People who are hurting need healing. Not just physically and/or psychologically — although they certainly need this — but emotionally and spiritually. This is the first function of pastoral care. But what role can we play as Christians?
Some go for a Name It And Claim It-type approach. Healing, they maintain, is promised and available in Jesus. Trust Him and you’ll experience His power. And conversely if you’re not experiencing healing you’re probably not trusting Him — or not trusting Him enough.
Reacting against this emphasis on a felt need for healing, others insist that people’s souls and eternal destinies are far more important than their (temporal) felt needs. ‘Spiritual health’ is what really matters (and what we’re actually trained to deal with). And so we hold out a kind of disembodied hope — for escape from our broken and weak bodies.
But if we turn to Jesus’ healings in the Gospels, we find they don’t quite fit into either box.
His ‘power encounters’ do effect physical healing. He does drive out demons. Although, He is able in a way we often aren’t — and healing is certainly not all He’s on about. But in line with the full-booded OT expectation for the resurrection and new creation Jesus consistently demonstrates the importance of bodily restoration in the saving work of God.
More, in providing a foretaste of the new creation Jesus humanises — or re-humanises — people. Hence, He treats them as people, not letting their illnesses define them. And, climactically, His restorative work often allows them to rejoin the community of God’s people.
Ultimately, though, Jesus’ healings have a goal beyond themselves. He’s on about re-focusing human faith and worship. Centring our devotion where it should be: on Himself — the Messiah, the unique Son of the Father. Yet such devotion will be costly and painful. For the cross is the shape of redeemed human life. We should expect suffering and service unto death (rather than constant triumphant health) to characterise life this side of the resurrection.
I wonder how these emphases of Jesus’ ministry might shape our offer of healing as a facet of Christian pastoral care?