Healing is a major theme of the stories of the Bible. In the Old Testament Books of First and Second Kings the prophets of God appear to have extraordinary powers to heal. Elijah heals the son of the woman at Zarephath. Later, in another story, Elijah’s disciple Elisha is well known throughout the region as a great healer. Most notably he heals the Syrian general Naaman by telling him to bathe seven times in the Jordan River.
Sick children create in us the most sympathy. Pictures of children with bloated stomachs and flies resting in their eyes are used to generate in us the desire to donate to agencies tending to the needs of the children who are afflicted by famine, war, and rampant disease. When I was a child the March of Dimes campaign spearheaded by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt focused on the children who were afflicted with a disease then called infantile paralysis, which we now refer to as polio. The campaign was a huge success. Children were the reason for its success. Had the disease afflicted the elderly, no matter who were spokespeople raising funds to combat it, the campaign would still be going on with probably no cure in sight.
Thus, we are moved by the story of the child of the woman of Zarephath and then in the New Testament the widow of Nain who has lost her only son.
The story of the widow of Nain is particularly heart wrenching. In first century Palestine, a widow without any male support is destitute. Jesus encounters this woman and he knows she is now in dire straits—she has lost more than son, she has lost her own life and future wellbeing.
Jesus says to the widow, “Do not weep.” She must have been stunned. How can she not weep? Her loss is devastating. She knows that her future is on the bier being carried away to be buried and lost forever.
Nevertheless, Jesus has compassion and uses this event to demonstrate the power of love and God’s own wish for the world to live despite its preoccupation with death.
I have known people who have been brought back from the edge of death. I have seen people who have been diagnosed as terminal defeat the prognosis and live on for years afterward, but I have never known anyone resuscitated after dying and brought to life on the way to the grave. However, while that is not my experience, I have no doubt such a miracle has happened.
Of course, we can explain the miraculous healings of the Scriptures with a post-action analysis based in twenty-first century knowledge of the healing arts and sciences. The child Elijah heals was likely resuscitated by some form of CPR. Possibly, Jesus recognized that the son of the widow of Nain was in a deep coma and could be revived. However, in the story, Jesus does not touch the man. He touches the bier on which the man was carried. In an earlier story of the healing of the Centurion’s servant, Jesus does not touch the servant.
Something is happening in these stories for which we may not have an explanation.
In today’s medicine such things occur. Doctors cannot explain the sudden positive change in a person’s illness. What has happened is beyond the medicines they have prescribed.
Possibly, it is the power of prayer. Many pray for the sick, the despairing, and the needy, all the time. We often pray for them even when we are not aware we are praying. It is our sense of hope that we raise to God and in that hope we pray unaware we are praying our spouses, children, and friends will recover from their afflictions. Sometimes it is a desperate hope and in other times it is our expectation. Regardless, faith helps us to have the courage to pray for healing, for revival, for a new chance at life.
Much of healing depends on the person being healed, or the expectation of the parents, relatives, and friends. If we do not expect healing, none will occur. If we do not see a sudden change in the physical condition we may think that our prayers are wasted. Much of whom and what we are hangs about us when we face terrible and life-threatening illness.
The question for me is, “What constitutes healing?” For the physician it is the successful application of a therapy, for family members it is the restoration of the beloved to full and normal life activities. For the ill it is the absence of pain. However, therapy, hope, and prayer may not bring about the good effect desired.
Healing may be an acceptance of the tragic nature of life itself. We are born as organic beings. That means we are part of the earth and the cycles of the earth. While some, because of accident and predisposition, do not experience the full cycle of life, most are born, cared for, mature, live fruitful lives, age, and then die. Nevertheless, all living creatures and things are subject to the reality of biological and organic being. If this is true, what then is our hope?
In the healing instances found in the Scriptures, the one offering the healing or the chance for life, exercise their faith in the power of God to bring to reality that faith.
Of course we will not encounter Elijah or Jesus in the flesh. Their earthly existence is now history. Nevertheless, we encounter the faith of Elijah and the compassion of Christ in our own willingness to be healed. The healing we seek includes getting better physically, but the true healing we need is the healing of our hearts and minds. In reality, some illnesses cannot be healed—we waited too long to see the doctor and the disease is chronic and its course cannot be altered, or it is the disease’s lethality is too far advanced, or there is no known cure for the disease. Thus, there is a need to seek a different healing.
That different healing is of the soul. Remembering that Jesus had compassion on the widow of Nain and he told her, “Do not weep,” we seek that emotional healing of the soul. In the healing of the soul nothing can strike us down or prevent us from the hope that we will live and share in the resurrection with Christ. In that hope, we can quiet our brains, bring an end to the joylessness of life, and see the future as an eternal wonder. In other words, we are not floundering out in the storm but are safely on the shore no matter what life’s conditions may be.
Hear those words deep in your own mind and let them fill your heart. Jesus has said, “Do not weep.” In the kingdom of God all tears are wiped away.