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.