Healing as Divine-Human Synergy (Bruce Epperly)
We have been blessed to have Dr. Bruce Epperly serve as a regular contributor to Ponderings on a Faith Journey. Indeed, it's probably time to take off the adjective "guest" from his status. He returns today with the second of two essays dealing with healing, suggesting here that healing results from a divine-human synergy. In this piece he invites moderate and progressive Christians to open themselves to the possibility that healing could be possible, and that it's not just the domain of TV evangelists.
My favorite healing stories are found in Mark 5:21-43 (also in Matthew 9:18-26 and Luke 8:40-56) in which the gospel writer describes the healing and curing of Jairus’ daughter and a woman with a flow of blood, most likely gynecological in nature. While there may not be an exact one-to-one correspondence between the gospel narrative and what actually happened, I believe that these transformative events resulted from a synergistic interplay of divine call and human response, involving human faith and the release divine healing energy.
If we listen imaginatively to these stories, they may transform our images of healing, wholeness, and human possibility. Freed from the modern world view and its horizontal and predictable understanding of causal relationships, progressive and moderate Christians can imagine lively, naturalistic moments in which God’s aim at abundant life and our inner resources for healing and wholeness can be activated in surprising ways within the causal interdependence of life. Such stories invite progressive and moderate Christians to expect more of God and more of ourselves in terms of possibility and energy.
Described in just over a paragraph (Mark 5:25-34), the story of the healing of the unnamed woman with a flow of blood is polyvalent in nature. On the one hand, as Crossan and others have rightly noted, her healing involves the transformation of her place in the social order and religious community. She moves from outsider to insider, scorned to welcomed, and sinner to righteous, in terms of first century mores. Her healing involves the whole person – relationships, social role, personal aspirations, and not just her body.
Still, this woman’s physical healing presents an interesting case study on the relationship of human openness and divine activity far different than the bombastic spectacles of many of today’s “faith healers.” Weighed down by twelve years of physically debilitating and socially devastating illness, this woman comes to the healer Jesus with a prayer on her lips. “If I just touch him, I will be made well.” We can suspect that she repeated these words over and over to give her courage to face angry stares as well as her own sense of hopelessness. When she comes to Jesus, her words become flesh. Against all social convention, she touches the healer and is transformed. The narrative notes that a power flowed from Jesus energizing and curing her, body, mind, and spirit. The healing story concludes with a face-to-face encounter in which Jesus blesses her and calls her to new life. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” In that moment, the physical cure is joined with a healing that transforms her spiritual life and her relationship the community.
In this brief but intricate story, we observe a divine-human synergy. The woman would not have been healed apart from her faith in Jesus’ ability to cure her. But, her faith alone could not have restored her spiritually, physically, and socially. Her faith opened a pathway for the release of divine energy (chi, ki, prana, dunamis, preuma), the energy of healing and wholeness that transforms bodies, minds, and spirits. This is no supernatural event, but the release of the deeper, more energetic powers of life, present within the natural causal interdependence of life.
I suspect that Jesus, who was initially unaware of the woman, was a focal point for the presence and channeling of divine healing power, present in latent and varying degrees throughout the universe.
The healing of Jairus’ daughter also joins spirituality and physical transformation. In this narrative, Jesus is the primary actor, presenting the parents and his disciples with an alternative interpretation of the young girl’s condition – she is in a comatose state rather than dead – and then creating a healing circle, a community of faith that supports his own aim at healing and wholeness. Could this small healing circle have played a role in awakening the healing forces resident in the young girl, Jesus, and the gathered community? (I describe these stories in greater detail in God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus, Westminister/John Knox, 2002.)
Both of these stories speak to us today. They open moderate and progressive Christians to new ways of interpreting scripture and God’s work in our lives. The invite us to expect more of ourselves in the healing process, while also expecting greater divine possibilities in our lives.
First, they describe what physicians today call the “faith factor,” the recognition that our beliefs, spiritual practices, and realistic optimism can activate healing powers resident in our lives and in the universe. Second, these stories point to God’s universal energy as a factor that we can awaken to in life-transforming ways. Finally, these stories describe the role of a community of faithful companions, open to divine power, in contributing to our health and well-being.
(As I regularly counsel pastors and laypeople, always gather a “healing team” of supporters, rather than naysayers, whenever you go to the hospital or are facing a difficult decision.)
Often, moderate and progressive Christians believe “too little” in terms of the synergy of divine and human power. Put off by televangelists who believe “too much” in terms of their affirmation of supernaturalism, demonism, and divine punishment, moderate and progressive Christians fail to recognize the possibilities for whole person healing in a god-filled universe. If God is present everywhere, seeking abundant life for everything, then openness to God – in the divine-human call and response – can bring forth new possibilities. Cures are not guaranteed in the multi-factorial world of DNA, family of origin, environment, faith, and other factors contributing to physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. But, within this matrix of causal relationships, naturalistic healings and cures may occur, not in arbitrary fashion, but in ways that reflect God’s intention for healing and our openness in faith. Our task is faithfully to open ourselves to the wonders in every moment and the possibilities for transformation in every encounter.
Bruce Epperly is a seminary professor and administrator at Lancaster Theological Seminary, pastor, theologian, and spiritual companion. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, a response to Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. His Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry, written with Katherine Gould Epperly, was selected Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy.
Persons interested in progressive approaches to healing and wholeness may consult his God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus; Healing Worship: Purpose and Practice; orReiki Healing Touch and the Way of Jesus, written with Katherine Gould Epperly. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.