The following post is more scientific in nature than what I typically write about. It's intended to shed an objective light on the subject of healing. While divine healing is usually a matter of faith - we should be able to verify it clinically and describe it objectively. You will find reference numbers in blue throughout the text. These correspond to notes at the end of the article provided as further reference for the topic. This is the second article written by David C. Lewis a British anthropologist. The other can be viewed here. This is an excerpt from the book "The Kingdom and the Power" [Regal, 1993], (pp. 321-343)
Lewis asked these questions as a backdrop for discussion:
What kinds of healings are associated with contemporary Christian healing ministries, conferences for training Christians in praying for healing, and such ministry in many evangelical churches?
How do medical doctors perceive the healings?
How do healings relate to the revelations known as "words of knowledge" (I Cor. 12:8; 14:24-25) 460?
Can associated physical phenomena be explained by psychological mechanisms?
Why does God appear to heal some kinds of people more often than others?
These are important questions which for the most part have been ignored by critics of healing ministries, who have tended to concentrate on theological and historical questions rather than medical, sociological or psychological aspects.461 These are the dimensions to healing which I wish to examine in this chapter, since the theological issues have been addressed by other contributors to this book. In particular I shall present some of the detailed findings from my comprehensive follow-up study of one of John Wimber's conferences as an example of contemporary cases of healing.
In 1986 a detailed questionnaire was given to all those who attended John Wimber's Signs and Wonders (Part II) conference in Harrogate, England. The questionnaires were collected just before the final session of the conference. Out of the 2,470 people registered for the conference, 1,890 returned usable forms, producing a response rate of 76.5% (which is very high in comparison with most sociological surveys). These were processed through a computer at Nottingham University. Using a random number table, I then selected from these 1,890 respondents a random sample of 100 people whom I followed up between six and ten months after the conference. With ninety-three of them I was able to conduct in-depth personal interviews, involving my traveling almost literally throughout the length and breadth of Britain.
Another seven people had to be interviewed over the telephone or by mail because they lived outside Britain or were unavailable for other reasons. My research combined the breadth of the questionnaire with the depth of the interviews. Some other potentially interesting cases outside the random sample were also followed up by telephone, mail or personal interview. Where appropriate, specialist medical opinions were sought regarding various cases of healing. Although each patient signed a form consenting to the release of confidential medical information, the doctors varied considerably in the extent to which they were willing to co-operate.
Much criticism of evangelical healing ministries and, in particular, of John Wimber and the Vineyard Christian Fellowship has been expressed in print recently. The research described above followed on from the preliminary study which I had undertaken in 1985 of John Wimber's Signs and Wonders (Part I) conference in Sheffield. My report on that conference was published as an appendix to Wimber's book Power Healing.462
The report was apparently available to Donald Lewis, who later wrote that his intention was, "to reflect upon my own experience of John Wimber's conferences, rather than to critique what he has written (although I have read his books). My aim is to evaluate one such gathering from the vantage point of an observer-participant."463 Although participant-observation is a standard research method among cultural anthropologists like myself, it is almost always supplemented by in depth interviews and attempts to understand the perspectives of the participants themselves.
Unfortunately, almost all of Lewis' evaluation was of Wimber's theology: he gave no evidence of any interviews with other participants, assessments of the accuracy of "words of knowledge,"evaluations of the kinds of healings which took place or analyses of other aspects of the ministry. What sounds more impressive is the so-called "medical evaluation of a Wimber meeting" presented by Verna Wright, FRCS, Professor of Rheumatology at Leeds University, when addressing a conference in London on 15 November 1986. Wright's so-called "medical evaluation" is based on the second-hand opinions of five unnamed doctors whose description gives no indication of any attempt to interview other participants. 464
As is the case with other observers, many of the comments tend to be more of the nature of opinion than fact, largely because of the absence of systematic data collection.
