Faith Healing—How Does It Work?
‘“THAT girl with that neck brace. Just take it off. You’ve been healed. Come up here and praise Jesus.” The girl walks from her seat to the altar. She says she has had 12 operations and has been disabled with rheumatoid arthritis since 1973. Standing in front of the priest, she moves her neck back and forth. The priest blesses her, the crowd applauds and the priest says: “She’s been healed!”’
Imagine the joy of a person cured of rheumatoid arthritis! Do such things really happen?
Reports such as this one in the Worcester Sunday Telegram suggest that they may. No wonder modern-day faith healing is attracting a lot of attention. Sick people flock to faith healers, hoping for cures. Are their hopes fulfilled? Is faith healing really effective in treating sickness? How does it work?
WHAT IS IT?
Actually, faith healing comes in different forms. In the West, it is often performed in services held by evangelists or by ministers of principal religions—perhaps those associated with the charismatic movement. These faith healers claim to imitate Jesus Christ and his apostles, and they feel that God himself is the source of their power.
Another group are the “healers” of non-Christian religions—the voodoo priests, witch doctors, medicine men, and so forth. These believe that sickness is caused by evil spirits, and they perform ceremonies to drive the spirits away.
Then there are the “psychic surgeons” who perform what they call “psychic operations.” In the Philippines, for example, they claim to reach with bare hands into the body of sick people and withdraw diseased tissues and blood clots. Reportedly, their “patients” are fully conscious and no scars are visible afterward.
Finally, there are those who say that their “healing” has nothing to do with religion or faith. They speak of it as a natural process, a way of tapping a mysterious healing force that exists around us, or in the body itself. Some of these prefer to be called “psychic healers” rather than “faith healers.”
DOES IT WORK?
The answer to this will depend on whom you ask. Believers tell of cures they have witnessed or experienced themselves. Doubters tell of investigators who have followed up cases of claimed miraculous healing and have come to the conclusion that it does not happen. Why the contradiction?
Sometimes there is a possibility of a genuine mistake. One woman sincerely believed she was cured of cervical cancer. She had a clinical test that suggested the presence of cancer; so she went to a faith healer. The next time she took the test, it was negative. She is convinced that the faith healer cured her. But her doctor said that the first result of the test was simply erroneous, as sometimes happens.
At other times, people desperately hoping for a miracle indulge in wishful thinking. A young girl suffering from advanced cancer went to a faith healer. Afterward she was reexamined by her doctor. “When the doctor saw me he couldn’t believe it,” she said happily. “I was supposed to die in two months. But nothing had happened . . . I’m not supposed to be alive but I don’t know why God has saved me.” Sadly, less than a year later she was dead.
One time, a doctor was quoted as saying that the recovery of his patient was a miracle. When a newspaper reporter followed up the story, however, the doctor said that the word “miracle” was a “figure of speech.” He felt sure the cure was a “natural event.” “I don’t think we can prove God intervened personally,” he said. “I’ve seen the same thing happen when faith healing was not involved.”
There are factors that make it difficult to judge what really brought about certain “cures.” The effect of the mind on the body’s health is still only imperfectly understood. The progress of many diseases is unpredictable. Some go into remission for no known reason. Many sicknesses are healed by the body itself, sometimes with the help of medication. Dr. William A. Nolan suggested that it may be that the intense emotion of some healing services makes certain illnesses respond quicker than would usually be the case. It should also be noted that many of the claimed cures are only slight improvements in the condition of the sick person.
Some faith healers recognize the possibility that many of the cures are not miraculous. A priest connected with the charismatic movement said: “Some [cures] are psychosomatic, some hysterical and some can be explained through natural reason.” Then he added: “I don’t have any problem with that because they’re still real.”
Of course, not all accept the thought that the cures have a natural explanation. Many sincerely believe that miracles happen and that sick people are healed by some superhuman force. Hence, an inquirer might reason: ‘Well, faith healing might work, or it might not. But what harm could it do to try it?’ This is an important question.