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Illogical

It is a cruel thing to tell people that their faith failed to heal them.  The sad thing is, this sort of thing happens all the time when Scripture is twisted to fit a certain point of view rather than being read reverently with the goal in mind of listening to God’s voice.

In order to explain this, I’m going to have to return us to high school math class.  I apologize for the nightmares this will induce in more fragile souls.  In case you may have forgotten how logic works, allow me to remind you.  You start with a basic “If…then…” statement, such as, “If it rains, the ground will be wet.”  No one can doubt the veracity of that statement.  Now, there are several things we can do to that statement.  We can change the statement around so that it reads, “If the ground is wet, it rained.”  This is the converse, and it is obviously not logically equivalent, as there are many other things that could make the ground wet besides rain (a sprinkler, dumping out a soda can, dog urine).  We could also simply negate the parts, creating the inverse: “If it doesn’t rain, the ground won’t be wet.”  Again, not logically consistent, for the same reason as the previous version.  Finally, we can create this statement: “If the ground is not wet, it didn’t rain.”  This is known as the contrapositive, and it is the logical equivalent of the original statement.  As you can see, this statement is correct.  Since we know rain to cause wet ground, if it’s still dry, that indicates no rain.  Makes sense, right?  (By the way, this works no matter which statement you use as a starting point.  We could just as easily have started with both statements being negative instead of positive, and then turned them around to form the contrapositive.  It’s not necessary to begin with both statements being positive.)

In my example, I’ve given statements with which it would be difficult to find fault.  In most people’s experience, rain and wet ground go hand in hand.  When we delve into matters of faith and spirituality, it gets a little trickier.  One of the biggest lies that I’ve seen people of faith feed each other is in the realm of disease and healing.  There, we might find statements which sound at first to be true, but on closer examination, reveal something far less appealing.

One such idea is that spiritual health has a deep impact on our physical well-being.  No doubt there is truth to that.  People who feel hopeless, helpless, and have lost faith in God and people have a harder time coping with health issues. (This is true of any faith, by the way, not limited to one particular religion.)  Stress also impacts health, and spiritual beliefs may alleviate stress.  But I’m talking about a specific “If…then…” statement about health: “If you are spiritually healthy, you will not get sick.”

On the surface, that statement sound at least somewhat logical.  We know that the body and the spirit are connected.  But if that particular logical argument sounds suspicious to you, that’s because it is.  To get to the heart of the matter, we have to use the systematic logic I demonstrated above.  When we take the contrapositive, that sentence reads, “If you get sick, then you will be spiritually unhealthy.”

What a cruel thing to say to someone.

The implication of the first statement is bad enough; that spiritually healthy people, those with deep, abiding faith and trust in God, will not have to suffer the way the rest of us poor schlubs do.  Try telling that to the members of your congregation who are battling cancer.  I wonder how they will feel when you imply that if they’d had enough faith, they would have stayed disease-free.  See how it goes over if you tell a parent of a chronically ill child that the child should have had more spiritual discipline and “sinned less.”  How about if you let all those people born with congenital health problems know that they can change their DNA with deep enough prayer lives.  Heck, even I feel frustrated at the idea the my daughter’s asthma could have been “cured” by now, if only she had made a declaration of faith at age two!

The logic breaks down, thankfully, when we take the contrapositive.  In order for a statement to be logically true, then both the original and the contrapositive must be true.  If one is false, then both are false.  In this case, we can be certain that failing health does not, in fact, lead to anyone being spiritually dead.  Many people with serious health problems are rock-solid in their faith, experience vibrant prayer, and lead devout, godly lives.  Spiritual bankruptcy is not a consequence of ill health.

Since that statement is so obviously false (not to mention seriously judgmental if one were to actually believe it to be true), then the only conclusion is that both statements are false.  I take this as pretty good news for my friends with chronic ailments.

When will we stop trying to determine the quality of each others’ faith?  When will we be willing to step down from the throne of judgment on any person’s spiritual life outside our own?  Peddling harmful ideas about the effect of spirituality on health does not endear anyone to Christian faith.

Medical Judgmentalism

When we set ourselves in the place of God, judging the condition of other people’s hearts, we set ourselves up for God to knock us down.