Medical Views of Healing
It is not surprising that Wright should have come across cases of people who were not healed after receiving prayer at one of John Wimber's conferences, because these are the very people who are likely to go back again to their doctors afterwards for further treatment. By contrast, many of those who had received healing after prayer had seen no need to consult their doctors again. This process means that some medical doctors are likely to hear a disproportionate number of "negative" cases. Other doctors, however, confirm that they have come across cases of apparently inexplicable recovery following Christian prayer. "More and more Christian doctors, cautious by nature and training, are beginning to expect the unexpected. In ways that defy medical explanation they sometimes see instantaneous, sometimes gradual, reversals of the disease process. 'It's an answer to prayer,' they confess."465
Some of the most thorough investigations in this area have been conducted by Dr. Rex Gardner, a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist. His Presidential address to the Newcastle and Northern Counties Medical Society was published in the prestigious British Medical Journal and contained half a dozen medically documented cases of otherwise inexplicable healings associated with prayer in Christ's name. 466 Following on from his article in the British Medical Journal, Gardner wrote a book containing many more well-documented contemporary cases of Christian healings which could appropriately be described as "miraculous". 467
One of them, for example, concerns "Rebecca," a nine-year old girl whose audiograms and tympanograms showed a hearing loss of 70 decibels in her right ear and 40 in her left. "The consultant confirmed that she was nerve deaf in both ears and that there was no cure, no operation, nothing he could do." However, Rebecca and others among her family and friends began to pray for God's healing. On 8 March 1983 Rebecca had to attend the audiologist to obtain a new hearing aid. The following night, at 9:30 PM she came running down from bed to say, "Mummy, I can hear!" Her parents tested her and found she could hear even their whispers. When they telephoned the consultant, he replied, "I don't believe you. It's not possible. All right, if some miracle has happened I am delighted. Have audiograms done." Rebecca's audiograms and tympanograms were normal on the 10th March 1983--forty-eight hours after the audiologist had seen her and knew she was deaf. Both the audiologist and the consultant were unable to give any kind of known medical explanation for the healing. 468
In my follow-up study of John Wimber's Harrogate conference, I found a number of cases which were similarly difficult or impossible to explain away by reference to known medical processes. One of those whom I followed up told me how in 1983 she had received many injuries to her neck, back, arms and right knee when she had been involved in a "severe car crash." She had prolonged treatment, including frequent physiotherapy sessions, but continued to have pain in her right knee. In 1986 a consultant diagnosed her as having contracted Hoffa's disease in her knee. This is "post-traumatic intra-pattellar fat pad syndrome," but once the condition is established it is "virtually incapable of cure other than by surgical excision [i.e. cutting out] of the painful piece of fat."However, at John Wimber's Harrogate conference this same woman received prayer for her knee and discovered a very significant improvement: "Now it's so much better that the only time I feel it is if I've been for a long walk or bang it against something . . . [such as] when I knocked it against some steel railings and knocked the knee badly . . . ." She therefore said it was "90% to 95% healed. " Some people, however, might say it was actually 100% healed, if these isolated incidents were due not to the Hoffa's disease but to natural bruising or other factors.
In this case, the woman's doctor, in reply to my inquiry, could only repeat the consultant's opinion that it is "virtually incapable of cure" except through surgery. He then commented, "I gather she is now very much better and she regards herself as cured."469 This kind of case certainly does not fit the superficial opinion (unsupported by any objective evidence) that the healings which occur at Wimber's conferences "are not real miracles at all but are only self-induced 'mind cures' for relatively innocuous and unverifiable ailments."470
In an appendix to my book Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact? I list all the different types of physical complaints for which people received prayer at Harrogate. 471 I also give the maximum, minimum and mean (average) degrees of healing for each condition on a nine-point scale from no healing (point one) through to total healing (point nine). The sixty-eight cases reported of total healing included conditions as diverse as arthritis in the neck, hand or leg; severe bone malformation due to injury; painful and swollen lymph glands; inability to hear in the higher register; eye squint; hernia; prolapse of the womb; cystitis; allergic reactions; vaginal bleeding (which had been continuing for twenty-five days); sleeping sickness; endometriosis; urinary problems; fever; breathing difficulties; and pain behind the eyes.
Among the 1890 people who filled in a questionnaire, 621 had received prayer for some kind of physical healing. As some of these had prayer for more than one condition, there were a total of 867 cases. By the end of the conference, some noticeable improvement was reported in 58% of these cases. It is significant that, when I followed up the random sample of 100 people between six months and a year later, virtually the same percentage (57%) reported a sustained and noticeable improvement since the conference.
Although healings did take place at the conference itself, the primary intention of the conference was to train Christians to pray for healing in their own local situations. I therefore asked those I interviewed to what extent they had put the teachings into practice, and what results they had obtained.Though many had prayed for other Christians, with varying results, some of the most interesting cases came from the minority who had been willing to try praying in this way for non-Christians. Often they saw signs of God's power in unexpected ways.
For instance, the following account was related tome by a young woman in a northern English city:
"We'd been doing a scheme of door-to-door visitation . . . but I started off on the wrong street. I knocked on the door and then realized that we'd already done that street--but in fact no one had visited that house. I explained who we were and asked if there was anything she needed. She then said, 'My baby's got cancer.'. . . I'd only been a Christian eight months, and it was a first in everything. I spoke to [my vicar] and he encouraged me to pray for the baby. . . . I'd been to Harrogate with him--just for the last day, and then I went to the team visit at the Grammar school--and he told me to do what I'd seen them doing. I saw stage by stage, week by week, [the baby's] recovery. . . .One day . . . I prayed all day. . . . I couldn't get him out of my mind. . . . Even by bedtime I was still praying. I was about to give up because I felt God wouldn't heal unless [the mother] made a commitment [to Christ]. The next day [the baby] was pronounced healed."
