If you had half the faith in the Lord that you place in doctors and needles, I believe that boy would get well." How would you react if you had a sick son and someone said that to you?
Well, Larry and Lucky Parker did have a sick son—8-year-old Wesley, a diabetic—and those words were said to them.
As you identify with their situation, do you feel yourself pulled two ways?
Larry and Lucky were members of a "charismatic" congregation. They heard healing stories in church regularly. After one such story a well-intentioned group of women turned to Lucky and said, "We're going to do the same for Wesley."
Lucky was hesitant. "Well, I do believe the Lord will heal Wes one day ..." But the women's group was up and racing. Wesley's healing was made the number-one priority in their prayer circle. "There's nothing He won't do if you just show Him you have faith," they told Larry and Lucky.
The well-intentioned women's group, with Lucky in its midst, met in a home. They worked themselves up by an almost frenzied singing of Gospel hymns. Then there was a prayer session in which all spoke (shouted?) at once, one voice louder than the rest. First they demanded Wesley's healing in the name of Jesus, and then they chanted, "Hear us, Lamb of God," so many times that they lost track of time.
Shortly afterward a visiting speaker to their church told how God had restored to him the use of his legs. When the testimony was over, there was an invitation to "come forward and be healed." Larry and Lucky were present with Wes and his two little sisters. When no one made for the front, a woman in the pew behind them leaned forward and said, "Don't you know the Lord wants that sweet little boy to get well? If he were my son, I'd do every thing I could for him!"
After that, Wesley, with his parents, went forward. The healing service was impressive. Wes "felt something" and was sure he had been healed.
When they reached home, Larry said, "We're gonna believe this all the way! We're gonna fast! We're gonna read our Bibles! We're gonna pray! We're gonna strengthen our faith till there's no room for doubt!"
In the days that followed, certain practical issues had to be addressed:
Lucky: "What if Wes shows signs of sugar? Should we stop the insulin?"
Larry: "He won't."
Lucky: "He has to have his insulin. He'll get sick."
Larry: "The Scriptures promise healing. God has to stand on His Word."
Each morning Wes continued to test for sugar, which continued to be high. One morning Larry grew agitated: "You show symptoms because Satan has put them there to test our faith. We're gonna show our gratitude for this healing—by believing in it!"
Larry and Lucky persistently affirmed the miracle in church services. Wes, with his parents' permission, began to eat unwisely. Standing with the fridge door open one day, his father said, holding the needles and insulin, "I guess we don't need these any more." It all went into the garbage bin.
But Wesley continued to feel ill. Lucky confessed to her women's prayer group "moments of doubt." The response? "Oh, Lucky, I wouldn't throw doubt in the face of God's miracle! It's blasphemy! Let's get some prayer power working."
Wesley was obviously ill, and his condition was deteriorating. However, believing that to admit symptoms would be to show a lack of faith, he tried his best to prevent his parents from realizing just how sick he was. There came a time when Larry wanted Wes to go back to the insulin. At that exact moment Lucky, with her entire prayer group in tow, entered Wesley's sickroom. "It's because of our doubts, Larry," said Lucky. "Wes, you will be healed because we've got faith."
Leaving the house, one of the members of the women's prayer circle said to Larry, "Wes would have been healed a long time ago if you'd had enough faith."
A few days later Wes died.
Amazingly, Larry and Lucky didn't lose heart. For months they had been randomly selecting verses of Scripture and claiming them as promises. Before Wes's death they had read the story of the raising of Lazarus. Hence, when Wes died, they believed that God would show His power by resurrecting him. They even delayed the funeral until the 8-year-old boy had been dead for four days. Then they prolonged the funeral, waiting for God to act.
A few days later Larry and Lucky Parker were arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
The members of the women's prayer circle were conspicuous by their absence now.
In the ensuing trial, the pastor was evasive about the whole thing. However, a bumbling attorney managed to present to the jury a picture of a couple who, with the best intentions in the world, had brought about the death of their son.
Lucky and Larry Parker were found guilty. But the judge, having listened carefully to the defense, sentenced them to five years' probation.
All this happened back in 1973. During their five years on probation, the Parkers wrote a book entitled We Let Our Son Die. Recently the book was made into a film/video entitled Promised a Miracle.
In the book, the sense that Larry Parker makes of the situation is that they had put their faith before love. But having read the story and checked into some of its details, I believe that the lesson to be learned from the death of 8-year-old Wesley Parker is that his parents, egged on by their local congregation, had a totally wrong idea about faith.
What is faith?
So what is faith? Yes, I know you can recite Hebrews 11:1. But how would you explain the meaning of faith to a child?
One word that is foundational to the Christian's experience is dependence. The Christian life is a life of dependence on God. We use three different words to describe that dependent relationship: belief, faith, and trust.
These days belief implies no more than a grasp and acceptance of the facts. It is merely mental assent. James 2:19 says that the devils have this kind of belief, and it terrifies them!
