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A Social Anthropologist’s Analysis of Contemporary Healing, Part 2


Whom Does God Heal?

We do not know why God seems to heal some people but not others. Why did Jesus heal one man at the pool of Bethesda and apparently leave other invalids alone? Wimber suggests that a clue is given in John 5:19, when Jesus says that the Son can do nothing by himself but only what he sees the Father doing, but this still leaves unanswered the question of why some are healed when others are not.

The fact that some 57% of my sample reported a sustained and noticeable physical improvement following prayer has been regarded by some as a surprisingly high percentage. Others, however, ask why the remaining 43% did not receive such healing.

Presumably there is a purpose if God does grant physical healing in this life. Might it be in order that the person healed might fulfill a particular role on this earth, for which the healing is necessary?

John Wimber himself only prayed with a small number of these people because the primary focus of the conference was on training other Christians how to pray for healing. The ones who prayed were usually members of Wimber’s team, often in conjunction with ordinary delegates to the conference who later began to assume more leading roles in praying for others. Since the intention was to provide opportunities for “learning by doing,” many of those praying for others were relatively inexperienced in this kind of ministry. I have heard of one instance in which a woman who did not receive healing at a Wimber conference in Brighton was subsequently healed through the ministry of Andy Arbuthnot of the London Healing Mission.40 Arbuthnot comments that in this case what God wanted to do first was to deal with the effects of certain emotional traumas in the woman’s past which were affecting her physical health. Presumably these other kinds of needs were not discerned by those ministering to her at Brighton. Another comment on my statistic of 57% receiving noticeable and sustained physical healing comes from the director of Ellel Grange, a healing centre in the north of England, who assumed that some of those ministering had not discerned the need for rebuking evil spirits associated with certain illnesses. He presumed that the rate of healing would have been higher if more of those praying for others had discerned the need for a ministry of deliverance from demons.41

Such ideas may account for some but by no means all cases in which no healing was received. A good example is that of Jennifer Rees-Larcombe, who between 1982 and 1987 had five serious and life-threatening attacks of encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain and meninges, further complicated by inflamed nerves. Between these acute episodes of illness, the inflammation of the brain, meninges, nerves and muscles seemed to remain in a chronic form and was labeled by the neurologists as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Her continuous pain, loss of balance, muscular weakness and fatigue meant that she had to use a wheelchair when she needed to go more than a few yards. Doctors had recognized their inability to provide a cure, only alleviate some of the symptoms. Jennifer was receiving the highest level of State disability allowance and was told that her condition had deteriorated to the point where regular assessments would no longer be necessary—that is, they did not expect her to recover. She had also been to many Christian healing meetings but had not been healed. In fact, she even wrote a book entitled Beyond Healing, and the Lord gave her a ministry of encouraging those who were suffering. However, when the Lord eventually did heal her, he chose to use not a well-known person such as John Wimber but a recently converted young colored woman who, on account of her own past sins, had felt she was “not good enough” to pray for Jennifer. When she did pray, it was a simple and sincere prayer of faith through which God healed Jennifer.42

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Category: In Depth, Winter 2009

About the Author: David C. Lewis [as of 1993] is a cultural anthropologist and is currently a Research Associate of the Mongolia and Inner Asian Studies Unit at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England, where he received his Ph.D. (Anthropology). He also serves as a Consultant Anthropologist for several Christian mission organizations. He has conducted research projects at Nottingham University and the Oxford Hardy Research Centre (Religious Experience Research Project, 1984-1985). He has written numerous scholarly articles and books, including Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact? (Hodder & Stoughton).

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