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

Those from the highest social class, who are also better educated, report significantly lesser degrees of physical healing.

Jennifer’s healing was publicized on the front page of the local free newspaper in her home town of Tunbridge Wells, and became a well-known sign of God’s power. In John’s gospel Christ’s miracles are often called signs, and helped people to come to faith—but also provoked opposition from the religious establishment. Anecdotal evidence from those I interviewed who had prayed for God to heal non-Christians indicates that often there were noticeable signs of God’s power at work. It was not always the case, however, but even those who did not receive healing appreciated the concern shown by those who were willing to pray for them.

God’s ways are above our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9). Nevertheless I did find some further interesting clues as to why certain categories of people appear to be healed more often than others. What was particularly interesting to me was to note the patterns which emerged from analyzing my results according to sociological variables like age and social class, which might give some clues towards understanding why God seems to heal some people but not others.

I found that younger people reported significantly greater degrees of healing than older people.43 It should be stressed that this is a statistical finding and not an absolute rule: there are always exceptions. For example, a retired missionary told me how before the conference she had been unable to hear her watch tick with her right ear, but since then had been able to do so, and had ceased using a hearing aid.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that many people have received through Christian prayer remarkable healings which bring glory to Christ and which are difficult or impossible to explain away in conventional medical terms.

To some extent, this tendency for higher rates of physical healing to be concentrated among younger people is linked with the fact that more specific words of knowledge tend to pick out younger people. At the Harrogate conference, those aged under forty constituted 85% of those responding to highly specific public words of knowledge. The percentage of those under forty years old dropped to 60% for those responding to revelations of “medium” specificity and 46% for those responding to very general “words of knowledge.” This correlation was a surprise to John Wimber when I told him about it. It is also statistically significant.44

My statistical findings nevertheless raise questions about God’s priorities. We do not know the ages of most of the people whom Jesus healed, but we do know that five of the seven biblical accounts of a dead person being raised to life in response to specific prayer involve younger people. Though raising the dead may seem highly unusual to us today, the same correlation with younger people is found in most reports in our own century of raising the dead.45 Certainly raising the dead is one instance in which a “psychosomatic” component to the healing can be ruled out.

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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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