Questions of Healing (Ros' Blog)
When I speak at churches on behalf of Through the Roof, and when I staff our exhibition stand at events, people sometimes come up to me and ask questions. And the two questions I am most frequently asked are, “What about disability and healing?” and, “Will I/my child/disabled people be healed in heaven?” These are asked not only about people whose impairments are physical, but also those which are cognitive and intellectual. I have written about this before, but as it comes up so often, I thought it was worth revisiting the topic.
Because I am asked the questions so frequently, and because, as the parent of a woman with complex multiple disabilities, they are questions I myself have asked over the years, I have spent a lot of time thinking about them. I don’t claim to have the answers – some things we will know only in eternity – but I do get a feel for what is indicated in the Bible.
I recently did some personal study on the healing miracles of Jesus, and I noted some interesting things. Firstly, a miraculous healing of a disabled person in Jesus’ day rescued him or her from a fate that included shame, marginalisation, enforced begging for a living, exclusion from society and religious contempt. Maybe these were the things Jesus was keen to eradicate, and a physical healing was the most immediate way to achieve that.
Secondly, Jesus almost always healed in response to a direct, spoken request from either the disabled person or their close family or friends. He gave them the dignity of expressing their own response, by posing questions such as, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10.51) or, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5.6)
Thirdly, on the few occasions when Jesus healed people of His own initiative and without waiting to be asked, it appears to have been always for one of two reasons. Either the person was clearly indicating a desire to be healed which they were unable to articulate in words, such as the man from the region of the Gadarenes who came and knelt at His feet (Mark 5.6) and the woman who would not have been permitted to speak because she was in the synagogue, a male preserve (Luke 13. 10-13). Or else they were being despised and excluded and by healing them Jesus restored their dignity and brought them into a place of inclusion and acceptance in the community. Examples include the man with the shrivelled hand (Mark 3. 1-5) and the man with excessive fluid retention (Luke 14. 1-6). The two things Jesus never did were to make anyone feel that the disabled person was unacceptable and needed fixing, and he never told anyone that their lack of faith had prevented their personal healing.
The function of healing is to rectify distress and dis-ease. The disabled person who is at ease with his or her condition, and whose limitations cause no distress probably feels no need for healing. Even where distress is present, it’s just as likely to be caused by societal barriers and attitudes. Remove these and the distress will be resolved even though the physical condition remains unchanged. Some disabled people will pray for healing because that is their real desire. There is no one-size-fits-all.
Turning to the second question, “Will disabled people be healed in heaven?” this is something to which I’ve given quite a lot of thought and study. When I was teaching A level philosophy, one of the traps I warned my students not to fall into was that of making category errors. Examples of category errors would be questions such as, “What is the sound of the colour blue?” or “What is the taste of Mozart’s A major piano sonata?” With the exception of people who experience synaesthesia, for most of us the colour blue does not fall into the category of things which make a sound and a piece of music does not fall into the category of things which have a taste. Another example might be, “How many hours are there in eternity?” Eternity does not come into the category of things which can be measured by duration.
I suspect that this question of whether disabled people will be healed in heaven is one such category error. Paul talks about what our resurrection bodies will be like. When he describes the bodies we currently inhabit, he speaks of them as having characteristics such as being perishable, dishonourable, weak and natural (1 Corinthians 15. 42-43). It’s easy to see how a body which has those characteristics might come into the category of things which either do or don’t have impairments, which either do or don’t function as the human body was designed to do, or which may or may not be hindered or marginalised by societal barriers and demeaning attitudes. But our resurrection bodies, he says, will be imperishable, glorious, powerful and spiritual. And these bodies, I suspect, will simply not fall into this category. The concept of impairments versus full function or of being susceptible or not susceptible to external barriers, cannot apply to a being which is imperishable, glorious, powerful and spiritual.
So I think that we are probably asking the wrong questions. Perhaps what we should be asking is not, “Can this person be healed?” but, “Since this person’s outer self, like my own, is wasting away, how can I connect with their inner self which is being constantly renewed?” (2 Corinthians 4.16)
As for asking if people with intellectual disabilities can be healed, or will be healed in heaven, I find it interesting that in the Mosaic law, in the list of impairments which preclude someone from taking the office of a priest, there is no such ban on anyone with a cognitive impairment. Can it be that we view as a disability something which God does not see in that way at all? John tells us that when we see Jesus we shall be like Him, because we will see Him as He is (1 John 3.2). This accords with Paul’s words that we all, with unveiled face, behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3.18). That word all is very important. There are no exceptions listed. When we acquire the habit of seeking God’s face, we begin to reflect God’s glory.
People with learning disabilities, who may connect with God from their spirit without any troubling intellectual questions to distract them, reflect who He is and show Him to the rest of us. Why would we view that in terms of a lack or impairment? Many of the people whom society describes as having learning disabilities are in fact streets ahead of their peers in terms of living in the moment, being themselves and having no pretentions or façade. Surely this is how we are supposed to live in the presence of God? We have much to learn from these brothers and sisters, and it is for the Church to find a way of providing the platform from which they can teach us what they know and have experienced.