The Quest for Wholeness

The Journey to Truth

Chapter 4

Among the many people whom I see in a counselling and healing capacity there was a minister of religion. He suffered severely with digestive problems, so much so that a number of surgical operations were necessary. He was also a member of a Renewal group who prayed fervently for his recovery. But when their own ministrations proved ineffective the group grew increasingly restive. The afflicted one, a pastor indeed and therefore especially close to God, was letting down the group - and, by extension, God himself. Their obvious impatience did not ease the poor man's indigestion. To his physical pain the distress of guilt was added. The more he tried to fulfil the expectations of the others, the worse did his condition become. It was very evident that the members of the group were as insecure emotionally as was their minister. They looked for a God to prove himself by miracles in rather the same way as Jesus' disciples did during the agony of his betrayal and death. So much of the ministry of healing is based on this premise: God wants us all to be healed of our maladies, and if we are obedient enough in absolute faith and righteous conduct he will cure us and bring us to health. In fact, the faith and the conduct are part of the healing process. God's grace is such that everyone who asks receives, but what is obtained, in many situations, is not what was anticipated. The very insistence of many healing groups that God should show himself by fulfilling their requests to the letter often has the effect of impeding the healing work of the Holy Spirit. God does not need to show his presence by miracles, events that cause us to marvel at the divine power by apparently transcending the usual course of nature.

Life itself is the supreme miracle, and the smooth running of so many of our routine activities day by day should be a cause for us to marvel, as it was for the writer of Psalm 139. If we are blind to the work of God in the course of health and prosperity, we are unlikely to appreciate divine intervention in times of trouble. Prayer is not primarily an urgent appeal to God to put right some present misfortune. It is first of all a tranquil, dedicated alignment of the human personality in humble service with the divine will, so that healing can flow to the world and the creative process can be quickened. It is the great privilege of the human to work with God in the unceasing creation of the world, a creation that, far from being complete and merely needing to be maintained, looks forward to the transmutation of material substance. All this is, needless to say, a remote teaching for a person afflicted in body or mind, longing only for release so as to enjoy something of the present delights of nature while there is yet time in his mortal life. But until a wider vision of life in eternity is attained, all present healing will be sadly transient. Indeed, a pagan view of life is tragic in its end, no matter how exquisite may be its immediate beauty. Spiritual intuition lifts this transient, fading beauty to the sphere of resurrection. The ministry of healing should be the outer manifestation of this resurrection of mortal forms to eternal presence. More usually, however, it is a glorified materialism that looks for a present cure to be pathetically nursed for as long as possible as a proof of God's power.

In the instance of the ailing pastor, failure attended the ministry of Renewal despite the fervent zeal and warm concern of all the group. The reason was not hard to find: he was being forced into a mould that was emphatically not his own. Indeed, the very intention of helping another person should be placed under critical scrutiny. While we can offer technical help with impunity - and this includes orthodox medical practice that has proved itself in the testing field of trial and error - we should tread warily into the lives of our fellow-creatures. Indeed, fools do often rush into a personal situation where angels would fear to tread. But a member of a Renewal group might produce a special "word of knowledge" that could with authority claim entrance into another person's inner life, the very soul with its inviolate secret of identity. Since the word speaks with the authority of the Holy Spirit, it would take precedence over even the highest grade of the angelic hierarchy: it could tread with assurance and lead the afflicted person on the way to health. I found myself, on one occasion, in the company of someone who claimed a strong gift of "sensitivity" (in this context, the alternative term for mediumship). She broached the question of my private life without any prior invitation, telling me of a message she had received concerning the way I should comport my affairs in the future. I was distinctly uneasy at what she had said, and was subsequently shown by the inner light of the soul quite clearly that she had made a precipitate, though well-intentioned, incursion into my private life, giving, in fact, a message that was heavily flavoured with her own opinions. I rebuked her subsequently, telling her that it was discourteous to intrude into the private affairs of another person, irrespective of any message given. If a prior request for guidance had been received, the matter would, of course, be different.

The point is that the external source giving the instruction, whatever claim may be made as to its identity and therefore its authority, is to be treated with reserve, and its validity challenged. If God does indeed have a special directive for us, he is very likely to speak to us personally and enlighten the soul without the need for intrusive outside assistance. If we are unsure of receiving and comprehending the inner directive, we are ill advised to accept it as a message from a masterful human source, which by its very nature is bound to colour the communication. Prophecy, even at its zenith as encountered in the Bible, cannot entirely escape this human contribution to the divine word. Therefore, the wise person, when presented with a message allegedly coming from the Holy Spirit, asks God for a direct confirmation rather than accepting it forthwith at its face value. Needless to say, the same caution is mandatory in respect of psychic and esoteric groups who practise healing. Here the danger of delusion is especially great.