From the hospital consultant concerned, I was able to obtain copies of the baby's records. They confirmed this account in detail, and showed that the tumor did suddenly disappear in between two of the hospital examinations.It was also at the time when this young Christian had been praying. 472 The consultant claimed that this was a case of "spontaneous remission."However, the available medical literature on this particular type of tumor--called infantile fibrosarcoma--contains no reference to any other case of "spontaneous remission." In fact, a detailed follow-up study of forty-eight cases showed that eight patients had died and the others had been treated by surgery, sometimes followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy. The more severe cases had required amputation of the limb. There were no recorded cases of "spontaneous remission."473
The case detailed above, in which the tumor disappeared after persistent prayer and without any medical treatment, was in fact a severe case. It involved a malignant tumor which had grown around the nerves and arteries. Treatment of it would normally have necessitated amputation of the baby's arm. The consultant had no other explanation but the rather unlikely one of so-called "spontaneous remission."474
"Spontaneous remission" is in itself a loose, catch-all term which does not explain anything but simply admits that an explanation for the recovery is beyond the present bounds of medical knowledge. Christians who have been praying interpret the events as a divine intervention, but the doctor has no other medical term than the rather hollow one of "spontaneous remission." In a case of this kind, to speak in terms of probabilities and statistics seems a more fruitful approach than arguing about whether or not the healing can be "explained away" by calling it "spontaneous remission." Such arguments involve the well-known problems of the "God of the gaps" theories, and seem to involve a rather mechanistic, nineteenth-century view of the universe.
Nowadays, scientific progress in fields as diverse as genetics and nuclear physics makes much more use of probability and statistics. In medicine too, new drugs are tested and the results analyzed according to whether or not they are associated with a statistically significant difference among a sample of patients: they do not necessarily produce cures in everyone. Similarly, in examining cases of miraculous healing, a more fruitful approach is to ask how likely it is that particular results would have been produced by known medical treatments. Very often, we find that prayer is associated with outcomes which would have been very unlikely from a medical point of view.
Words of Knowledge
A statistical approach is also very useful in analyzing the revelations commonly referred to as "words of knowledge". Certainly some of these seem to be very "general" and could be expected to apply to at least one or two people in a congregation. More specific ones, however, are less easily dismissed, as I demonstrated in my report on Wimber's Sheffield conference.476 A good example of a highly specific word of knowledge occurred at the Harrogate conference, when John Wimber announced the following revelation:
"There's a woman named Janet who at eleven years of age had a minor accident that's proven to be a problem throughout her adult life. It had something to do with an injury to her tailbone but now it's caused other kinds of problems and so there's radiating pain that comes down over her--er--lower back and down over her backside and down her legs. It has something to do with damage to a nerve but it also has to do with some sort of a functional problem with the--um--I think it's called the sacroiliac."
There was indeed someone who matched this description exactly. She was in the overflow hall down the road, where she received prayer for healing. Over a year later she wrote to me, "My back appears healed and I am not receiving any discomfort from it." Elsewhere I have analyzed this example and worked out the statistical probabilities of correctly guessing all these features by chance alone. I found that, even with very conservative figures, the chances against accurately diagnosing all these various details by chance alone were at least three million to one.477
Moreover, those responding to such highly specific words of knowledge also tended to report higher degrees of associated healing than those responding to less specific revelations. This process is obscured in the overall percentages of people receiving healing because at the Harrogate conference many more people responded to a less specific word of knowledge for anyone with skeletal problems (including arthritis) to receive prayer: their degrees of healing ranged from "a great deal" or "total" healing through to "little" or none. It was only in the subsequent statistical analysis that I discovered the tendency for more specific words of knowledge to be associated with greater degrees of healing.478
One of Wimber's critics--Dr. Peter Masters of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London--regards supernatural revelations in the Bible as divinely inspired but classifies contemporary revelations like those given to Wimber as examples of occult "clairvoyance," which he describes as"disobedient to God's word and highly dangerous."479 He is right about the dangers of occultism, but may be mistaken in classifying all modern revelations, including those occurring in Christian contexts, as "occult".480 Certainly I have found that the revelations associated with Wimber and some of his associates are far more specific and accurate than comparable data available from scientific studies of "extra-sensory perception" or of the revelations attributed to psychics and mediums.481 There is also evidence of fraud involving a well-known British medium named Doris Stokes. 482
