When the Doctor is Baffled

What about faith healing? When the doctor has done ail he can, and the symptoms persist, what may we expect of God?

Leo Van Dolson, Ph.D., is an associate editor of the Adventist Review and MINISTRY.

A pastor's wife, who suffered a severe type of arthritis for ten years, at times had such severe pain that she had to walk and work bent over, unable to straighten her knees.

Joyce, her little 4-year-old daughter, was "helping" can tomatoes in the kitchen one day. The little girl sat nearby on the floor praying, although no one noticed her bowed head and moving lips.

Later she asked, "Mommy, how are your knees now?"

"Why," her mother exclaimed in sud den realization, "they don't pain me at all! I'm walking just like I used to!"

"I know why," Joyce told her. "While you were canning tomatoes I asked God to take your arthritis away."

Many have found that when the doctor has done all he can to help, but the symptoms and pain still persist, prayer actually works. Of course, not everyone who asks God for healing is cured, but there have been many spectacular answers to prayer for divine healing. Whether healed or not, however, we need to keep in mind that God's way, although perhaps not exactly what we might wish for ourselves, is wiser and better for us than our own limited view point can anticipate. Therefore, when we pray for healing for ourselves or for others, we should always pray in accordance with His will for us, trusting Him to do what He knows is best.

Contrary to popular belief, divine healing is not a subject that is limited to certain cults or religious fanatics. Divine healing is practiced by a substantial number of clergy in Protestant churches, as is pointed out in an article by Charles S. Braden in Pastoral Psychology re counting the results of a survey on the subject. From a total of 982 questionnaires mailed, 460 replies were received. The question, "Have you, as a minister, ever attempted to perform a spiritual healing?" was answered in the affirmative by 34.5 percent of those responding. Braden reports that "of the 460, only 248 gave an unqualified No answer to the question. This is just under 54 percent. Forty-eight, or 10.4 percent of our respondents, qualified their negative answers. . . . Percentage-wise the Episcopalians rated highest in the number of healings in proportion to the number re porting; 65 percent had engaged in healing by spiritual means. Other percent ages were: Presbyterians, 39 percent; Lutherans, 33 percent; United Brethren, 30 percent; Methodists and Disciples, 29 percent; and Baptists, 25 percent. Actually a much larger number of Methodists responded to the questionnaire than from any other denomination." 1

It may be surprising to find this much approval of divine healing among religious groups not usually known for their emphasis of it, but after all, is there any healing other than divine healing? When the surgeon removes an offending organ, has he "healed" the patient, or has he just made it more likely that healing will occur? What goes on in the patient's body after the surgeon has sewn the cut edges of the wound together? Does he control the healing process, or is he merely cooperating with recuperative forces planned long ago in the mind of the Creator?

Obviously, the hand that made man's body is still at work in its healing and restoration. God has made provision for the body to fight infection and disease and to heal itself when overcome. Is it unrealistic, then, for human beings to turn to their Creator when sick? If God is interested in us, as the Bible indicates, can't we expect a sympathetic response to our prayers for healing?

Not only can we expect it, but God Himself has established a plan for us to follow when we turn to Him for the healing of our physical infirmities, just as He has established a plan for our recovery from spiritual infirmity. The plan He has instituted is not just for those fully committed to Him but is also one that He has provided in order that those who have not yet learned to know and trust Him may be impressed by His love for and interest in them.

Dr. William A. Nolen, author of the popular book The Making of a Surgeon, reports on his extensive investigation of faith healers in a recent work entitled Healing: A Doctor in Search of a Miracle. He claims that in spite of his honest attempts to do so, he could not find one specific "cure" that could be medically substantiated as having been the result of faith healing.

The fact that Dr. Nolen was unable to establish a single case in which organic disease was undeniably cured through faith healing does not mean, of course, that there are no such instances. The Bible is full of reports of miraculous healings.

One of the most spectacular of such cases that I'm acquainted with is the one documented in Rose Slaybaugh's book Escape From Death.2 Rose tells how her husband Roy was critically injured in an automobile accident near Gold Beach, Oregon. He was not expected to live when Rose called the ministers of her church and asked them to pray at Roy's hospital bedside. As they did so, he was healed instantly!

Soon after I became pastor of the Brookings-Gold Beach district in Oregon, Rose and Roy, who were members of my Brookings church, began to travel around the Northwest at the invitation of other churches to tell the story of Roy's miraculous healing. The officials of my employing conference asked me to investigate the facts of the matter quietly, since the story, being such a sensational one, was drawing a lot of attention and interest.

In the course of my investigation I talked with those principals involved who still lived in the Gold Beach area. The doctor who treated Roy told me that as a result of the terrible auto accident, Roy sustained a severely fractured skull. The cerebral fluid was coming from his left ear and eye, and the doctor had not been able to stop it. Roy's ear was torn loose in such a manner that it was hanging on the side of his head. His jaw was fractured. The doctor did what he could, but he told me that he was sure there hadn't been much hope for Roy's recovery. When I asked him how he could explain what happened, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "Well, I'm an atheist; I don't believe in God; but I do know that Roy did not recover because of anything that I did."

Mrs. Jenny Schneidau was one of the nurses who took care of Roy. In fact, when she went off duty the morning be fore Roy was healed, she told Rose that she would probably not see her again because she didn't think Roy would live through the day. She was greatly surprised when she later found Roy completely healed. She told me that there was no way that this could be explained—it was just a miracle.