In the case of my pastor friend, the basic problem was psychological, with spiritual overtones. He had spent his life trying to obey the rules laid down by the rather narrow religious tradition in which he had been reared. In the drama of his own life, he was having to bridge the enormous gulf between the complacent proclamation of traditional moral dogma that he delivered to his flock and the warm, yet cold and brutal, life of the streets around him. He had been imprisoned in a terrifying edifice of guilt, erected by himself even though the bricks were all aspects of the existence into which he had been thrust from the time of his birth. The healing group that had met to support him seemed regrettably only to have provided further building material for his prison in the shape of unremitting demands for faith and insinuations of unacknowledged sin when positive results had not been forthcoming.

The parallel between this by no means uncommon situation and the accusations of Job's comforters in response to his unrepentant cries of innocence and outrage strike home with immediate force. Job's very protestations of guiltlessness in the face of what appeared to be divine judgement convinced the three friends of his wrongfulness. True guilt does in fact interfere with faith, for the sense of deep underlying unworthiness serves to prevent the person from opening himself unreservedly to God's love. Guilt issues forth into the psyche like a sudden gust of heavy rain clouds that directly shut out the warm comfort of the sun's rays. The clouds of guilt stand in the way of the spirit of the soul, and the Holy Spirit, whose place of action is the human spirit, cannot infuse the personality of the afflicted person until there is a change of heart. And so the ministrations of the group, like those of Job's friends, exacerbated rather than relieved the situation by imposing a stigma of unworthiness upon him.

The healing work it was my privilege to do was to initiate the poor man's release from the bondage of past associations. Only then could his tortured psyche escape from the procrustean bed of the past into the liberating atmosphere of hope of the future. The laying-on of hands was sacramental of God's love as well as a means whereby the power of the Holy Spirit could penetrate to the depths of his receptive body, now opened by his liberated soul. The work continued for an extended period - indeed, it will never come to an end, for death merely closes a chapter in our living progress. The man himself in due course married and became the father of a small family. This previously inconceivable event served to strengthen his self-confidence, bringing a sense of authority into his life while opening new avenues of experience for him. The indigestion yielded remarkably in its intensity, but the tendency to stomach trouble persists and possibly always will. I believe we all have a special place of vulnerability in our bodies, our Achilles' heel as it were, which is especially liable to bear the brunt of life's vicissitudes. If we are wise we learn to live with our imperfect bodies, guarding them so that they in turn can serve us most efficiently for the particular work we are called to perform. Our innate frailty, by identifying us with the weakness of others, forms a point of departure for the adventure ahead of us, a life more fully used for the benefit of the world and our own increased satisfaction.

It is certain that we should view with distrust all instructions purporting to come from a high source that tend to invade another person's private life. Are all "messages" therefore bad, or at any rate to be disregarded? Quite a number give encouragement, and these need not be summarily rejected: kindness from whatever source is at least immediately beneficial. But no message should be clung on to with obsessive devotion; at the most it is there to give the person hope during an especially difficult time of trial, and then it may be released. It has done its duty and so may depart in peace. Inasmuch as, in the thought of St Paul in Romans 8:18 and 28, the sufferings we now endure bear no comparison with the splendour, as yet unrevealed, which is in store for us, and all things work together for good for those who love God, we may travel ahead on our own apportioned path of self-actualization, knowing that there is a destination that will make every present travail a worthwhile experience. But we must have the faith to persist and the courage to continue the journey. It is in this context that inspirational messages can be of help.

Indeed, the ministry of healing finds its full flowering, its peak of endeavour, in this understanding of spiritual growth. Then it no longer dangles carrots of illusion in front of the sufferer (as occurs far too often in uninstructed groups who work with the best will in the world, but do great harm when their certainties fail to materialize), but it does promise unfailing support on the way. This is the ministry of faith, remembering that all of us progress by faith day by day. And then come sudden shafts of light that illuminate the way, so that we have the confidence to proceed onwards. The journey, though unique for each person, is a small part of a well-worn track trodden by humanity as a whole. St Paul emphasizes the love of God as a prerequisite for the working together for good of all the strange, often confusing events in our lives. While this love of God is a foundation for our healing journey, we grow increasingly into that love as we proceed on the way. This is because, as we grow in our own humanity, so are we able to accept the divine revelation more completely; the scales drop off our inner eyes, with the result that, whereas once we were inwardly blind, now we can see spiritually. As a consequence, our love of God grows stronger: we love because he loved us first (1 John 4:19).