However, in my studies of Wimber's conferences I have been able to rule out the likelihood of fraud on the grounds that those registering for the conference had no previous contact with the American visitors. The conferences were advertised in popular Christian magazines and organized by different groups of local Christians who had no control over those who might apply to attend. Moreover, through their exposure to the training received atWimber's conferences many "ordinary" Christians have also begun to receive similar kinds of divine revelations in the course of their own ministries.483
Another area of controversy concerns what is variously called "inner healing," "healing of the memories" or "emotional healing". Often this approach to healing is concerned with overcoming the effects of past hurts which can affect attitudes and behaviour in the present. Matzat argues, however, that the main founders of "inner healing," especially Agnes Sanford and Morton Kelsey, took their ideas from secular psychology. In particular, the ideas behind ministering to childhood hurts buried in the subconscious are said to be taken from Sigmund Freud's "depth psychology".484
To a large extent, it is possible to accept this general criticism of Sanford and Kelsey even if one might quibble with some of the details. However, influential practitioners of "inner healing" are aware of some of these difficulties and they warn against the uncritical use of certain kinds of "inner healing." For example, John Wimber writes,
"I am using the term 'inner healing' sparingly . . . because different authors use it to mean so many different things, many of which I do not agree with. In many instances inner healing is based on secular psychological views of how our personalities are formed and influenced. But where these views contradict the biblical teaching, they must be firmly rejected."485
Matzat further claims that methods of "visualizing" Jesus in various scenes from the past (as advocated by Agnes Sanford or Rita Bennett) were borrowed from Karl Jung, another major founder of modern psychology.486 However, although I came across many cases of "inner healing" in my study of John Wimber's Harrogate conference, very few of them involved a person receiving a visual picture of Jesus. Wimber in fact says that they do not encourage such visualization. Instead, most instances of "inner healing"were dealt with by forgiveness, repentance, confession and other widely recognized biblical principles, without recourse to "visualization."487
Nevertheless, there are cases in which Jesus does appear to people and minister appropriately to their inner hurts. One of the most dramatic instances concerns "Jill," a seventeen year old girl who had come to live with her pastor's family. The pastor's wife told me the following story:
" . . . Her parents divorced when Jill was four years old. Her mother was anti-Christian and would have nothing in the house which was Christian. Jill became a Christian when she was ten and had to carry her Bible with her and sleep with it under her mattress or else it would be destroyed...Her mother's boyfriend subjected her to all forms of abuse--everything. Jill's sister who is two years younger had everything lavished upon her but Jill was totally deprived...After she came to live here, she woke every night screaming with nightmares from what her mother's boyfriend had done to her. No man could go near, only I could...[One night we] heard her rattling the door in her nightdress. We took her back to bed and as we were doing so we were aware she was talking--in a very childish voice...She talked as a four year old...It was the time of the divorce and she relived it: horror and horror. ([Her mother's boyfriend] sexually handled her, burned her, choked her--she was literally going red in the face and not breathing: we couldn't believe what we were experiencing.) She would even say what she had for dinner--but at the end of the day said, 'My Jesus is coming. He's so big.' It was so delightful. She gave a full description of how he was dressed: 'Long, white and shiny, and a shiny thing round his waist. Gold varnish on feet and hands, a pretty sticky-up thing on his head--and his eyes, his eyes ...four year old language. The first one was 'Mummy's friend' but 'My friend is big--my friend is bigger than your friend. Mind your head, Jesus, don't bump your head on the door. 'Then he'd come and minister to her. He had pockets on his robe: 'I wonder what he's got for me?' Cream to soothe bruises or beating, plasters to put on. Something to eat--she was starved as well. She would go through the motions--a big strawberry milkshake. . . . "
There is no way in which I could attribute this girl's experience to the influence of suggestion. In fact, Jill's pastor and his wife recorded her later experiences and were able to confirm the accuracy of her memories from her own diaries. They took it in turns on successive nights to be present in Jill's room when they began to hear her talking. On two occasions, while Jill was being ministered to by Jesus, they saw a mist or cloud filling part of the room. It was so dense on the second occasion that it "covered half a chair, blotted out the dressing table and just a bit of the mirror was poking out of the mist." They later identified it with the Shekhinah cloud of God's presence and glory which is mentioned in the Bible (e.g. Exodus 33:9; 2 Chronicles 5:13-14;Matthew 17:5).
One other detail further highlights the divine character of Jill's visions. On one occasion, Jesus brought her a knickerbocker glory ice cream with a large strawberry at the bottom. Later, when she went on holiday with her pastor's family, they all decided to have knickerbocker glories--Jill's first taste of a 'material' one. Hers alone turned out to have a large strawberry at its base! Jill's experiences continued for a few months and were punctuated by a recurring vision of a house, the rooms of which symbolized various areas of her past life. As these were dealt with, the doors were shut on them. Finally, Jesus took her outside the front door and across the lawn to where her pastor and his wife were standing. He handed her over to them, indicating that her treatment was over. After this, her visions of Jesus ceased. The extent of her healing is shown by the fact that she has now been accepted for training as a psychiatric nurse.
