The issue of healing may be one of the biggest hindrances to faith. I know it’s been a struggle for me over the years. It was one thing when my sixty-seven-year-old grandfather, who smoked cigarettes since he was fourteen, died of lung cancer. The experience of his sickness and deterioration is cemented in my brain: the radiation location dots I saw one evening as my grandmother applied lotion to his inflamed skin; his sobs echoing through the screen door one day after I told him to “get better soon”; my grandmother’s wail as the pallbearers carried his coffin out of the church during his funeral service. But Granddaddy lived a long, generous, loving life. And, after all, his addiction to nicotine destroyed his lungs.
It was another thing entirely when a beloved seven-year-old girl died after a five-year battle with neuroblastoma, an insidious cancer that filled her body with tumors, requiring numerous surgeries, radiation, a bone marrow transplant, and years of chemotherapy. One treatment required her to be isolated in a protective room because the drugs made her radioactive and could harm other people. During a “bucket list” trip with her family, her body crashed, she was rushed to the hospital, and she died there. Her celebration of life is also seared into my brain: the slide show of pictures, both adorable and devastating; her sweet, heartbroken parents and brother; the tiny coffin at the front of the church; precious stories about her spunky personality. This child made no choice that caused her cancer. Her life was too short and too filled with suffering.
In both circumstances, people begged God for relief, mercy, and healing. That is what we do when our loved ones are hurting. And we could certainly affirm that God brought relief, mercy, and healing through their deaths. Those who die in Christ go to be with him. Granddaddy and my little friend are safe with Jesus. We are the ones left to remember their pain and struggles, to miss them for the rest of our lives, to dream about what might have been.
What does it really mean to pray for healing? When one person is physically healed but another is not, does that mean God didn’t answer someone’s prayer? Does God favor one sick person over another? The truth is that our bodies are finite and vulnerable. Whether we choose to ingest toxins or pick them up in our environment, suffer an accident, or are simply victims of our bodies’ cells going haywire, some of us will suffer physically. And no number of faithful prayers will bring relief.
Relief can still come, though, in the form of assurance that God is with us. Over and over again, I’ve encountered people who have endured great suffering and whose faith in the presence of God is their strength and promise. We wish no one had to hurt, but pain is unavoidable in the human life. When we or someone we love is sick and hurting, let us pray that they will sense the hand of Jesus lifting them up (v. 31). Whether he heals them or takes them Home, they will be safe.
• When have you prayed for healing? What happened?
• When has God felt farthest away from you? How did you get through that sense of God’s absence?
• Why do you think healing is such a prominent feature of Jesus’s earthly ministry?
• What is the best comfort when someone is sick, hurting, or dying?
• How can we live so that we are able to feel the hand of Jesus lifting us up in times of sickness and sorrow?
Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University (BA in English, 2000), has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theatre productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she always has one book going and several more waiting to be read!
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