Friday, November 8, 2013

Talking of Jesus as Healer

One of the most memorable experiences of my life, ever, was a weekend healing mission at St Matthew's Church, Dunedin with Bill Subritzky. The most unusual Anglican I have ever heard speak. Exorcising demons with invocation of the words of the BCP in support of this most Anglican thing to do.

Nearly 30 years later, in his 80s, he remains faithful in God's service. The naysayers are out in full force.


carl jacobs said...

The problem with focusing on Jesus as healer is that sickness is generally considered as devoid of moral fault. The needs of man are reduced to the consequences of external physical imposition. "It's not my fault I got sick. I contracted a virus. I need a healer to make me better." Sickness serves to indicates man's incapacity to deal with sin on his own. It does not adequately convey the moral fault that is endemic in the life of every man. Jesus is called a Savior for a reason. To reduce Him to a mere healer is to empty the Gospel of its content.

Theology matters. What you call them with is what you call them to. Focusing on healing is the equivalent of turning Jesus into the Bread King of John 5-6. It is easy to get people to follow by meeting their physical needs. But physical needs weren't the focus of Jesus' ministry. He came to seek and save the lost. Save them from what? The Judgment. That is much more significant than healing.


Peter Carrell said...

That is an excellent point, Carl!

Incidentally, Bill Subritzky was very clear in my experience on a call to repentance.

Bryden Black said...

Peter; you are properly onto something here - notwithstanding Carl's first response. For the language of "saviour", "salvation" and "save" in especially Luke/Acts has a very broad range of meaning, frequently embracing the physical dimension of human being, all needing - salvation!

Father Ron Smith said...

" Sickness serves to indicates man's incapacity to deal with sin on his own." - carl jacons -

I see where you're coming from with this remark - straight back to why Bill Subritzky was sometimes cause of great mental stress to some of his 'patients' in ministry.

I can just see the medical officer of health making a ruling for all incoming patients to the hospital;

"And what particular sin are you committing to find yourself in here? I should think the medical establishment would be up in arms!

That was one of the very real problems of the early charismatic movement: the lay diagnosis of 'spiritual ills' - curable only by "My Ministry". Just imagine the guilt feelings of the person who was not healed by the charismatic healer's fervent ministry!

Later, people grew up into a proper understanding that not all sickness is the result of the afflicted person's 'sins'.

carl jacobs said...

No, FRS, it is self-evident that you don't have a clue where I am coming from. Not the first clue. Your entire post has nothing to do with anything I said.

1. Even a cursory read of John 9 puts paid to the idea that all sickness is the result of sin. I never said that. How you arrived at that conclusion is beyond me.

2. A faith healer is in my book a fraud who preys on vulnerable people for money. A good place for such as he would be prison.

You don't understand me at all. You are arguing with a strawman of your own creation. Go read a book by R C Sproul and then you might understand the things I am saying.


Father Ron Smith said...

Carl, I don't like being called a liar - especially when we have proof here, on this very blog-spot, where you actually did say exactly what I attributed to you, and it is this:

"Sickness serves to indicates man's incapacity to deal with sin on his own.".

Now, if you want to take that back, I think - in view of your fervent protestation - perhaps you need to do it, on line, here.

My response to your statement was direct and sincerely meant.

Your later protestation about your personal feelings towards 'faith-healers' does, indeed, contradict what you said in the 1st instance - which is what I critiqued.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
I don't think Carl is calling you a liar. I suggest he is pointing out that you misunderstand what he is saying.

If (as you seem to be) you are saying that he said that sickness is the result of sin then I suggest a closer reading of what you cite. The citation connects sickness with our incapacity to deal with sin on our own. It does not directly connect sickness with sin.

I admit, however, to being a little confused about what each of you is asserting re faith healers and wonder if you may actually be saying much the same thing.

carl jacobs said...


I didn't accuse you of lying. I said you didn't understand me.

I was making a theological point about the primary purpose of the work of Christ. I said that His primary work cannot be described as healing. Man's primary problem is not sickness. Man's primary problem is that he is evil. He is by nature sinful. You don't heal a man of murder or theft or adultery. Jesus' primary work was to deal with man's primary problem. That's why we call Him Savior. Savour from what? From the judgment against sin. He didn't come just to raise Lazarus back to life just so Lazarus could die again. He came to bring eternal life by addressing the problem of sin.