During her interview for the course, she was asked how she felt about dealing with sexually abused children. Jill replied that she could handle it because she had been through that experience herself. When asked if she needed counseling for it, she said that she did not need it and told the interviewers about her own experiences of healing. The fact that they recognized her healing and accepted her for training as a psychiatric nurse testifies to the effectiveness of what Jesus had done for her. Moreover, because of her own experiences she now seems to have a special rapport with children who have been sexually abused, who instinctively seem to know they can trust Jill.
We have to ask, therefore, whether God can make use of methods at certain times which appear to parallel those of secular psychology. Essentially, we have to ask whether the one who created humanity and designed human psychology in the first place also knows the kinds of techniques which are most appropriate for healing it. Are these methods ones which God has made available because he knows that sometimes they might be necessary? Confusion has arisen because of a failure to distinguish between sources and methods.488
For physical healing it is clear that God makes use of a variety of methods, so why should the same not be true of emotional or psychological healing? The Gospels record that Jesus used many different methods for healing conditions which are all described as 'blindness' (though the causes in each case are not specified). On one occasion Jesus gave a word of command (Mark 10:52), on another occasion spat in the blind man's eyes and then laid hands on them (Mark 8:23-25), and at another time rebuked a demonic spirit causing the blindness (Matthew 12:22). On yet another occasion he spat on the ground and mixed his saliva with mud before applying it to the blind man's eyes and telling him to wash it off in the pool of Siloam (John 9:6-7).
It seems that Jesus may not have been the first to use spit in healing contexts but that he made use of an existing practice. In the same way, there are no scriptural precedents for the divine filling of dental cavities, but such miracles have been well-attested in recent decades from both North and South America.489 If God can make use of methods which are widely used by dentists of all religious persuasions, or none, can he also make use of techniques for psychological or emotional healing which were humanly pioneered in other contexts?
Most biblical passages relating to forgiveness and Christian attitudes are addressed to groups rather than to individuals. Their focus is more on preventing the need for 'inner healing' than on giving directions how to go about it. However, in actual practice the Holy Spirit appears to make use of a wide repertoire of methods, which in themselves might be neutral but can be used for either positive or negative ends.490
Physical and Spiritual Phenomena
Since John White is contributing a chapter to this book concerning the physical manifestations which sometimes seem to accompany the working of the Holy Spirit, here I shall confine myself to a few brief remarks arising out of my own investigations. 491
When some people at a Baptist church in Leeds began to display behaviour such as shaking, weeping or falling over (Jer. 23:9; Dan. 10:10; Neh.8:6, 9; Jn. 18:6; Rev. 1:10, 17-18) 492 during a healing service led by some of Wimber's team, a critic later described the events as a case of mass hysteria.
This opinion was expressed by a theologian with no training in psychology or psychiatry. However, it led me to include in my follow-up interviews a simple psychological test which gives a preliminary indication of the plausibility of this explanation. A retrospective study of a case of mass hysteria among some English schoolgirls confirmed the hypothesis of Professor Eysenck that more hysterical individuals tend to rank high on scales of both extroversion and neuroticism.493
However, only twelve out of the one hundred people in my random sample ranked high on both these scales, and all but two of them were only just over the border into the 'high' category on only one of the two scales. Nevertheless, virtually all of these 100 people had themselves experienced at least some of the physical phenomena. I found that reports of these experiences were spread across all the different psychological categories of people and were by no means confined to any one psychological 'type'.
This argues against any theory that these physical phenomena can be explained away by a theory of mass hysteria. Another theory is that these phenomena can be explained away as a form of learned behaviour. A number of experts agree that some form of auto-suggestion can influence such behaviour in at least certain cases. In my questionnaire at John Wimber's Harrogate conference I asked people to indicate whether or not they had experienced such phenomena in the past or for the first time at Harrogate. The question then arose how to interpret the statistics.
For instance, among those who had fallen over in the past, 69% (499 out of 725) did not repeat the behaviour again at the Harrogate conference. It might therefore be argued that this was not 'learned behaviour'. On the other hand, the fact that 31% did fall over again might be regarded either as 'learned behaviour' or else as further genuine ministry from God which necessitated this kind of phenomenon.
However, it was clear that 'milder' phenomena such as the tingling or shaking of hands, weeping or changes in breathing were much more likely to be repeated or else to be manifested for the first time than were more 'dramatic' forms of behaviour such as falling over, screaming or shouting. These 'milder' phenomena are often associated with ministry to others (including weeping in the context of intercessory prayer) and are quite likely to be repeated, whereas phenomena connected with receiving ministry tend to recur less often and usually cease once the ministry is completed.
