When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”
But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”
Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James.
When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” ). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
—Mark 5:21-43, NIV
In the gospels, Jesus is called “rabbi” 15 times and “teacher” over 40 times. The writers explain that the two words mean the same thing (John 1:38). Both words indicate that Jesus is an ordained rabbi and an accredited religious instructor.
When we pray for healing, who must have faith?
If you have been to many healing services, as I have, you will find that some are showy and tasteless (like the ones you see on television) and others are earnest and deeply moving (like the ones you find in local churches). What most of them seem to have in common is the idea that the sick person has to have faith in order to get well. This is especially emphasized by the flamboyant “healers,” because it is a ready explanation for any of their failures.
However, in the healing stories of Jesus, it is the faith of the person asking for healing that matters. In the case of the woman, the person requesting healing and the person being healed were the same person, but in the case of Jairus’ daughter, the person being healed was unconscious; unable to have faith or even to know that efforts were being made to heal her.
As James 5:15 says, the prayer of faith will heal the sick. It does not say that prayer will raise the sick who have faith. In the case of Jairus’ daughter, it is obvious that the sick person did not have faith, was not a Christian, and did not even know what was going on. It was the faith of Jairus, in requesting healing, that precipitated her healing.
Which of these stories is parallel to a modern faith healing? Clearly not the one of the woman who touched Jesus’ clothing, because we would be placing the faith healer in Jesus’ role and we would be attributing divine powers to a mortal human! Very few faith healers actually claim to have special powers, only the power to effectually request healing. This places the faith healer in the role of Jairus, who earnestly and in faith requests the healing of another. Of course, the showier faith healers would rather not think about this, because it makes them responsible for their failures. (It follows then that if the healing didn’t work, the faith healer is the one with the insufficient faith.)
Jesus has the power to heal the sick, but faith healers only have the power to effectually request His healing. That is to say, in a modern faith-healing context, the faith healer is in the role of Jairus, who asks healing from Jesus, and the sick person is in the role of Jairus’ daughter. Therefore, when the sick person approaches the healer for healing, it is the healer, who prays for healing, who must have faith. The only requirement imposed upon the sick person is to be sick.
The one who prays must have faith. Therefore, if your faith is exhausted, ask someone whose faith is strong to pray for you. This is probably why the New Testament tells us to bear each other’s burdens and to pray for each other.
Now another question: if we have faith and pray, but the sick person does not immediately rise up whole and hale, what is wrong? We’ve just determined that the sick person has no obligation to have faith; after all, they’re sick and they might even be unconscious or clinically dead. We who ask for healing must have faith. Can we therefore conclude that we did not have faith?
Well, that depends. Is God obligated to His creatures to answer all prayers with Yes? Is God no more than a cosmic Coke machine, who must dispense what we want when we put in the proper amount? Or does our God have His own will, His own plan, and His own wisdom, which may transcend ours? Personally, I am more comfortable with the idea that God would override any requests I make, if He deems them not in my best interest. What if I ask for something that will cause me great damage, mistakenly believing, in faith, that I need it? Would it not attribute great cruelty and maliciousness to God if we supposed that He were obligated by some scriptural contract to give me what I ask for, no matter what?
Jesus said, if your son asks for a fish, would you give him snake? And I ask, if you ask for a snake, supposing it to be a good thing, do you think God will give it to you? I certainly hope not!
What if healing at a later date would do more good? What if prolonging the person’s life would place their soul in greater danger? What if the illness, if prolonged, will lead to fruitful introspection and a new spiritual awareness? What if quick healing will go to everybody’s head and thereby have a negative spiritual value?
If there is healing in response to prayer, we know that it was God’s will to heal, but if there was no healing in response to prayer, the answer isn’t simple.
We have to give God credit for being smarter and wiser than we are, and we must acknowledge that we cannot always immediately apprehend His designs. Instead of grumbling, like so many Hebrews in the wilderness, at the momentary discomfort caused by an apparent glitch, we must sit and ponder eternal things. How immature to pound our fist upon the table like so many spoiled children and demand what we ask for and demand it now ! If such children have a loving Father, they will be denied many things until they learn maturity.
We must in all things seek His will and submit to it. It may be His will for you to go to the doctor. About 2,000 years ago, a pious Jew wrote the following:
Honor physicians for their services,
for the Lord created them;
for their gift of healing comes from the Most High,
and they are rewarded by the king.
The skill of physicians makes them distinguished,
and in the presence of the great they are admired.
The Lord created medicines out of the earth,
and the sensible will not despise them.
Was not water made sweet with a tree
in order that its power might be known?
And he gave skill to human beings
that he might be glorified in his marvelous works.
By them the physician heals and takes away pain;
the pharmacist makes a mixture from them.
God's works will never be finished;
and from him health spreads over all the earth.
My child, when you are ill, do not delay,
but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you.
Give up your faults and direct your hands rightly,
and cleanse your heart from all sin.
Offer a sweet-smelling sacrifice, and a memorial portion of choice flour,
and pour oil on your offering, as much as you can afford.
Then give the physician his place, for the Lord created him;
do not let him leave you, for you need him.
There may come a time when recovery lies in the hands of physicians,
for they too pray to the Lord
that he grant them success in diagnosis
and in healing, for the sake of preserving life.
He who sins against his Maker,
will be defiant toward the physician.
—Sirach 38:1-15 (NRSV)