Friday, January 2, 2015

First Contact – Part 5 – Faith Healers

As I was growing up, there were a number of faith healers on television. They were always fascinating with their dramatics and head popping. I often wondered why there were so many sick people in the world given the number of people of faith capable of healing. I thought perhaps it had something to do with the lack of faith of the sick people. But upon examining the Bible, I realized that the healings mentioned there had more to do with the faith of the healer than the faith of the healee.

One faith healer in particular I used to watch on TV was Ernest Angley. Although I was always skeptical of the supposed healings that occurred at his hand, I found him to be flamboyant, yet intriguing and entertaining to watch. In October 1978, I heard that Angley was coming to a nearby civic center, and I knew I had to go. The program lasted about four hours and was filled with preaching, music, healing, and money collection. I was hoping to see what I would have considered a true miracle. This would consist of some type of healing that obviously violated the laws of nature such as a missing limb growing back instantly. I was not so fortunate. Most of the healings consisted of relieving nicotine addictions, reinstituting lost senses of smell, and reversing hearing loss. Absolutely nothing occurred during the four hours that came close to convincing me that Angley was God’s man of the hour. Further, when he began blessing boxes of trinkets before his assistants took to the audience to sell them, he lost any semblance of confidence I may have had in him. Still, I thought it would be interesting to talk to a person who was “healed” that day. About a month later I got my wish.

While at a funeral home during a visitation, my father introduced me to a man that he knew from years past and told me that he had been at the Angley service. Further, he had been on the stage and had had his hearing healed. No, he had not been deaf, just a bit hard of hearing. Since the healing, his hearing was much improved. Ever the skeptic, I began talking to him softly, thinking that if his hearing had not been healed he would have difficulty understanding me over the din of voices surrounding us. He heard everything I said. I was impressed, but not convinced. After all, I had never talked to the man before his healing, so there was no way for me to know the extent of his hearing loss. Perhaps he had gotten good at reading lips and knew what I was saying even though he could not hear me well.

In college, my friend Doug and I used to study and hang out together. At some point he got involved in a charismatic movement and converted to it from Catholicism. After college he got a job as an engineer just as I did, but later was led to work as a campus minister. The last time I saw Doug was at my wedding. While catching up on our lives he told me a story that I will never forget. One day at the campus ministry house a man showed up with some missing fingers due to an unfortunate run-in with a lawn mower. Doug and another person laid hands on the man and prayed for him. Then, right before their eyes, the man’s fingers grew back to full length.

I was astonished. What was I to make of this story? Was my good friend lying? Was he deluded? Had he been tricked? Or could it be that the healing actually happened just as he reported? Having not been present at the healing, there was no way for me to know for sure.

So, when it comes to faith healing, I remain a skeptic since I have never actually seen one. But, regardless of my skepticism, there do seem to be some credible stories that indicate healings do take place that cannot be explained naturally. But we must keep in mind that there is much we don’t know about nature, especially as it relates to the human body. Just as lightning at one time was thought to be from a supernatural source but now is known to be natural, perhaps one day those unexplainable healings will be explained.

I discuss this topic in more detail in my book God Is: Exploring the Nature of the Biblical God.

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