For well-known phenomena like falling over it was more difficult to test for the influence of suggestion because many of those present at the Harrogate conference had attended other Wimber conferences or heard about them. This was particularly the case for a dozen commonly occurring phenomena publicly mentioned on the third day of the 1985 Sheffield conference during a workshop on physical healing--by which time the participants had already witnessed most of these forms of behaviour.
However, when I later tried to classify all the different kinds of phenomena actually reported on their questionnaires by participants at the Harrogate conference, I found that I needed over two hundred different categories. Most of these were very difficult or else impossible to explain away as due to 'suggestion'. They included sensations of something like"electricity" or a "force field . . . like something out of Star Wars."494
A few people spoke not of heat (which could be due to suggestion) but of "cold sensations" or "severe chilling."495 Several people mentioned experiences of a heavy weight or pressure upon parts of their bodies, particularly the head or chest. 496 Others felt what they variously described as like a "mantle," a"blanket" or a "heavy sheep skin coat" over them. A few found themselves unexpectedly outside their physical bodies, in one case looking down on her own body receiving ministry while "resting in the Spirit" on the floor.497
Two people mentioned smelling fragrances of flowers. One of them afterwards asked the young German man next to her if he had smelt them too. At first he replied "No," but then he "reluctantly" told her that during that session he had "walked in the garden with the Lord."498 It is difficult, and in several cases probably impossible, to explain away these and other kinds of experiences as due merely to 'suggestion'. There are also many other accounts of individuals with no prior exposure to this kind of ministry, or teaching about it, who have nevertheless experienced some of these phenomena.
A clear example occurred in 1992 at my own church in England. In my message on being "open to God" I had not mentioned these kinds of phenomena at all, but when the Holy Spirit was invited to minister to people the first person to display any kind of "unusual" behaviour--and the only one to "rest in the Spirit"--was a Ukrainian girl who was visiting us at the time. I knew that she had definitely not come across such phenomena previously in her limited contacts with Orthodox or Catholic churches in the Ukraine.
Whom Does God Heal?
We do not know why God seems to heal some people but not others. Why did Jesus heal one man at the pool of Bethesda and apparently leave other invalids alone? Wimber suggests that a clue is given in John 5:19, when Jesus says that the Son can do nothing by himself but only what he sees the Father doing, but this still leaves unanswered the question of why some are healed when others are not. The fact that some 57% of my sample reported a sustained and noticeable physical improvement following prayer has been regarded by some as a surprisingly high percentage.
Others, however, ask why the remaining 43% did not receive such healing. John Wimber himself only prayed with a small number of these people because the primary focus of the conference was on training other Christians how to pray for healing. The ones who prayed were usually members of Wimber's team, often in conjunction with ordinary delegates to the conference who later began to assume more leading roles in praying for others. Since the intention was to provide opportunities for "learning by doing," many of those praying for others were relatively inexperienced in this kind of ministry.
I have heard of one instance in which a woman who did not receive healing at a Wimber conference in Brighton was subsequently healed through the ministry of Andy Arbuthnot of the London Healing Mission.499 Arbuthnot comments that in this case what God wanted to do first was to deal with the effects of certain emotional traumas in the woman's past which were affecting her physical health. Presumably these other kinds of needs were not discerned by those ministering to her at Brighton. Another comment on my statistic of 57% receiving noticeable and sustained physical healing comes from the director of Ellel Grange, a healing centre in the north of England, who assumed that some of those ministering had not discerned the need for rebuking evil spirits associated with certain illnesses.
He presumed that the rate of healing would have been higher if more of those praying for others had discerned the need for a ministry of deliverance from demons.500 Such ideas may account for some but by no means all cases in which no healing was received. A good example is that of Jennifer Rees-Larcombe, who between 1982 and 1987 had five serious and life-threatening attacks of encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain and meninges, further complicated by inflamed nerves. Between these acute episodes of illness, the inflammation of the brain, meninges, nerves and muscles seemed to remainin a chronic form and was labeled by the neurologists as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Her continuous pain, loss of balance, muscular weakness and fatigue meant that she had to use a wheelchair when she needed to go more than a few yards.
Doctors had recognized their inability to provide a cure, only alleviate some of the symptoms. Jennifer was receiving the highest level of State disability allowance and was told that her condition had deteriorated to the point where regular assessments would no longer be necessary--that is, they did not expect her to recover. She had also been to many Christian healing meetings but had not been healed. In fact, she even wrote a book entitled Beyond Healing, and the Lord gave her a ministry of encouraging those who were suffering.
