Leading Question: Can our attitudes make us sick? Can they help us get well?
Our theme this week links faith and healing. We want to explore how attitudes and mental perspectives can play a role in our physical well-being, both in making us sick and in helping us get well. Several factors are significant:
1. Fear: Genesis 3:8-10. In the garden, transgression triggered a response of fear in the hearts of Adam and Eve. Was that “helpful” to them given their new status as sinners? To what extent is fear a positive factor in enabling us to keep our bodies healthy? With reference to the “fear” of the end, this quote from C. S. Lewis is worth noting. Would it have broader application as well?
“Perfect love, we know casteth out fear. But so do several others things – ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity. It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that stage, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear.” – C. S. Lewis, “The World’s Last Night, in The World’s Last Night and Other Essays“, 109
2. Trust in divine power: Hebrews 11. From one perspective, it would be wonderful if we could trust in divine power to deliver us on a consistent basis: “The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them” (Psalms 34:7). The trouble is that Scripture itself makes it clear that physical deliverance is never a sure thing for believers. In Acts 12, for example, Peter was delivered from prison. But at the beginning of the same chapter it tells how Herod killed James. In Hebrews 11, some escaped from the sword by faith (Hebrews 11:34) but some were killed by the sword by faith (Hebrews 11:37). How does the Christian come to the point where “faith” is willing to encompass any possibility? And is such “resignation” helpful for one’s health and well-being?
3. A merry heart: Prov 17:22. Proverbs tells us that joy is good medicine. Is joy or the “merry heart” something that we can choose? Or are we programed one way or the other? Why is it that nearly half the psalms are laments and complaints? Is the realism that is willing to admit that the Lord has “let us down” important for our health? Can it add to as well as detract from our health?
4. Worry: Mat 6:25-34. Jesus tells us not to worry about our lives, our food, or our clothes. Indeed, he says we shouldn’t worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today (Mat 6:34). Paul tells us not to worry about anything (Phi 4:6), but in real life he admits that he is under “daily pressure because of his worries for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:28). Is a worry-free life an ideal that cannot be fully realized? Should we worry if we worry too much?
5. The Miraculous: Mat 17:14-20. In the case of the epileptic boy, Jesus was not able to heal because of lack of faith, apparently the lack of faith in the hearts of the would-be healers and the lack of faith in the one desiring healing. In our modern world, it is often difficult to believe in miracles since we are so accustomed to “rational” explanations for everything. To what extent is the ability to believe in miracles a positive factor in healing? Must we also be prepared for God’s refusal to heal? This sobering quote from C. S. Lewis on the effectiveness of prayer points in that direction:
Prayer is not a machine. It is not magic. It is not advice offered to God. Our act, when we pray, must not, any more than all our other acts, be separated from the continuous act of God Himself, in which alone all finite causes operate.
It would be even worse to think of those who get what they pray for as a sort of court favorites, people who have influence with the throne. The refused prayer of Christ in Gethsemane is answer enough to that. And I dare not leave out the hard saying which I once heard from an experienced Christian: “I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning: before conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic.”
Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, be-[10-11] yond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle. – C. S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” in The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, 10-11.