Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Your Faith has Healed You": Questions about Prayer

Before you discount me as a heretic, may I just say that the following are simply honest thoughts and questions. "Intelligent people are always open to new ideas. In fact, they look for them." Proverbs 18:15 (Though I suppose you could use that verse to defend anything unorthodox….haha.)

In my search for healing of a physical problem that I believe is what they call "psychogenic," that is, mind/body related, I have done quite a bit of research. In the last year, I have read numerous books on the mind/body connection, some more farfetched than others. One such book, which I don't even exactly remember how I came across, was the self-help classic The Power of Your Subconscious Mind. Written in the 1960s by Joseph Murphy, a lapsed Catholic and "Divine Science minister" (I didn't know this when I checked it out from the library) the book mostly contains what I would consider heresy and foolishness. I thought I was checking out a volume on the interplay between the subconscious mind and the body; rather, this book makes a lot of outrageous claims about having everything you want. You just have to convince your subconscious mind to get it all for you--that's right, your subconscious mind knows all. Just tell it to obtain whatever you want--anything from healing of cancer to a new purse--and said outcome/object will be yours. There are some instructions on the process of going about this, but that's what it basically boils down to.

Maybe I should have stopped reading right there. But I was curious about what else the crazy old coot would have to say. In my many months of research and in my own personal experience, I can say with certainty that our minds have tremendous power over our bodies, our attitudes, and sometimes even our circumstances--so while I was entirely skeptical of Murphy's initial conclusions, I wondered if he might eventually make some good points. It turns out Murphy references the Bible quite a bit (after all, he was a Divine Science minister--that makes him a reliable theologian, right? Oh, wait….) Specifically, Murphy gives his own unique interpretation of the many healing miracles of Jesus. On multiple occasions where Jesus heals people in the Gospels, he tells them, "Your faith has healed you." According to Murphy, it is the power of the subconscious mind--or, put differently, the placebo effect--that does the healing. Once the person is convinced they will be healed, their mind tells their body to do the healing and, boom, healing occurs.

Okay, so I don't believe for a second that that's exactly the way it went down when Jesus healed people. But reading this very different evaluation of Christ's miracles got me thinking…where do the divine power of God and our own thinking intertwine to effect healing? What exactly did Jesus mean when He said, "Your faith has healed you," or "According to your faith it will be done to you"? Is it heresy to think that it almost seems like He was downplaying His own role in their healing, almost as though He was saying that some of the power to heal lies within the sufferer? In linguistics, such declarations are called "illocutionary speech acts," that is, language which changes reality merely by the act of being spoken. (For example, "I now pronounce you man and wife.") Those who had faith in Christ's "speech act" were healed. When people didn't have faith in His words, such as in his hometown of Nazareth, He refused to do any miracles among them. So why does faith play such a huge role in miracles--specifically miracles of healing? Is it because it shows God we're doing our best to believe in Him and trust Him? Is healing a reward for this faith? Or does our faith also have a healing effect upon us all on its own?

I am coming to believe that it's both. Between the Bible and modern-day science, we know that our mental state changes how we feel physically. Psalm 38 is an example of sin--an issue of the mind/spirit--ruining a person's health. ("My bones have no soundness because of my sin…My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly.") And while not everyone who believes they will be healed of something actually receives that healing, evidence substantiating placebo cures can hardly be ignored. When people believe their health is improving, believe they will be healed, believe in the power of a certain treatment, they are statistically more likely to see their goal realized. And I believe that this is a power God has placed within the human body--the power to heal itself.

Ultimately, I believe that all power is God's. Any power we humans possess has been placed in us by His hand. But I do find the sleuthing of the details rather interesting--as if I'll ever get to the heart of the mystery.

So what do you think? What is the relationship between our faith, God's power, and physical healing? Could Christ have been referring to the healing power of faith itself in His words in the Gospels, or does the entirety of the work lie with Him, and our faith is merely the bridge that takes us across to His power?


  1. You are a fabulous writer with amazingly deep insights. I'm linking to you today.


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  3. Paul said,"Without faith it is impossible to please God". He gives an example of faith in Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
    If our health or healing is evidence of things not seen, then we are healed by faith. But we must have faith in an object or person. Jesus is the person we have faith in, so a placebo will not work unless it is temporary, because as you said the mind is powerful, and God gave us this mind. But also as you said, since God made us and our mind, He also gave us the power to be healed, or to heal. I think it may as you said, that our faith is the bridge that takes us across to His power, otherwise we are stuck on the other side. What do you think?