However, when the Lord eventually did heal her, he chose to use not a well-known person such as John Wimber but a recently converted young colored woman who, on account of her own past sins, had felt she was "not good enough" to pray for Jennifer. When she did pray, it was a simple and sincere prayer of faith through which God healed Jennifer.501
Jennifer's healing was publicized on the front page of the local free newspaper in her home town of Tunbridge Wells, and became a well-known sign of God's power. In John's gospel Christ's miracles are often called signs, and helped people to come to faith--but also provoked opposition from the religious establishment. Anecdotal evidence from those I interviewed who had prayed for God to heal non-Christians indicates that often there were noticeable signs of God's power at work.
It was not always the case, however, but even those who did not receive healing appreciated the concern shown by those who were willing to pray for them. God's ways are above our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9). Nevertheless I did find some further interesting clues as to why certain categories of people appear to be healed more often than others.
What was particularly interesting to me was to note the patterns which emerged from analyzing my results according to sociological variables like age and social class, which might give some clues towards understanding why God seems to heal some people but not others. I found that younger people reported significantly greater degrees of healing than older people.502 It should be stressed that this is a statistical finding and not an absolute rule: there are always exceptions.
For example, a retired missionary told me how before the conference she had been unable to hear her watch tick with her right ear, but since then had been able to do so, and had ceased using a hearing aid. To some extent, this tendency for higher rates of physical healing to be concentrated among younger people is linked with the fact that more specific words of knowledge tend to pick out younger people. At the Harrogate conference, those aged under forty constituted 85% of those responding to highly specific public words of knowledge. The percentage of those under forty years old dropped to 60% for those responding to revelations of"medium" specificity and 46% for those responding to very general "words of knowledge."
This correlation was a surprise to John Wimber when I told him about it. It is also statistically significant.503 My statistical findings nevertheless raise questions about God's priorities. We do not know the ages of most of the people whom Jesus healed, but we do know that five of the seven biblical accounts of a dead person being raised to life in response to specific prayer involve younger people. Though raising the dead may seem highly unusual to us today, the same correlation with younger people is found in most reports in our own century of raising the dead.504
Certainly raising the dead is one instance in which a "psychosomatic" component to the healing can be ruled out. One suggestion which tries to account for my statistical findings regarding physical healing is the idea that younger people have more"vitality" and heal quicker than older people, whose illnesses are often of a degenerative kind. However, the consistency between my statistical findings and the biblical accounts of raising the dead seems to indicate a wider theological explanation.
I suggest that these statistical links with the age of the person healed relate to the fact that all healing is, in one sense,"temporary," in so far as we are healed into bodies which eventually die. Presumably there is a purpose if God does grant physical healing in this life. Might it be in order that the person healed might fulfill a particular role on this earth, for which the healing is necessary? By contrast, I found no statistical links with age for what is variously known as "inner healing," "emotional healing" or "healing of the memories". Often this involves repentance from particular sins or the forgiveness of people against whom one has harbored resentments.
Older people are as likely as younger people to report high degrees of inner healing. The result is often a purer lifestyle--which one might see as a preparation also for heaven. God desires this of all Christians, no matter how old they are.
Another finding of mine was that those from the highest social class, who are also better educated, report significantly lesser degrees of physical healing.505 This again ties in with what we read in the ministry of Jesus, that he came to bring good news to the poor (Lk. 4:18). Two of those from the higher social classes whom he did heal--Jairus' daughter and the nobleman's son--were actually younger people. Today, it might be that somehow the higher education of some people is itself a barrier to their receiving divine healing with a childlike faith.
A disproportionately high proportion of those attending Wimber's Harrogate conference were professional and better-educated people such as doctors and clergy. Among those in my random sample who received physical healing, some of the more "dramatic" cases were reported by those from the "working class." For instance, one man had almost died after falling fifty feet from a crane. One of the bones in his leg had not grown back straight but "came out sideways as a spur" but the subsequent operation left his leg 11/2 inches shorter than the other.
At Harrogate "we prayed for my leg: I watched the leg come level with my right leg and even heard it grow--like breaking wood. I could not walk right for twenty years but now I can go walking with our vicar. I didn't wear a built-up shoe, just limped. I'd learnt to walk with my hip displaced but . . . my stature had got a wobble on. . . . For the first time in twenty-one years I can walk without discomfort or pain, it seems level to me. People used to ask what was wrong with my leg but now they don't mention it."506
Another working-class person in my random sample told me how all her life she had suffered from hyper-sensitive teeth. Since childhood she had been unable to bite on ice cream, and in winter she had to keep her mouth closed or covered over while outside or else her teeth would throb. Even if she had kept her mouth shut, she could not have a warm drink for half an hour after coming indoors. I have been advised by a dentist that a healing of this degree of hyper-sensitivity is not the kind which could be attributed to a"normal" reduction of sensitivity over time. However, after prayer at the Harrogate conference this woman received complete healing.
