25 March 2022

The prayer of faith will raise him up.

James 5.15.

I once had a classmate who had to use a wheelchair. I don’t know all the details as to why he was in that chair—whether his legs didn’t work, or he couldn’t stay upright. Doesn’t matter. The point is he was in that chair… and it was really hard to talk about Jesus with him, ’cause he was really annoyed with Christians.

Y’see, those of us who believe God still cures people, tried to get God to cure him. “Can I pray for you?” is how it usually starts—although too often they never bothered to ask, and just started praying. And touched his legs uninvited. And exhibited other demonstrative, uncomfortable behaviors; uncomfortable for him, though they certainly didn’t hold back.

He was still in that chair though. The prayers didn’t work.

Of course when things don’t turn out the way we expect, people wanna know why, and some of these wannabe faith-healers claimed to know why: He lacked faith. He didn’t believe God would heal him. He was the problem. Blame the victim.

You can kinda see why he was really annoyed with Christians. I get annoyed by such Christians. They make my job harder. Now I gotta be twice as gracious, twice as nice, just to make up for their dick moves. (And back at this point in my life I wasn’t all that nice.)

“Which goes to show these guys don’t know their bible,” I told my classmate, “because the bible actually says it’s their fault you weren’t healed.”

“How’s that now?” he said. I didn’t have a bible on me, so I loosely told him this story. One day Jesus walks in on a debate his students are having with some scribes, Mk 9.14 and wants to know what’s up. I’ll continue with Matthew’s version of events.

Mark 9.17-19 NLT
14 At the foot of the mountain, a large crowd was waiting for them. A man came and knelt before Jesus and said, 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 So I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”
17 Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon in the boy, and it left him. From that moment the boy was well.
19 Afterward the disciples asked Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we cast out that demon?”
20 “You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”

“The boy didn’t need to have faith,” I pointed out; “I don’t know if he had any idea what was going on; if he was in any position to even have faith. His faith didn’t matter. Your faith didn’t matter. The faith-healer’s faith is what matters, and Jesus’s disciples didn’t have it. So that’s why nothing happened.”

“So those people praying for me are the problem,” he said. “Well I already knew that.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but now you know why. And the next time they wanna blame you for lacking faith, remind ’em of when Jesus raised people from the dead, and ask them how much faith those dead people needed to have.”

Now yeah, there are gonna be Christians who insist the victims do need to have faith before God can heal them; that even Jesus himself can be hindered when people refuse to have it. Mk 6.5, Mt 13.58 I agree people’s faithlessness can get in the way… but I still think the burden is 99.9999 percent on the faith-healer. We mustn’t offer to cure the sick and unwell and infirm, unless we’ve first asked the Holy Spirit, and he’s told us to pray for them. If we’re stepping out ahead of the Spirit, we have no guarantee he’s gonna do a thing. He might! And he might not.

Christians who don’t understand this, regularly have the bad habit of blaming the victim—and quoting today’s out-of-context verse to defend themselves. Not that the verse says what they claim it does. I’ll switch to the KJV to quote it, since that’s the version Christians quote most:

James 5.15 KJV
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

“The prayer of faith shall save the sick,” and their argument is that if the prayer doesn’t save the sick person, it’s because somebody lacked faith. It’s kinda obvious from the text that James means the prayer has to be of faith; the person doing the praying has to have faith; it’s not the sick person!

But wannabe faith healers are gonna insist they totally do have faith, so they can’t be to blame. So it’s gotta be someone else. The sick person, likely.

The whole context.

Should I point out the James passage isn’t even quoted in its entirety? Yeah, why not. Here’s the whole of it. (It’s not designated a separate paragraph in the KJV, but it is in most Greek texts.

James 5.13-18 KJV
13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. 14 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: 15 and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. 16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. 17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

Wannabe faith-healers quote verse 15 as if it applies to them, but James’s instruction was for a sick person not to contact just any faith-healer, but the elders of their church. These elders would do the praying. They’d use anointing oil, and you might notice not every person who tries to cure the sick bothers to carry anointing oil on ’em. (Or any kind of oil. Even the aerosol kind, which I say would be the easiest way to go.) They’ll even forgive sins.

James also mentioned Elias, or as most other bibles call him, Elijah. This’d be the 9th-century-BC prophet from northern Israel, who declared the rain would stop until he said otherwise, 1Ki 17.1 and it did. Now: Did the rain have to have faith in order for Elijah’s miracle to happen? Or was it entirely on the Spirit-empowered miracle-worker?

Yeah, I’m gonna keep hammering away at this point. When the bible’s miracle-workers act upon inanimate objects, obviously the objects don’t have to exhibit any kind of faith before miracles can happen. When they’re done to plants and animals, same deal. Stands to reason when they’re done to humans, we don’t need to exhibit faith either.

That is, unless the Holy Spirit is trying to teach faith, or engender faith. If the Spirit’s priority is to grow faith in a person—and sometimes that’s the only thing he really cares about!—yeah, he might hold off the miracle till he sees the faith. Sometimes the reason somebody isn’t getting cured, is because the Spirit wants to see other things in their life first.

But is this true in every instance? Absolutely not.

2 Corinthians 12.7-9 KJV
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Paul had an infirmity. He metaphorically called it “a thorn in the flesh” and “the messenger of Satan,” so whatever it was, it sucked. But we don’t know what it was, ’cause he never said. Maybe one of the times people tried to stone him to death, a bone broke and didn’t heal right. Whatever. Now, do you think Paul had deficient faith, and that’s why God wouldn’t cure him? Nobody does… mostly because we have God’s answer to Paul’s prayer request, and it was no: “I want you weak. It makes it more obvious you can’t do as you’re doing unless I’ve empowered you.”

And there are lots of other reasons why God doesn’t simply cure everyone who asks. It might be the same reason he gave Paul. Or it might just be your time to die; everybody dies eventually. But to leap to the conclusion, “Oh, you just lack faith,” is nearly always the excuse of someone who’s projecting their own deficient faith upon others.

Plus, y’know, getting faith wrong.

And then there’s the fact not everybody defines faith properly. Some of those faith-healers who think they have it, have no idea what faith actually is. They’re going with the popular pagan definition—that it’s the power to believe in goofy nonsense. They believe you’re gonna get cured because it’s ridiculous that you’d get cured—but they have faith, and so you are gonna get cured. Just like magic!

And y’know, sometimes God cures people despite the bad behavior and dumb theology of faith-healers. But still: When James wrote of “the prayer of faith,” he was using the proper definition of faith. The faith-healer needs to trust God. Needs to ask the Holy Spirit whether he wants to cure this particular person. Needs to stop acting on impulse, but with gentleness and kindness and patience and other such fruit of the Spirit.

And above all, needs to not damn the victims when things don’t turn out the way the faith-healer wants. Don’t be a dick! Be like Jesus.