The metaphor of healing does not address the problem of sin. Sickness typically implies moral neutrality on the part of the patient. Is a man with cancer guilty of Cancer? No. He contracted a disease. The illness does not convey moral responsibility for the consequences. That's why Jesus cannot be primarily thought of as a healer. The metaphor does not clearly display the fact that Jesus was first and formed addressing the guilt of man because of sin. That was the whole of my point in the first post.

Now somehow you construed from this that I was asserting that every man's death or sickness is a direct divine punishment for some specific sin. That's theological nonsense as the Man born blind (John 9) proves. In a general sense all men die because they sin. Sickness and infirmity and disability and suffering are all consequences of sin. But that is not the same thing as saying every man's death is a replay of the story of Ananias and Sapphira. The general consequences that apply to all men do not imply that specific divine punishment must underlie every sickness or death. As it is written: "Neither this man sinned nor his parents but that the glory of God might be displayed in him."

This is why I said that nothing you wrote had anything to do with me. Because it didn't.


Father Ron Smith said...

"The metaphor of healing does not address the problem of sin. Sickness typically implies moral neutrality on the part of the patient" - Carl

Carl; on this point you and I are in complete agreement. We would probably also agree that the very presence of sickness in our world i a symptom of our brokenness.

To my simple mind, The Christ -event was all about redemption from our broken relationship to our creator God. Redemption and healing add up to the same thing - in this particular situation.

That there undoubtedly are people with 'a gift of healing', is attested to in Scripture, and I do believe that there are still 'healers' among us. Part of my ministry, as a Christian priest, is to contribute towards the healing of the broken relationship between us and God. This is one reason I am particularly concerned to include everyone in my attempts to bring reconciliation - even those who see my attempts as not being in accord with their idea of who qualifies for reconciliation.

I see 'sin' as anything that separates human beings from God. And there are more grievous sins that loving extravagantly - and maybe on occasions. unwisely.

Tim Chesterton said...

I have to say I'm not as doubtful about the healing metaphor as you are, Carl. The reason is my belief in the doctrine of original sin. Are we humans sinners because we sin, or do we sin because we're sinners? Surely original sin teaches us that we sin because we're sinners. We're infected with the sin virus from the very beginning; everyone born into the human race has that poison in us. We didn't choose it, although we certainly choose what to do about it, to a certain extent. And yet, experience and Christian theology teach us that we will never get completely well from it in this life.

So I see your viewpoint and Ron's (and Peter's I think) as complimenting each other. Is sin a crime that needs to be forgiven? Yes indeed, of course, and so 'there is forgiveness with thee'. But as we are filled with the Holy Spirit and use the means of grace, then we can indeed see that Jesus is in the process of gradually healing us from the infection of sin.

All these titles of Christ are metaphors, aren't they? 'Saviour' is most commonly used in the Old Testament in a military sense, as Yahweh saves his people from their enemies, so surely a 1st century Jew would have heard that name applied to Jesus as the one who saves us from our greatest enemy - evil and sin. But none of the titles are exhaustive; even 'Saviour', for instance, is incomplete without 'Lord', and if you use only 'Saviour', you miss import an truths about Jesus. 'Healer', it seems to me, is a useful part of the picture - but only a part, like the others.

Peter Carrell said...

I would chime in, Carl, with Tim, with the observation that Luke seems pretty keen on communicating Jesus as healer/saviour (Your faith has saved you, following a healing miracle).

One way to understand Luke's presentation of Jesus is that Jesus does not differentiate healing from saving.

If calling Jesus 'Healer' became an exclusion of talk of Jesus as Saviour then best to drop it.

My proposal is that as we preach the gospel in today's world, emphasis on Jesus as Healer might connect with people in a way that Saviour does not.

Anonymous said...

"One way to understand Luke's presentation of Jesus is that Jesus does not differentiate healing from saving."

Really? What about Luke 17.17-19?

Ten were cleansed but only one gave thanks to God. This suggests to me there could be physical healing in Jesus' ministry which didn't result in spiritual restoration. Other examples in Luke, e.g. 7.16; 8.48; 13.13, do demonstrate the exemplary response of faith and gratitude.


Peter Carrell said...

