I was talking with someone about a mother whose child is dying of cancer. The mother is a health care professional, but did not recognize the symptoms early enough, and before the cancer was diagnosed, it was too far gone to stop. So this child is dying. S/he is rapidly losing weight, a limb has been cut off up to the joint where it joined the body, The tumors have invaded every organ, and is consuming most of the nutrition that can be gotten in. The parents believe God is going to heal the child and refuse to make the child a “No Code” status. No Code status means that if s/he were to experience cardiac or respiratory arrest, no effort would be made to resuscitate the child. S/he would just be allowed to die. Poor, suffering child. Poor, suffering parents.
This kind of thing always makes me wonder where the “Faith Healers” are? I think frequently about the difference between what is recorded in the Gospel accounts of the healing miracles of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles, and what is on “Christian TV”. And here are the differences I think about:
1. When Christ and/or His Apostles performed a healing miracle, it was always in front of witnesses who knew the person who was healed. And, invariably, it was an ailment which was visible, or the symptoms were visible. In this way, all the witnesses to the miracle knew the person who was healed, the previous condition, and saw a visible, touchable manifestation of a real healing. These are the things that are ideally necessary by the laws of evidence in a court of law to establish a fact: That something happened, that there were eye witnesses, preferably many, most of whom were reluctant to believe anything confirmatory to the claims of Jesus, and many of whom were hostile, who actually saw a visible malady change and become normal as a result of something that Jesus Christ or one of His appointed agents (the Apostles) did or said. And, in this case, the event observed, is known to be impossible, and hostile witnesses are among the observers. In many cases, the statements of the hostile witnesses are recorded. I can’t think right off where any attempt to say that the miracle did not happen (because there were too many witnesses who knew the case before and after) even though they did resist the meaning of the miracles. All these things together confirm that Jesus Christ was in fact the Son of God, or that the Apostles were in fact His appointed agents to continue His work and doctrine after His return to the Father.
But when the televangelist/healers hold these healing services, the people who are allowed to come up before the cameras are strangers. And they are always healed of something that cannot be objectively verified by the onlookers. The closest thing I have seen to something observable is when someone comes up in a wheel chair or some other assistive device, and is supposedly able to get up and walk. The healer coaxes the subject and the audience so that the power of suggestion and the emotion of the moment persuades the audience, who already wants to believe this, that the person was completely incapable of walking at all, and now can walk normally. As an RN, I have seen plenty of people who can walk short distances reasonably well. The fact that they go about in a wheel chair does not prove that they cannot walk. So I have never seen an event at one of these meetings where there are unbiased, preferably hostile witnesses who knew the subject before, who have no element of suggestablity (this leaves out family members in the case of an invisible healing) and where the subject has an observable illness which requires no medical equipment or medical skill to assess, and who, in the presence of such witnesses, undergoes an actual healing.
An example of what I mean would be that a person missing a leg has his leg grow back. A person who is in end stage cancer with all the discoloration and muscle wasting suddenly pinks up and fills out and grows a full head of hair. Stories from the televangelist about the woman who went home and supposedly recovered later don’t count. They are unconfirmed stories with no witnesses to the healing. Or this child, who would be presented on the stage before the audience and all the witnesses with a missing limb, and weighing fifty pounds, with black spots and yellowed, drawn skin. Then the televangelist would lay on hands and the arm would grow back in, the flesh would pink up and fill out, the spots would disappear, there would be no more pain, and the child would be obviously and completely recovered before all the witnesses, preferably some hostile ones.
2. The outcome for Christ and His Apostles as a result of these events is different from that of the televangelist healers. For Christ, this stuff wound up getting Him in trouble with the majority of the religious people of the day, accused of sedition to overthrow Caesar, and crucified. As for the Apostles, I was reading again one of Paul’s statements about how things were going with the Apostles as a result of their faithful witness to events and meaning of the life of Jesus Christ. Paul said, “ I think God has set us, the Apostles, last, as it were, appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake . . . we are weak . . . we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; and labor, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world and are th offscouring of all things unto this day.” This last phrase refers to the stuff you would scrape off the inside of your chamber pot (back when they were the potty du jour) during spring cleaning. In other places, Paul reflects that, in order to know Christ, he lost his reputation (a lofty one) and his possessions (he was wealthy), possibly a wife and children. In II Corinthians chapter 11, Paul talks about some of the terrible sufferings he endured as an ambassador of Jesus Christ. In a word or two, the neither Jesus or His Apostles became wealthy, famous, or powerful as a result of their ministry. This indicates that they really were what they claimed to be and that their message was historically true, factual and rational by the laws of evidence.
On the other hand, it only takes a little observation and some digging around on the internet to find out that the televangelists, though they probably never have a real bona fide, verified healing, live like kings. They have taylor made clothes. They live in palaces, and often have grandiose “prayer getaways” in the mountains or in some expensive overlook of the ocean.
They wear expensive jewelry. They have cosmetic surgery so they will “look like a man or woman of God.” (John Baptist wore a goat hair bathrobe with a leather bathrobe tie. As far as I know he didn’t shave, and probably was not a regular bather. Yet all of us who have believed the Gospel and have been saved have done so because of John’s ministry.) They claim to be God’s agents, and they frequently claim that they prophesy as spokesmen directly from God. When they talk, they sound like God stops by for coffee and doughnuts every morning to give them the rundown on the day. But they don’t suffer, they are not deprived, they are certainly not like the scraping of a chamber pot. They do rake in millions of dollars into their own pockets which are given by well meaning but deceived people who can ill afford to give money, but who are told if they give sacrificially “to support this ministry” God will meet all their needs. Well, that is another argument. But, in summary, they do what they do because it is lucrative. It is also cruel to their constituants. As far as I can tell, God prospers one who works and saves and lives frugally and who give to the poor. The televangelists are not poor.
Well, I’m rambling. My point is: that which passes for Christianity in America today on Christian TV for the most part, in my opinion, is Christian in the same way that counterfeit money is money. It only appears, through careful screening and crafting, to be a continuation of the Apostles’ work. But it really makes the Gospel appear, to thinking people, ridiculous. And it fosters the assumption that people who believe the Bible and are Christians are not very bright and practice the kind of faith that Mark Twain defined. It is attrubuted to him that he said, “Faith is believeing something that you know damn good and well is not so.”
However, that recorded in the Gospel accounts and the rest of the New Testament documents meets the requirements of the laws of evidence. The proclaimers thereof not only did not get glory, honor, wealth and fame, but they suffered. Conclusion: that the witnesses in the New Testament were telling the truth. The televangelists are presenting something that is undermining the message of the Gospel and making it look like make-believe religion of the opiate class (Karl Marx: “Religion is the opiate of the people.”) Moreover, the cruelty shows up in this nice mother who is unable to accept that in a fallen world, people, even our dear children, die gruesome deaths, and God is not going to heal them. This does not mean God is not interested, or that He does not love. It means He has declined the request for healing for His own secret reasons.
Nevertheless, the Gospel and the evidence for it presented in the documents of the New Testament are true. Any who wish to bow before The Living Lord Jesus Christ as Saviors and forgiver of his sins, let him do so.
“Let us press on to know the Lord. As surely as the rain he shall come.”