  4. I had a crazy old (please keep these adjectives in mind as a preface to this comment) calculus professor in the ASU honors college who referred me to this book: "The Hebraic Tongue Restored and the True Meaning of the Hebrew Words Re-Established and Proved by their Radical Analysis." The professor's claim about this book, which I only JUST discovered is available to read via Google Books, is that there existed/exists mystical and esoteric phraseologies of the Hebrew language to trigger a subconscious reaction that can cause physiological change, including physical healing. He claimed that Jesus may have used this mystical aspect of the Hebraic tongue to heal people as well.

    There are all sorts of interesting theories, but one of my favorite parts of being Catholic is accepting mysteries of the Faith. It would not surprise me that Jesus' miracles had something to do with the subconscious mind, just as it takes fertile ground to plant a seed and see it flourish. The Bible often mentions the hardening of hearts being barriers to allowing God's Will to be done. These sorts of conundrums used to make me crazy, and perhaps I'm taking the intellectually lazy point of view in accepting that they just happened because God allowed them to, but if I spend too much time focusing on mysteries, I drive myself crazy and further myself from God.

    In the end, I agree with you (of course!) that there's likely some middle ground at work here. The last three paragraphs of your post sum up how I feel. I'm glad we're on the same page here as I had some small fear that you'd start planting subconscious hints for me to do household chores or something. :)

  5. All I can tell you is if healing rests on what we do, say, think, etc...we may exhaust ourselves in trying to be "full of faith" to receive healing.

    It exhausted me. I believe in healing. My son did not get healed...we prayed, believed, quoted scripture, took communion, prayer cloths, prayer chains, medical attention, "healing scriptures" playing on CD...the works as best we could.
    Brain Cancer in a 12 yr. old boy. He believed. We believed. We still believe God heals today. But I believe there is a mystery to it as well.
    One day, when we see more clearly, rather than "through a glass darkly," the mystery may be revealed. For now...there are no answers. There is just Jesus. He's enough.

  6. Melanie, I am so sorry for the loss of your son. I admire your trust in Jesus even in the midst of the worst, and I pray that He is giving you daily strength and comfort. The mystery you mention is part of my struggle--wanting answers when God doesn't heal (or at least, hasn't yet). I know I have been guilty of trying to manipulate Him into healing me. Like maybe if I build up enough faith, it will tip the scales of His will and make Him give me this thing I want the most: healing of my body. But I know that in the end, if God says no for His own good reasons, no one and nothing will get in the way of that. And the real dealbreaker may not so much be having faith to be healed, but having faith to say, even if I am not healed, that God is still in control and He is still good.

  7. Sarah and Melanie,

    "For now...there are no answers. There is just Jesus. He's enough."

    "And the real dealbreaker may not so much be having faith to be healed, but having faith to say, even if I am not healed, that God is still in control and He is still good."

    This is exactly what I've concluded. Like Melanie, I, too, lost a child. Prayed, believed, fasted, read scriptures, read books, spoke in faith, believed, prayed, scriptures, spoke, spoke, spoke, believed, believed, believed.

    And Noah died anyway.

    So, I've concluded that God is Good and He is enough. And I completely and totally trust Him, even when I don't "get" Him.

    For now, I'm going about the business of allowing God to use this tragedy to draw people closer to Him. Myself, included.


  8. For the record. I am a child of God. Please sit while reading.

    Psychologically thoughts translate to actions and behaviours- i think therefore i do. I think i am happy/depressed therefore i am.
    I think: I am successful therefore i am: il do things to bring true that success.
    In my own life - i think i am at my goal weight of 80, therefore i am - a year later from 98kg i am at 85 now.
    I have witnessed people healed from cancer simply coz they believed - ive seen it with "nonChristians" (there are no labels in my eyes. We all believe in some degree or another)

    REMEMBER in order for Jesus to heal those people, they HAD TO BELIEVE THEYD BE HEALED FIRST.
    Change your thoughts, your perceptions and your behaviour will follow.
    Compare a pessimist's attitude to an optimist's.