In the healing process it is hardly to be wondered at that the patient looks for a rapid release from his sufferings. In other words, there is an unconscious self-concern, a true self-love, rather than any love for God. Self-love of this type is natural, but its motivation is not so much wrong-headed as inadequate. The second great commandment exhorts us to love our neighbour as ourself, and indeed, until we love ourselves sufficiently to take care of our bodies and relax our minds, we will never be able to love anyone else in a similar manner. But self-love is liable soon to become choked with personal desires if it is not guided and constantly inspired by a love that comes from God, and which is reciprocated by a warm, outflowing heart. And so, in the healing process, we should start by giving ourselves over to God's service in trust. The ensuing peace that fills us allows the healing process time to repair our damaged bodies and minds. In the end we may be restored to something of the divine image in which we were created and which we have seen to best advantage in the saints of humanity, culminating in Christ himself. Then our service to our fellow-creatures will be immeasurably greater than before.

The contrast between precipitate selfish action and a dependence on God's love is starkly illustrated in the account of the Israelites' exodus from Egypt when they prepare to cross the Red Sea. This is symbolic of the last hurdle, and also the crucial one, in front of us all as we prepare to enter the full life of personal integrity, and so be more useful to those around us. When the Israelites are about to make the crossing, they are terrified at the sudden appearance of a large Egyptian force intent on their destruction. Indeed, they bewail their predicament and long for the slavery they so recently had escaped. But God, through his prophet Moses, tells them to stand firm and wait: he will do the necessary work. And as Moses stretches out his hand over the sea, the Lord drives away the waters to leave a dry seabed over which the multitude crosses with safety to the other side. When, however, Pharaoh's hosts pursue them, they can make no headway as their chariot wheels become clogged with sand. In terror they try to turn back, but then once again Moses stretches forth his hand under God's instruction, and the waters return to drown the retreating Egyptians. This fearsome account, an historic landmark in the Judaeo-Christian tradition but primitive in its understanding of God's love for all his creatures, teaches us that human activity ends in chaos and destruction unless it is informed by divine purpose. In the exodus saga it is evident that the Israelites, recalcitrant as they so frequently were, had a closer relationship with God than did their pagan neighbours. They therefore survived - and still survive - while their powerful persecutors fade into the mists of history. But they suffered - and still suffer - grievously for their periodic apostasies. God's end is a perfect humanity based on the image of Christ, and true healing cannot end until this goal has been attained.

Are bodily healings therefore to be denigrated? If this were the case, a major part of Jesus' ministry would be annulled. But the healing he bestowed so prodigally on all who came to him in faith was only the beginning of something far greater than anyone imagined. Perhaps Jesus' vision itself was somewhat restricted in this respect; for he was a full human being in the flesh and therefore subject to the limitation of knowledge that is our human lot. The primary and essential work of Jesus while he was alive on earth was to proclaim the Gospel of God: "The time has come; the kingdom of God is upon you; repent, and believe the Gospel" (Mark 1:14-15). Jesus' healings (including the acts of deliverance) constituted a vital part of the Gospel, the Good News, and were tangible evidence of what that kingdom meant. It was a state of reparation of past damage and restoration of a fresh relationship with God, such as had existed at the beginning of the creation, described allegorically in the story of Adam and Eve. Just as these archetypal humans, in their self-centred way of life (which is the basis of sinfulness), were excluded from heaven, so the new humanity proclaimed and effected in the life of Christ was brought back once more. Heaven is a state of unitive relationship with God and therefore with the creation also.

In such a relationship the demands of the individual are fulfilled in the exaltation of the whole of creation. We are, in other words, most fully ourselves when we work in effortless freedom with our fellow-creatures, a freedom based on the service of God whose very nature is love. The more one strives for oneself, the more does one distance oneself from others as one's private affairs dominate one's life. The more circumscribed does one's identity become, the more isolated is one's existence. When, on the contrary, we work for the common good, our identity expands until such love infuses our life that we are in corporate unity with all things. This is heaven, and Christ's healings were signs of it: though they did not deserve any special consideration, ordinary sinful people were cured of impediments that had been spoiling their happiness, and no outer demand was made of them. The change was to be an inner one: that, as experience teaches us all, is disturbingly slow and liable to relapse, because our own will is now engaged, and God does not, in his courtesy, interfere with the freedom of choice with which he has endowed us.

