grateful trust. People who “enjoy bad health” whether spiritual or physical will never respond to His healing power with the fullness and faith He asks.

Now, this is not said in order to make us guilty for having been crushed and broken, whether through our own fault or through circumstances beyond our control, and feeling exhausted by the very thought of trying to get onto our feet. Indeed, God's community of love - the Church - is to embrace us with such compassion, care and real love when we reach our lowest point, that a tiny spark of hope for a future is created within us, regardless of the past. That's all God needs to work with . . . the tiniest spark of hope. Every now and then he seems to give it to someone "direct from heaven", so to speak. But usually we get it through the love, care, nurture, support and understanding of others. That then gives us the courage to take the risk of being open to God's healing power. 

It's sad that churches are sometimes not very good at doing this, because it is one of the main things God wants us to do. Speaking personally, I want to say that in a couple of the parishes I've been privileged to serve, there have been such reservoirs of love and compassion among the people of God, that many who had thought of themselves as hopeless have found hope and then healing of one kind or another. Laus deo! 


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