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

One suggestion which tries to account for my statistical findings regarding physical healing is the idea that younger people have more “vitality” and heal quicker than older people, whose illnesses are often of a degenerative kind. However, the consistency between my statistical findings and the biblical accounts of raising the dead seems to indicate a wider theological explanation. I suggest that these statistical links with the age of the person healed relate to the fact that all healing is, in one sense, “temporary,” in so far as we are healed into bodies which eventually die. 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?

The underlying values behind the manner in which God grants physical healing to certain people continue to be the same today as they were in the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.

By contrast, I found no statistical links with age for what is variously known as “inner healing,” “emotional healing” or “healing of the memories”. Often this involves repentance from particular sins or the forgiveness of people against whom one has harbored resentments. Older people are as likely as younger people to report high degrees of inner healing. The result is often a purer lifestyle—which one might see as a preparation also for heaven. God desires this of all Christians, no matter how old they are.

Another finding of mine was that those from the highest social class, who are also better educated, report significantly lesser degrees of physical healing.46 This again ties in with what we read in the ministry of Jesus, that he came to bring good news to the poor (Lk. 4:18). Two of those from the higher social classes whom he did heal—Jairus’ daughter and the nobleman’s son—were actually younger people. Today, it might be that somehow the higher education of some people is itself a barrier to their receiving divine healing with a childlike faith.

A disproportionately high proportion of those attending Wimber’s Harrogate conference were professional and better-educated people such as doctors and clergy. Among those in my random sample who received physical healing, some of the more “dramatic” cases were reported by those from the “working class.” For instance, one man had almost died after falling fifty feet from a crane. One of the bones in his leg had not grown back straight but “came out sideways as a spur” but the subsequent operation left his leg 1 1/2 inches shorter than the other. At Harrogate “we prayed for my leg: I watched the leg come level with my right leg and even heard it grow—like breaking wood. I could not walk right for twenty years but now I can go walking with our vicar. I didn’t wear a built-up shoe, just limped. I’d learnt to walk with my hip displaced but … my stature had got a wobble on.… For the first time in twenty-one years I can walk without discomfort or pain, it seems level to me. People used to ask what was wrong with my leg but now they don’t mention it.”47

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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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