When all is going well for us, our faith is triumphant, but it tends to wane disastrously when shadows cross our path. It is then that we come to a deeper self-knowledge. This is the way of Christian discipleship and also a terse summary of the process of healing; it may start corporeally, in the body; but its end embraces the whole person, finally the body of humanity and with it the entire created order. A number of Jesus' healings illustrate this slow process. In one instance he cured ten men of a skin affliction termed leprosy (the exact nature of the disease remains obscure). Nine, all Jews and therefore sons of the covenant, did not so much as return to give thanks to Jesus and to praise God. Only one of the ten did this, and he was a Samaritan and therefore beyond the pale of respectable society (Luke 17:12-19). The nine ungrateful ones had hardly registered the miracle of their healing, so obtuse was their understanding. Only the outsider was truly on the healing path, though we may be sure that much had yet to be expunged from his character before even he could know the healing Christ.

On another occasion Jesus directly confronts a cripple of thirty-eight years' duration and asks him whether he really wants to be healed. He clearly divines an ambivalence in the man's attitude. The cripple tells Jesus that he is unable to enter the healing waters of the, Sheep Pool in time, but it may well be that his hesitation is there to allow someone else to claim his place. His crippled condition certainly shields him from responsibilities that confront healthy people in the running of their lives. The man makes the decision for health, and Jesus at once cures him. But it is noteworthy that, when Jesus meets him later on, he impresses on the man the need for leaving behind sinful ways, or something even worse may afflict him. It is also of interest that, because the man, on Jesus' instruction, takes up his bed and is seen carrying it on the Sabbath, he is at once assailed for contravening the religious law. A new intensity has been infused into a previously sluggish existence. A spiritual responsibility has been assumed, and it will not pass until all its requirements have been met (John 5:1-15).

The most impressive example in the Gospel, however, of slow, progressive healing, is that of the apostle Peter. He was closest to Jesus, at least in matters of everyday organization, and he was to assume leadership after the death of Christ. Yet he showed himself obtuse and cowardly when his Master was betrayed; it was his own skin that concerned him, to the extent that he denied any knowledge of the Lord and ran away to safety. Peter's initial healing coincided with Jesus' resurrection from the dead and the loving forgiveness bestowed on him as a weak but devoted disciple. After the Pentecostal experience of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, Peter was the chief spokesman of the infant Christian community and was instrumental in bringing the first gentile convert Cornelius into its body. But he still liked to curry favour with the Jewish faction, and so he held back from eating with the gentile group when he was confronted with staunch Jewish Christians. St Paul opposed him to his face for his dishonesty (Galatians 2:11-14). It clearly took a long time before the apostle could become a person of sufficient integrity to give up his life for the truth, as his Master had done before him. Indeed, it is most important that we stay alive in the world until we have something worthwhile to give to God and, by implication, to our neighbours also. This is the measure of a true healing.

It seems that unpleasant experiences are still necessary for us to come to the ground of our own being. When things go well for us, our attention is focused on distant worldly objectives, not in any way to be deprecated in themselves so long as they do not blur our inner vision. In Jesus' terrible, rhetorical question already quoted: what good does it do a person if he gains the whole world at the cost of his inner integrity? Worldly success attained at the cost of our inner being, our soul or true self, has its own reward. In due course it recedes from us as disease and ageing ravage the body, and finally death closes the scene. What then do we have left as we make the shrouded journey to the after-life? This type of topic is not unnaturally embarrassing in worldly company, and indeed it can easily become morbid, the preserve especially of the less materially successful type of person who looks for later rewards to redress the balance of an unsatisfactory life on earth. Nevertheless, the dark points of our life do give us time to consider the deeper aspects of reality. These can never be dismissed, for they grow in intensity as we prepare a balance sheet of our credits and debits prior to taking leave of this part of our existence. It is indeed a judgement against the superficial awareness of so many of us as we pursue the daily round of activity, that only a sharp reverse in fortune can bring us down to earth - and therefore to heaven also in the company of the One whose incarnation brought these two polarities into juxtaposition. Only when we have surmounted the test of faith and emerged victorious, if battered, can we begin to appreciate the present circumstances of a life that had previously been taken for granted.

Once adversity hits us we squeal in terror like our humbler animal brethren. We want relief as soon as possible, and the healing work of Christ is here to show us the unmerited love that God has for us all. But we too have to play our part: we must assimilate both the misfortune and the vision of divine reality that has been given us. This means declaring ourselves as workers for the Kingdom. This Kingdom is indeed not primarily of this world at all, but as we grow into it, it impinges on the work of society, so that finally all creation may be embraced in its welcoming love.

Chapter 5
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