Miracle healing has always held me spellbound. But most times, things are not as simple as they appear to be. They say God works in mysterious ways and divine healing takes the cake here. If you read the literature and the testimonies, you will notice that believers don’t always serve an obvious God when it comes to healing. It is just not that cut and dry.
But why is God unobvious? Because you seldom get a straight answer about the healing process. Joyce Meyer once wrote that “God’s 3 answers to your prayers are “Yes”, “Not yet” and “I have something better in mind””. My only bugbear here is that while “yes” is what the petitioner earnestly seeks after, the other two answers often muddle up causation with correlation.
I have seen this with my own eyes. I came from a Church that holds miracle services every weekend and trust me, it’s not easy to get a proper medical certification of the cause(s) of the healing. Most of them will tell you that they are 70 to 90 per cent healed and that was it. And please don’t ask me how they came up with that percentage. Some have come forward to tell the eager crowd that they’d experienced some relief from migraine and backaches. But those relief so called are hardly verifiable. In other words, anything short of an outright “yes” on stage runs the risk of making the miracle less of a miracle.
Still, some will testify a month or two later that the medical results came back showing a shrinking or a disappeared growth, but you just can’t be sure about its causes. It could very well be attributed to subsequent surgery, medication and/or rehabilitation, and not so much the laying of hands. But of course, faith and positive confession will invariably claim full credit for all healings – whether verified or otherwise. God is sovereign remember.
As such, in my view, the correlation are often mixed up with causation and attribution are entangled with self-confirmation. And the secular weasel scurrying up the miracle healing pants is that dreaded placebo effect or that psychosomatic mind-body healing that makes the testimonies appear more natural than supernatural.
At this point, some may accuse me of splitting hair over this whole miracle manifestation. They may say that as long as one receives his or her healing – whether it is a month or a year later – does the exact cause really matter? Well, it matters to me because Jesus somehow works miracles on the spot. In other words, we should call a spade a spade and if it feels like a miracle, heals like a miracle and gets up and walk like a miracle, then it is a miracle – anything short of that is just not. I am not playing with semantics here. I am just serving it up plain, simple and direct.
For this reason, what is badly needed on stage is the appropriate medical diagnostic devices to verify each case. However, this would be impractical and time-consuming. You see, those being prayed for are quickly ushered up to the stage, and under the glare of the unanimous public faith, they are asked leading questions to confirm the miracle. One by one, the conclusion is very much foregone. It is either instantaneous healing or progressive healing, and the latter forms the majority of the healing testimonies. Recall the arbitrary percentage of healing – 70 to 90%?And progressive healing further complicates the hunt for the main causal link. Recall that I am not playing with semantics here.
After the on-stage testimony, they are ushered back to their seat and their testimony recorded. It is therefore based on nothing more than word of mouth. Even if the healing is not obvious, the bias always is. Being candid is just not the preferred policy for a typical healing service. The unspoken rule is that anything that points to doubt should be kept at bay.
You will therefore not hear a testimony about unanswered prayer on stage. That would put a damper on the flow of healing testimonies. Just as the half-baked healed cases are rushed up the stage, the confirmed unhealed cases are quietly send off the stage. So, like Gold 90.5FM, you only hear the good stuff. You just can’t find a better PR manager for God.
Come to think of it, I guess the Catholic Church has the best anti-placebo-effect proof to separate the true miracle wheat from the psychosomatic chaff. The Vatican takes their miracles very seriously. The claimants go through a battery of tests via qualified medical experts and it may take months to confirm (or disconfirm) just one case (while in my former Church, most confirmation take no more than 5 minutes).
In fact, in a small town in France, Lourdes, a 14-year-old girl in 1858 claimed that she saw visions of the Virgin Mary. Since then, more than five million people have come to Lourdes to look for spiritual and physical healings. All the so-called miracles have been collected by a committee of physicians who would appoint qualified personnel to investigate each case.
Todate, more than 70,000 people have reported themselves cured and 69 of them have been stamped as miracles. This is no easy feat mind you. The process of verification is rigorous and uncompromising. Three tough questions confront each case: Is the healing immediate? Is the healing complete? And is the healing permanent? For the latter (that is, is it permanent?), it might just take years of follow-up medical examination to confirm the miracle. And they all have the Virgin Mary to thank!
But that’s not all. There is just no lack of “miraculous healings” in this strange secular world. Earlier, I mentioned the placebo effect and this is akin to self-healing. As such, God is not the only one who is working in mysterious ways. Our mind too has her own mysteries and part of that mystery is to self-heal.
Medical science has in fact proven the effectiveness of the placebo effect in many studies. The magic seems to be in the suggestibility of the patients together with the context by which the bogus medical procedure is being carried out. The more credible or believable the surgical set up – with doctors wearing their signature white coat and a stethoscope around their neck - the more the patient will respond positively to what he/she is told. This self-fulfilling tendency in us is what conflates self-healing and miracle healing.
We are indeed psychological or symbolic creatures when it comes to self-healing. You can give fake pills to Parkinson’s patients, and if they do not doubt that they are fake, they somehow get better. Saline solution disguised as painkiller have been injected into patient to ease their pain and it actually worked as well as oral analgesics. There is even a discredited process called vertebroplasty where a small inconsequential quantity of cement is injected into the fractured bone on the pretense of strengthening it. After the procedure, some patients actually reported that they felt better. One of them even went back to golfing without experiencing any pain.
In fact, this whole placebo-effect phenomenon gets even stranger. Our mind is just too eager to please. Even when the patients are told that what they are receiving is nothing more than saline solution or fake pills, yet as long as it is administered by a doctor and carried out in the context similar to a hospital room, they reported feeling better. Some were even healed for good. Go figure.
Somehow, a belief, an expectation or an anticipation can change the brain by rewiring it in a way that facilitate some form of healing or temporary relief. The brain can therefore produce its own painkiller or neuro-drugs to ease the pain or hasten the healing process when the patient conditions it to produce the needed neurotransmitter. In other words, the brain seems to be its own pharmacy or medical dispensary.
Of course, the limitation of placebo effect relief is that it cannot grow you a leg after it has been amputated or raise the dead because you can’t suggest anything to a corpse. They tend not to respond to you. And if you suffer from a serious infection, a life-threatening allergic reaction from imbibing peanut butter, or if you were bitten by a poisonous snake, it would probably make infinitely better sense to seek immediate medical intervention rather than to repeatedly condition your mind to kick into some salubrious action.
In Proverbs 23:7, it reads: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” I guess atheists may be tempted to apply that verse as the mantra for self-healing. By that same logic, the cure is therefore inherent in the confidence and the confidence is evidenced in the belief and the belief is nurtured by regular and consistent suggestion – whether through external or internal stimulation, or a mixture of both.
So, I am back to the miracle healing in my former Church. I recall I once asked a pastor to explain self-healing to me. I asked him for his view about people who claim to be healed from or via homeopathy, transcendent meditation, auto-suggestion, fake pills, a strict regime of watching comedy movies (no joke, Norman Cousins was healed from just doing that), and invoking the curative powers of angels, Greek mythological creatures and revered Catholic saints.
The pastor’s reply was this, “God works in mysterious ways, even in self-healing because he has created us that way.”
Well, I can’t say that I am totally convinced by that explanation. But whether it is placebo effect or divine intervention, I guess for many believers a miracle is a matter of interpretation. And attributing it to the all-sovereign one who had created the universe, or the multi-universes, appears to be the safest position for the believers to take when dealing with this inscrutable mystery that is called miracle healing. At times, we may just have to call a spade something else then. Cheerz.