Mark 5: 21-43
After a stressful trip to cold-war Russia in 1964, Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins developed a debilitating illness which confined him to bed. He was admitted to a hospital for tests and treatments, and diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, (a form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine; the joints become inflamed … causing severe, chronic pain and discomfort. In some cases it leads to a permanent stooped posture.) Norman Cousins’ condition deteriorated and he was given a prognosis that was not optimistic at all… He noticed while hospitalized that the depressing routine of hospital life tended to produce side effects that aggravated his condition.
With the blessing of one of his doctors, he checked out of the hospital and into a comfortable (and less expensive) hotel where the food was better. He found a TV channel that ran Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello films daily and he
“religiously” watched them! He added extra Vitamin C to his diet and looked forward to the shows that made him laugh every day! Perhaps by the endorphins released by his laughter, and by feeling less stressed than in a clinical setting, he started to relax. And as he relaxed his condition started to improve, and eventually to subside! He was convince that laughter was a powerful “medicine,” and he wrote about it in his groundbreaking book, Anatomy of an Illness. His findings were also included in the New England Journal of Medicine in the December 23, 1976 issue.
That story is not to say that hospitals aren’t important or that doctors aren’t important: they are important in my view and my experience. But a team of people hold us physical or emotionally; and surroundings that are uplifting can certainly affect our bodies, our minds, coupled with medications as needed can bring us to wholeness. One more example: during the days in 1987 when I was facing serious burnout, stress, and a dark night of the soul, I put three things in place to move beyond the darkness. The whole remedy was included in my doctoral dissertation, a copy of which is in our church library. But one of the remedies was taking my lunch hours, going home, and watching “The Andy Griffith Show!” Abbott and Costello don’t make me laugh, but Barney and Andy did! I hadn’t laughed in weeks; and they brought escape and lightness to my burdened soul. Intensive morning prayer was also part of my remedy. It did not take a hospital, but I was certainly ill in my soul.
My point is that some people who read this passage—of Jesus healing a young girl, and then a woman—will decide this: “Jesus healed then; why doesn’t he heal now? I’ll just ask Jesus to heal me!” Jesus does heal. But God’s will and the circumstances of life can make some people so broken that recovery is difficult. On the other hand, some people only call on Jesus for healing, not following medical advice. Homeless advocates will tell us that just prayer and food will not heal those who are mentally ill; they will also need medication and therapy. Another example: we had the most wonderful woman who worked with children in our church for years—Trudy Jones—and she could not hear out of one ear. She managed, but still had difficulty hearing. When asked why she could not hear, she recounted the story of her mother—a devout Christian Scientist—would only pray for Jesus to heal her daughter, not get medical treatments. So her daughter Trudy suffered a terrible earaches and she lost her hearing in the process.
There are people of some Christian denominations that simply say “pray harder” or “have more faith” when people are found to be sick. Some do heal; but some don’t. Perhaps the number of people healed is a similar percentage as those who use a medical doctor, or even a hospital, and the prayers of a congregation. Sometimes pastors in other churches have told me, “When we pray for a healing, we expect healing from God! Do you?” When I was a new pastor I stopped to visit a parishioner in the hospital. At the end of our visit I asked him, “Would you like me to pray with you?” And he said, “If it will make you feel better!” Goodness! We need to add in prayers to God, not just for good measure; or because it couldn’t hurt, but because you believe it will change the outcome!
Jesus, in the first century, absolutely healed people. He was so connected to his Heavenly Father, and so devoted in him daily prayers, that he could heal with a word or a touch. Some people in our day may have great powers to speed healing. But for most of us, a combination of prayer, medicine when appropriate, and common sense will bring about the best result. I have Type 2 Diabetes. I absolutely believe in prayer, but for my illness I think medication, proper diet, and exercise are needed to control my symptom. I think praying alone for someone who has diabetes could lead to disastrous results like Trudy Jones losing her hearing.
One final comment: Dr. Larry Dossey, in his book “Healing Words” tells about an experience he allowed when he was managing a hospital. He carried out 10 years of research between prayer and healing. His conclusion: “prayer compliments, but does not take the place of good medicine. In one part of his experience, had had half of the patients on a hospital floor be given the best medical care; the other half got the same excellent medical care, but he had a congregation praying for them every day. The ones bathed in prayer healed faster and more completely.
Yes, Jesus healed in the first century. And yes, there are cases when Jesus heals now. But many cases have shown that prayer plus good physical, or emotional therapy, brings the best results. And yet, there are times when, because of issues that we cannot fully understand, some become too sick or too broken to return to health. Then we lean on the everlasting love of God—a love that will not let us go—and we begin to move through that loss with the love of others. On those days of brokenness or sorrow, may that love be sufficient for your needs, as you put one foot in front of the other.
Jeffrey A. Sumner July 1, 2018