Religion News Service, Nov. 11, 2002
By Kristen Campbell
PINOLE, Calif. (RNS)–Sometimes the lame don’t walk.
Nor do the blind see or the deaf hear.
Yet Kimberly Winston believes there’s a reason bad things happen. “If I couldn’t,” she said, “I think I’d feel lost.”
Winston, author of “Faith Beyond Faith Healing,” said the people she interviewed for her recently released book voiced a similar faith.
“The thing I need to learn from the people in the book is when you don’t think (God) is there, he is there,” said Winston, who works as a freelance journ
alist and lives in Pinole, Calif. “Across the board, every single person who is still alive told me: ‘My faith has grown deeper. I have a deeper, better relationship with God because of my illness.'”
The experience isn’t unique to Winston or to the men and women she interviewed. Others who did’t get what they prayed for report they received something else instead–reserves of faith they might never have imagined.
“I have seen people, I have experienced people praying for miracles in the face of terminal diagnosis, and I have seen how their faith has sustained them through the crisis of illness,” said Patricia Kucharski, director of pastoral care at Providence Hospital in Mobile, Ala. “Prayer is never wasted. Sometimes things do not turn out the way we would wish.
“I have seen how the grace of that prayer brought a sense of spiritual peace to these people if their loved one did not continue to live but did die,” she added. “I think what they found in the midst of that intense prayer is that God is in control.”
Some researchers report there’s scientific evidence to confirm such thinking.
Dozens of scientific studies about the relationship of prayer to physical well-being repeatedly show that those who pray–or, for that matter, those who unknowingly are the subject of prayers–generally fare somewhat better than those who do not.
“There is a sense of hope as opposed to despair,” Kucharski said of those who seek divine strength to confront physical weakness. “If you can make any sense out of pain or any value out of pain, it helps you to endure it a little bit better.”
From a Christian perspective, patients might “meditate on some aspect from the life of Christ,” Kucharski said.
“If we can cope and if we can feel that we are not alone in the midst of this suffering–be it physical pain, emotional pain, grief–this helps us to come through this and to face it and to come eventually to a point of acceptance.”
Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism offer spiritual resources to their adherents as well.
“The data reveals that no one particular religion has a corner on the market,” said Dan Taylor, executive director of Christian Medical Ministry of South Alabama. “That is fascinating to me.”
While Taylor believes a direct relationship exists between faith and healing, he does not believe a faithful person will automatically have great physical health.
“The biblical example of that is Job,” Taylor said, referring to the Old Testament figure who suffered greatly in spite of his unswerving righteousness.
Still, there are those who continue to preach and believe that a connection should be made between one’s level of faithfulness and one’s degree of physical health.
“There is a strain, especially in Pentecostalism, that if a person is not healed, he has some secret sin. There’s something he’s not confessing,” Winston said. “That is so terrible for any sick person to have thrust upon him because he’s sick. … When he most needs his faith, and someone tells him, ‘Well, you’re not going to get your healing.'”
Christopher Viscardi, chairman of the theology department at Spring Hill College in Mobile, calls such thinking “a kind of superstition.”
“People who move into this desire for healing through spiritual (means) can fall into a trap or temptation of looking for a kind of divine magic, rather than surrender to the power of God, forgetting that even Jesus did not heal every blind person he ran across,” Viscardi said. “Healings are real and they’re many times an opening to God, but we don’t have a kind of supernatural, magical power that we can have whatever we ask for whenever we seek it.”