As a consequence of seeing the direct results of anointing and prayer, Jenny Schneidau was so impressed that she asked Rose for Christian literature from her church. In a little while Mrs. Schneidau and others of her family were baptized. She was only one of several whose conversion can be traced directly either to witnessing or hearing of this miracle that took place in Gold Beach.

I talked to another of Roy's nurses. She told me that she believed in miracles but had never seen one before. When I talked to her, she was convinced that this time she had actually witnessed one. Remember, Roy had a fractured jaw, and it was impossible for him to eat anything in that condition, but she had gone into his room chewing on some hard candy shortly after he was healed. Roy was starved and asked her to give him a couple of pieces of her candy. She did so, thinking that he might be able to suck on them. Instead he chewed them up and asked for more. Knowing that it was impossible for him to do that be cause of his broken jaw, she ran out to try to learn what had happened to him.

The last time I saw Roy was in Port land, Oregon, several years ago. He said to me,"Leo, come look at my right eye."

As I did so, I could see that it was very bloodshot. "See, that eye isn't so good anymore; it's going bad," he said. "But now look at my left eye."

Looking into his left eye, I could see that it was just as clear as it could be. He enthusiastically explained, "This eye is still perfect. This is the eye that God gave me when He healed me, and it still works fine!"

Although God expects us to do every thing possible to take advantage of the modern scientific knowledge of healing, when the physicians have done all they can and all human help has failed, we can claim the promise of James 5:14-16 that God will heal the sick.

Pastor Paul Eldridge, a friend of mine, tells how he and his wife, Reatha, were concerned about their daughter's leg being deformed. When it was suggested that they might anoint her, Paul responded, "Why? She isn't dying!" Telling about it later, he explained that as they thought it over, they realized that the promise of James 5 wasn't given just for those who are dying. The scripture says, "Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." It doesn't say, "Is anyone dying?" but "Is any sick among you?"

For too long many Christians have thought of the anointing service called for in James 5 as sort of an "extreme unction." But the Catholic Church itself, since 1972, has changed the name of its sacrament from "extreme unction" to "the anointing of the sick." It's administered to those who are sick, not just those who are dying.

We need to understand, however, in analyzing this text that God does not heal people promiscuously. He doesn't restore us to health in order that we may go about wasting our lives and strength again. He expects that we will eliminate those harmful habits that are causing our sickness, putting into practice the good preventive measures that He has given us in order that we may stay healthy.

This pinpoints one of the greatest problems with "faith healing." Most of its practitioners do not teach people to live according to God's laws of life and health. Would God be doing that which is best for us if He allowed us to "burn the candle at both ends," disregarding all the laws of life and health and then, when we experience the natural consequences of such recklessness, heal us from the consequent illness upon demand?

The health classic The Ministry of Healing explains how actually to present our prayers in such a way as to express quiet confidence in and submissiveness to the will of God: "In prayer for the sick, it should be remembered that 'we know not what we should pray for as we ought.' Romans 8:26. We do not know whether the blessing we desire will be best or not. Therefore our prayers should include this thought: 'Lord, Thou knowest every secret of the soul. Thou art acquainted with these persons. ... If, therefore, it is for Thy glory and the good of the afflicted ones, we ask, in the name of Jesus, that they may be restored to health. If it be not Thy will that they may be restored, we ask that Thy grace may comfort and Thy presence sustain them in their sufferings.'

"God knows the end from the beginning. He is acquainted with the hearts of all men. He reads every secret of the soul. He knows whether those for whom prayer is offered would or would not be able to endure the trials that would come upon them should they live. He knows whether their lives would be a blessing or a curse to themselves and to the world. This is one reason why, while presenting our petitions with earnestness, we should say, 'Nevertheless not my will, but Thine, be done.' Luke 22:42. . . . The consistent course is to commit our desires to our all-wise heavenly Father, and then, in perfect confidence, trust all to Him." —Pages 229, 230.

God may not always answer our prayers in the way we wish that He would. But often He does so.

Many years ago in Kansas a boy named David injured his leg in a farm accident. At first he paid little attention to the injury, but soon it became infected and the boy became very ill. When the doctor came, he decided that there was nothing to do but to amputate.

When David heard that, he called his big brother to the side of his bed, making him promise that he wouldn't let the doctor take off his leg. The older boy kept his promise. He wouldn't allow the doctor to come near. Not being able to perform the amputation, the doctor left, telling the family the boy couldn't possibly live very long.

David asked the family to pray for him. And they did—for many long hours through the difficult crisis that followed. After a while David began to feel better; the swelling in his leg was reduced. David did not lose his leg. Instead, he went on to become President of the United States, and Dwight David Eisenhower always gave the credit for saving his leg and his life to his family's prayers and God's answer.


1 Pastoral Psychology, May, 1954, p. 10. This survey was sponsored in 1950 by the Commission on Religion and Health of the then Federal Council of Churches.

2 Rose Slaybaugh, Escape From Death: The Slaybaugh Story (Nashville, Term.: Southern Publishing Assn., 1953). 144 pages; $3.50, paper.




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Leo Van Dolson, Ph.D., is an associate editor of the Adventist Review and MINISTRY.

May 1980

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