There has always been a somewhat fringe health and wellness movement in the Church.  Sometimes, that can be very good.  There are excellent resources for people who want to lead healthier lives to do so within a Christian context.  I do not want to blame the leaders of those excellent ministries for the shortcomings of the purveyors of snake oil that can be found in pockets of Christianity.  As for the rest, their particular brand of “health and wealth” gospel takes many shapes, frequently masquerading as legitimate healing ministries.

One common thread that can be overlooked is the degree to which these so-called healing ministries attempt to blame the very people they claim to serve.  Some examples, from (unfortunately) real ministries: Your weight problem stems from lack of organization in your home; your disease process has been caused by your marriage failing to live up to God’s standards for husbands and wives; your illness is the direct result of sin in your life; specific sins lead to specific health problems.

I suppose that there might be some truth in the idea that holding sin in your heart can lead to breakdown of bodily function.  Certainly there is correlation (not causation) between a healthy spiritual life and positive outcomes following a hospital stay.  But drawing parallels between particular sins and various diseases seems dubious at best, downright evil at worst.

There are three things wrong with this.  I will cite the Biblical refutation for blaming sin for illness first.  In  John 9:1-3, Jesus speaks with his disciples regarding a blind man they have found:

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (NIV)

In Jesus’ day, at least some people would have believed this very thing—that a person’s health was bound up in either his own or his ancestral sin.  Jesus lays this one to rest by assuring them that this was not so.  He also effectively demonstrates that his miracles have as much to do with instruction for us as with healing an individual.  In ministries that blame the victim, both of those truths are lacking.

The second problem is judgmentalism.  This morning, our church had a service along with four other local congregations.  The pastors of all five (total) churches delivered a great message about judgment and freedom.  Our pastor gave the definition of judgmentalism as assuming you know someone else’s motives.  When someone tries to make claims of personal sin as the cause of illness, that is bald judgmentalism.  If one believes we are all sinners, then how does one person’s “hidden” or “unforgiven” sin cause illness, while another’s does not?  Or while another’s overt sin does not?  We simply do not know what is in another person’s heart.  We cannot know that fear or anger or lack of submission are causing disease, because we cannot know that those are the sins someone is enslaved to.

Third, the claim that specific sins equate specific diseases can be easily refuted by reality.  A few small “studies” or annecdotal evidence are not enough to prove such a claim.  This becomes even more pronounced when we add in things like healing.  If the root cause of (I’m making this up) peanut allergy is really the sin of resentment, then why are people not cured when they repent?  Are they not praying hard enough for forgiveness?  Are they not really sorry?  We are promised forgiveness whenever we confess.  So if that is what is needed, then why does it appear to work for some people and not others?  And why are there lots and lots of people who are resentful, but not suffering from any kind of allergy at all?  It becomes clear that this is no more than an attempt to control others through pseudoscience.

We need to be wary of any ministry that claims we must clean ourselves up before approaching our Heavenly Father, even if that takes the form of purging our sins before asking for healing.  We also need to be wary of anything that pretends that the Bible is a medial or a science text.  It isn’t, and it was never meant to be taken that way.  What a gross misuse of our holy Scripture.

 

Sunlight

Sometimes, we hide in the shadows.  There are parts of ourselves we never want anyone to see.  Not just our sin, but whatever about ourselves we see as unacceptable.  Beliefs, values and opinions that we hold dear, but worry might bring trouble.  Things we fear others will see and judge.  Scars.

The shadows feel safe.  And really, it’s ok to keep some things between ourselves and God.  Not every part of my life needs to be on public display. Some things are meant to be shared only with those closest to us.  Our friends bear our burdens with us, and that brings healing.

But those shadows can cripple us, too.  They keep others from seeing us, yes, but that can mean we keep others from knowing us at all.  When we have to hide who we really are, hide it from everyone in order to feel safe, then it crushes us.  Each new lie we tell ourselves or others becomes another part of the wall holding us in.  And when the truth about ourselves comes out, everyone is hurt in the explosion.

Will people judge us, belittle us, and hurt us?  Maybe.  But they might also accept us and welcome us, too.  We won’t know unless we try.  I know some of my dear friends are still in the shadows, afraid to be who God made them to be.  My friends, you won’t find any judgment here.  My prayer for you is that you will find the strength to fully become everything God created you to be, to have life to the full as God desires for you.  I stand with you.

It’s time to step into the sunlight.