Compassion always matters: Principles of Healing by Elaine Elliott, Antigua, Guatemala

But God will judge the world May 19, 2022

1 Peter 2:11-25 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

A sweet, unexpected thing happened. I walked outside to get in my car and a stranger walking by spoke to me, saying, “I always like walking by your house because of your heart-shaped tree stump. It encourages me.” And her dog pulled her away.

The stump left from our beloved dead tree is heart-shaped? I hadn’t noticed.

My neighbor’s comment healed some of my sadness at having to cut down our aged beloved tree. Her “honorable behavior” blessed me. I don’t know exactly where she lives. I’m watching for her so I can meet her properly and thank her.

When I walked out this morning to take a photo of the stump, I noticed a thistle growing beside it. Thanks to all the rain we’ve had, weeds are flourishing. I decided the thistle illustrates the heart-weeding I need to do of the “worldly desires that wage war against our souls.” So for the moment, I left it in the ground, and in the photo, to remind me to do both kinds of weeding.

Thistle vs. heart-stump. “Worldly desires” vs. “honorable behavior” flowing from hearts filled with God’s love. Peter offers twelve indicators of honorable living. Look up the passage and count them!

I want to focus today on the last one, “you have turned to our Shepherd for healing of your wounds and for spiritual protection,” in verses 24 and 25. I’ll do this by sharing with you ten thoughtfully penned Principles of Healing recently sent to me by my sister-in-law Elaine Elliott. Check out Elaine’s Art and Scripture posts. You’ll love the way she illustrates Scripture with inspiring art from a wide variety of artists.

Elaine’s explanation is longer than what I usually post, but so worth your consideration. I’ve bolded the principles to help you return to them when you need them. I’ll post five today and five next time.

As one of Karis’ aunts, I watched her life (usually from afar) with wonder. The fact that she survived beyond her first month made her a miracle baby. The sacrificial care Debbie gave to her repeatedly prolonged her life. When the family moved to Brazil as Karis seemed completely healed and well, this marked another miracle.  When her health declined and eventually led to her transplants, we followed the ups and downs with prayers for her. When in a medically induced coma after the first transplant failed, I assumed this was the end of the story so was astonished when she traveled to Brazil before transplant #2.  Her example of patience with pain and determination to enjoy life despite her limits served as an inspiration.

For me, Karis’ life, and the book Karis: All I See Is Grace remains an inspiring story of healing despite the messy medical procedures, her suffering, and her ultimate death.  My own journey to understand healing explains why.

The following ten principles have emerged for me over the years. 

Principle 1: Accept and use wisely the advances in medical science

During my freshman year of college, I heard for the first time about the baptism of the Spirit as a post-new-birth experience which led to increased gifting and power.  I was immediately on-board and immersed myself in this exciting new way of being a Christian.  Of all the gifts, healing struck me as the most glamorous, and I read books by contemporary healers hoping to receive this gift.

My immediate thought as a healthy person was to pray that my eyes would heal, thereby removing the need for contact lenses or glasses.  When this did not come about after about three months of unnecessarily poor eyesight (while in college squinting at the blackboard!), it suddenly struck me that I was ignoring the obvious:  if God gave mankind wisdom to come up with something as ingenious as contact lenses, then I should accept that healing could come through medicine. 

This became an important principle for my understanding of how God works, teaching me we must simultaneously pray and trust God as we collaborate with medicine and doctors. We should not be like King Asa of whom it says he “developed a serious foot disease. Yet even with the severity of his disease, he did not seek the Lord’s help but turned only to his physicians.” (II Chronicles 16:12) Nor do we want to be like the woman Jesus healed who “had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse.” (Mark 5:26)

God has used scientific advances to transform treatment of leprosy, such a scourge throughout the Bible. Identified as caused by bacteria in 1873, the first disease so recognized, the accidental discovery of antibiotics in 1928 led to an effective drug in the 1940s and became multi-drug therapy by the 1980s. The disease has nearly been eliminated. I think of how important it was for Jesus to heal lepers with no cure available then or for nearly 20 more centuries. For new cases today healthcare workers diagnose the disease and prescribe some pills. This all can be celebrated as a gift from a wise God who shares his wisdom with curious people.

Using the wisdom regarding preventative illness correlates well with some of the sanitation, dietary, and admonitions to rest in the OT law.  We do well to eat well, exercise, rest, and reduce our stress—all things consonant with living in the Spirit.

Principle 2: Accept the possibility of death as God’s way of healing

I learned another principle when in my second year of college, we went to pray for a girl about eighteen years old whose family went to our church. The girl was so developmentally disabled she was confined to a crib, which I found horrifying. I prayed diligently for her healing. One afternoon I was so convinced she had been healed that it shocked me completely when my grandmother told me she had just died.

After the shock subsided, I suddenly realized, “She is completely healed in heaven!”  Ever since, I have held the strong belief that God, who has the power of life and death, knows when it is best for someone ill to be with him, relieved of their suffering. When things are uncertain, we know death can be an acceptable outcome.  As Paul says, “when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:54,55) We may grieve, but we have hope.

Principle 3: Prayer close by and from a distance both matter

Often those praying for healing lay hands on someone or anoint with oil or remain present in prayer. But prayers from far away matter too. As the Roman officer who trusted Christ’s authority said, “Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:8) Our family experienced a profound healing of my sister Bev who had convulsions at the age of 18 while in Mexico. She went into a coma and the doctors predicted either death or brain damage. I learned about her situation while far away in Tucson but prayed for her as did many friends far and wide. She opened her eyes, but at first seemed like a small child. By the time I saw her several months later at Christmas time, she had partially recovered—perhaps to grade school level—but by the following fall went to the university with no ill effects and no one aware of her severe illness unless she told them. Though far away, I felt very present to her through prayer as did many others. It convinced me my prayers mattered.

Principle 4: We can have faith for others even when they lack faith

Another principle is that while it may be helpful for the sick person to have faith for themselves, it also works for us to have faith for others. It is unnecessary to guilt anyone about their illness or to demand they exercise faith. The disciples praying were the ones exhorted that their faith had been inadequate when they failed to heal the epileptic child. (Matthew 17:19,20) 

Someone I knew who struggled with alcoholism did not have much faith for change.  We who cared provided the faith that this challenge could be overcome and rejoiced when that happened.

Principle 5:  Exercise compassion rather than ascribing sin or judgment as the cause of illness.

We do not have a right to explain illness as God’s judgment for sin. When the disciples saw a blind man, they asked “Why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” (John 9:2,3) God’s power then proceeded to heal him.

Even if someone contributed to their own illness in some way, including sin, Jesus is present to heal, not to condemn. Jesus wasted no time castigating the paralyzed man brought by friends on a mat but pronounced forgiveness and told him to stand. We too can receive forgiveness and forgive others as we have been forgiven, a critical part of inner healing which leads to physical changes.

I remember a woman telling me “Depression is just sin.” But traumatic events that create depression often are not the fault of the one suffering. Seeing trauma and depression healed, I am convinced that loving presence helps transform painful experiences into something full of wisdom. Compassion always matters.

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