So what about faith? Remember the story of the centurion in Matthew 8:5-10? "Speak the word only and my servant shall be healed," he said. Jesus responded, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel."
Do you remember the story of a Canaanite woman when Jesus and His disciples were in the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon? The woman sought help for her daughter "tormented by a devil." Jesus tested her to see how much she trusted. When she continued to press her case, He said "Woman, what faith you have! Be it as you wish!" (Matt. 15:28, NEB).
Jesus invariably commended people for their faith. Remember the story of the healing of the women with the flow of blood (Matt. 9:18- 22)? Then there were the men who let the paralytic down through the roof (Luke 5:18-26).
From the use that Jesus made of the word faith, here and elsewhere, is it possible to find another word closer to the biblical meaning of dependence upon God? Let's face it, nowadays faith has come to mean positive thinking. This, of course, was the problem with Larry and Lucky Parker. They were the victims of a particularly audacious form of religion in which positive thinking is all. Does anyone have the right to demand that God should heal someone? The Parkers and their friends believed that they had that right. They believed too that God's willingness, or otherwise, to accede to their demands was entirely dependent upon their own ability to work up or manufacture enough faith/positive thinking. That's why Larry said, "We're gonna believe this all the way." He was going to fast, read his Bible, and pray until he felt he had the right to force God to heal his son. On one occasion Larry said, "The Scriptures promise healing. God has to stand on His Word." Where do the Scriptures promise that in every situation God's people have the right to demand and receive divine healing?
This perception of faith as audacious positive thinking is an aspect of the modern Christian scene that the devil is taking full advantage of.
Trust and dependence
I would like to suggest that wherever in Scripture you find the word belief or faith, you can substitute the word trust and come much closer to grasping the meaning of the passage.The Greek word for faith is pistis, and the verb form is pisteuo. Neither word has to do with grasping and accepting the facts (belief) or how the modern charismatic uses faith (positive thinking). These Greek words go much further than that. They imply the idea of trust, reliance upon, and allegiance to. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, "Faith ... is not merely an intellectual awareness of the truth, or even an intellectual acceptance of the truth. You can have that and still be without faith. Faith means a real trusting in Him and what He has done on our behalf and for our salvation. . . . The man who has faith is the man who is no longer looking at himself, and no longer looking to himself.... He does not look at what he hopes to be as a result of his own efforts. He looks entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work, and he rests on that alone."1
Our relationship with God in all aspects of our life—and this includes sickness as well as salvation—is to be characterized by trust and complete dependence. "Faith includes not only belief but trust."2 "Faith is trusting God."3
Trust and surrender
Trust is being content to depend on someone else. It involves surrender; for salvation we must surrender our sins and our sin-tainted efforts to achieve what is beyond our capacity to achieve; and in all aspects of life— including sickness—we must surrender all to God.
The dependent Christian does not demand healing for himself or for anyone else; he places the situation, in trust, in the hands of the One who knows what is best.
The phrase "Let go, let God" is more than a corny American bumper sticker. Genuine faith or trust lets go. And letting go takes trust. And how does trust come?
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith [trust], meekness, temperance" (Gal. 5:22, 23). The Bible invariably presents faith/trust as a fruit or gift. It is never something we can work up or manufacture. Everyone has a measure of it (Rom. 12:3), but we cannot work to produce it. You don't work on fruit. You don't work for a gift. You put your effort into coming into the presence of the Giver and accepting the gift provided.
Using Scripture correctly
To pick a text out of Scripture at random, wrench it out of context, and demand that God honor it by a miracle in your life is not to use Scripture legitimately. This practice is an aspect of modern charismatic religion that has replaced faith-as-trust with positive thinking. It is this audacious positive thinking that makes people believe that what they want to hap pen is what is going to happen, that if they can find anything in Scripture that looks like a promise, they can grab it and claim it for their own. "The Lord would have you trust in His love and mercy amid clouds and darkness, as well as in the sunshine."4
It is natural for us to prefer the story of Daniel in the lions' den to the story of John the Baptist. It is equally natural for us to be prepared to parrot Hebrews 11:1 and the first half of the chapter that follows—while ignoring the second half. Do you recall the second half, the part that comes after the stories of God's deliverance? "Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained up and put in prison. They were stoned" (verses 35-37, NIV). And remember the end of the chapter: "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better" (verses 39, 40, NIV).
Roger Morneau's Incredible Answers to Prayer has just had its seventh printing at the Review and Herald. I'm glad. Morneau's wonderful life of prayer and intercession is a marvelous example of the faith-as-trust model in action.
Praise God that having abandoned their efforts to manipulate Him, Larry and Lucky Parker matured in their Christian experience and in their understanding of faith. I pray that when I face the crises of life, I may be given the gift of trust, the capacity to leave all things, whatever they are, in the hands of the One who knows what is best for me.
1 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 45.
2 Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn.. 1958). 1:389.
3 ——, Education (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press? Pub. Assn., 1903), 253.
4 ——, Testimonies for the Church (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press? Pub. Assn., 1948), 2:274.