Several years ago, one of our senior adults who had terminal cancer and only a few weeks to live, gave me a call. She had a strong faith relationship with God through Christ and was ready for death. So, the reason for her call surprised me.
She said she had been reading the Book of James, the section that tells us to call for the elders of the church for anointing and prayer when we are sick. She wanted to know if I would come and anoint her. I was concerned about the reason for her request. Was she expecting a miraculous cure? No. She felt she needed healing and not a cure. She knew to ask for a cure would be inappropriate under the circumstances and didn’t want a cure for her cancer. She had lived alone as a widow for many years and needed affirmation from her spiritual community as she was waiting for death to come for her.
I replied that I would talk with the senior pastor and church staff. Since elders, and not elder, is prescribed in James, I thought the ministerial staff would be the best representation of our spiritual community.
Not one of the Baptist ministers on our church staff had ever seen or thought about an anointing, so I was the designated anointer. My ten years of rubbing shoulders with Anglicans was going to come in handy! Taking a small bottle of olive oil with me, I had each member of staff lay hands on the woman while I used my thumb to make the sign of the cross on her forehead with the oil. I prayed for God to give her the healing she needed and He wanted her to have. I asked God to receive her unto Himself, both in life and in death, and that she would die in calmness and peace. After a few moments of sharing God’s goodness, we left.
The woman called the next day to say how much the ritual had meant to her. She felt at peace. She felt surrounded and supported by her spiritual community and was ready to move on to her heavenly home. A week or so later, she crossed the river into eternity.
Why do we avoid having healing services and anointing? Are we confusing cure with healing? Sometimes we need healing more than we need a cure. I think we fail to provide healing because we think of sensational cures that have been featured in the media. We hear talk of “divine healing” in terms of miracles or “signs and wonders,” so we pull back from any attempt at healing to avoid sensationalism.
We should not avoid healing in the church. All healing is divine healing; all cure is divine cure. The laws of healing and cure are built into the universe by a loving Creator. God has gifted individuals with the intelligence and gift of discovering and utilizing those laws. Every time we take a tablet or get a shot, we are receiving divine healing. Sometimes there is what appears to be a miraculous cure, but to God it is not a miracle. God does not suspend natural laws in order to perform a miracle. That would throw the universe into chaos. As Author of the laws that govern existence, God can heal at a higher level of natural law than we have been able to discover and utilize.
The distinction between cure and healing must always be in mind. A person could be cured miraculously, but still need healing. We sometimes need the healing of memories, or the healing of relationships, or the healing that comes from confession and restitution. Especially when people are facing death, spiritual leaders need to offer the spiritual healing that comes through Christ, the Great Physician.
It was both a joy and a blessing to help our sister in Christ receive healing. Amen.