Yes, Martin, Luke is complicated!

The example you give is rightly drawn attention to. It means that no one could move from a healing/your faith has saved you miracle to develop a Lukan (let along whole of Bible) soteriology in which healing = salvation, fullstop.

Nevertheless, the point remains that in Luke's Gospel there is much to ponder about the close association between healing and salvation, between the life changing encounter with Christ in the existential healing moment when Christ is met (with, seemingly, no subsequent further meeting) and the kind of change we describe as 'conversion.'

What is intriguing, that is, is that Luke seems careless around language of healing/saving. Or was he?

carl jacobs said...


My proposal is that as we preach the gospel in today's world, emphasis on Jesus as Healer might connect with people in a way that Saviour does not.

I am sure it would connect - just so long as you don't mention that subject of sin. The reason modern people don't connect with 'Savior' is because modern people don't see themselves particularly in need of saving. They are offended by the Gospel that claims man is evil. Healer allows modern man to place himself into a morally neutral position relative to God.

If you use this word 'healer' and then try to slip the concept of sin into the conversation, you will be accused of a bait and switch. They didn't connect with Christianity and the Gospel. They connected with the idea of being healed. That isn't the same thing. The latter focuses on human needs and aspirations that God enables. The former focuses on man's moral responsibility to God and man's incapacity to fulfill it.

You are effectively trying to make the Gospel more acceptable to the unbelieving world by deferring the parts that cause teeth to be gnashed. That never works in the long run. As I said before, what you call them with is what you call them to.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl
If it is true "You are effectively trying to make the Gospel more acceptable to the unbelieving world by deferring the parts that cause teeth to be gnashed" then I am badly wrong and dangerously unfaithful to the gospel!

I am trying, perhaps in a deeply faulty way, to be Paul entering Athens and wondering what to say, to be John sitting down to write his gospel and wondering how to say it, to be Hudson Taylor and contemplating going against the tide of then Western missional values by wearing local clothing and growing a ponytail ...

Every culture requires a missional bridge from Christian core values to the context of that culture.

Tim Chesterton said...

Carl, you said, 'The reason modern people don't connect with 'Savior' is because modern people don't see themselves particularly in need of saving.'

It goes deeper than that. Most modern people have absolutely no idea what the word 'Saviour' means. They don't connect it to 'save' at all - honest, they really don't. I say this as someone who has been teaching Christian Basics courses for the last twenty years and is constantly struggling to find vocabulary that 'modern people' understand.

Even 'save' is not a word they usually connect with personal guilt. 'Saving from my sins' they really don't understand. 'Save' is something you do in a bank account, or with a document on a computer you don't want to lose. True, 'saving someone's life' communicates, but again, that's not saving someone from their own guilt, that's saving them from a circumstance too big for them to handle.

And even in the NT, as Peter has rightly said, 'save' is not always used in the sense you are using it. 'Sozo' in Greek is used by NT writers to mean both 'save' and 'heal'. 'Your faith has made you well' (Mark 10:52 NRSV) uses the same word root, 'sesoken', from 'sozo' ('your faith has saved you'), but the context (and most modern translations) make it clear that it is healing, not saving, that is in view here. And yet the NT writers felt it acceptable to use the same word.

Also I do not think it is clear that everyone who came to Jesus and the apostles came out of a sense of guilt. There are many doors into Christian faith - a sense of powerlessness to do what is right, loneliness, fear of death, addictions you can't kick on your own steam, to name just a few. Wise evangelists start where people are, and lead them gently on.

carl jacobs said...

Tim Chesterton

In general I couldn't find much to disagree with in your latest comment. But let me make a few observations.

1. The Scripture uses the word 'Savior' and the Scripture is living now powerful. I am reluctant to correct it based upon a perception of what people understand. Even so, I am defending the concept of salvation more than the word. People can be taught concepts.

2. You said "There are many doors into Christian faith." That implies a known destination. To come into the Christian faith is to acknowledge one's guilt and helplessness. Whatever door you might enter, that's the first place you must reach on the other side. If you don't go through that place, you don't understand the Gospel. You can't claim possession of the Christian faith without that knowledge. That's why I have been defending this Hill. Brokenness and healing allow a man to claim possession without coming face to face with guilt. But that isn't Christianity.