There was a slight recurrence later that evening, but the following day she was able to walk around outside in the cold and then immediately drink a cup of tea without any sensation at all. Since then she had gone through a whole winter without any pain and without having to take any extra precautions while outside. Her dentist was aware of her hypersensitivity and sent me details from her record card which confirmed the presence of persistent sensitivity over the previous four years and ten months while she had been receiving treatment from him. At her next routine check-up after the Harrogate conference, he wrote, "patient no longer complains of sensitive teeth."507
These examples of healings among "working class" people in Britain may not seem so dramatic when compared with the miraculous filling of dental cavities among very poor people, or cases of raising the dead in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. 508
On a worldwide scale, we in the affluent West all belong to the richer social classes. Might it be for this reason that apparently more dramatic cases of healing seem to occur more often among Christians in Africa, Latin America and Asia? Or is it that we tend to rely ondivinely ordained medicines and drugs, whereas God specially heals those deprived of access to such treatments?
Divine Healing: Fiction or Fact?
It is hard to escape the conclusion that many people have received through Christian prayer remarkable healings which bring glory to Christ and which are difficult or impossible to explain away in conventional medical terms. The available medical evidence and case histories indicate that the healings themselves have to be regarded as facts. Although some people might attempt to interpret those facts in a variety of ways, there is mounting evidence to indicate that prayer in Christ's name seems to be an important factor in many medically inexplicable recoveries.
Moreover, the more specific public "words of knowledge" cannot be explained away as due to "coincidence" or human manipulation, but seem to indicate a source of knowledge beyond that of the person receiving the revelation. In the examples discussed in this chapter, the words of knowledge are associated with healings, but in other cases they can be of a moral nature, intended to lead a person to repentance.509 This seems to indicate that the source of the revelations possesses consciousness and not only cares about healing and wholeness but is also morally concerned to move a person toward godly, biblical norms.
Similar kinds of difficulties arise in trying to explain away associated physical phenomena by reference to known psychological processes. In each case, known medical, psychological or sociological explanations might account for a limited part of the available facts, but are unable to account for all of them.
A more fruitful approach seems to be a statistical one, which assesses the probability of specific outcomes occurring by "chance." Where these turn out to be highly unlikely, we have to ask if another factor needs to be taken into account. In the case under discussion, the participants attribute these "unexpected" outcomes to the power of God. What is particularly interesting and unexpected is that the healings and words of knowledge discussed above indicate a significant "bias" in favor of the young and those from the lower social classes. This pattern is even clearer if we consider miraculous healings in a global perspective. The same pattern can also be discerned in the earthly ministry of Jesus. Therefore the underlying values behind the manner in which God grants physical healing to certain people continue to be the same today as they were in the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.
460 It is evident that for the Early Church, whose Bible was the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible), the "word" (Greek logos) in the phrase "word of knowledge"denoted "divine revelation" (hence "word of knowledge" = "divine revelation of knowledge") as the Hebrew dabar "word," which Greek logos renders in the Septuagint, frequently denotes (Hebrew dabar denoting "divine revelation," I Sam. 3:7; 9:27; II Sam. 7:4; I Kg. 17:2, 8; 6:11;13:20; Jer. 1:4, 11; 2:1; 13:8; 16:1; 24:4: 28:12: 29:30; Ezek. 3:16; 6:1; 7:1; 12:1; Hos. 1:1; Mic. 1:1;Zeph. 1:1; Isa. 2:1; BDB, p. 182b [meaning III.2]; O. Procksch, "logos," TDNT, vol. 4, pp. 94-96).
461 This certainly applies to two books which specifically purport to be examinations of the ministry of John Wimber, namely James R. Coggins and Paul G. Hiebert (eds.) Wonders and the Word (Winnipeg: Kindred Press, 1989) and R. Doyle (ed.) Signs & Wonders and Evangelicals(Randburg: Fabel, 1987).
462 David C. Lewis "Signs and Wonders in Sheffield," in John Wimber and Kevin Springer, Power Healing (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987). Wimber adds a note on page 285 stating that during the October 1985 Sheffield conference he was not aware that I was conducting a study and had neither personally met nor heard of me. In fact, my article reached him only through a circuitous route (involving Bishop David Pytches and Dr. John White) and I did not expect the request for permission to publish it in Power Healing.
463 Donald M. Lewis "An Historian's Assessment," in Coggins and Hiebert (eds.) Wonders and the Word (Winnipeg: Kindred Press, 1989), p.53.
464 Verna Wright "A Medical View of Miraculous Healing" in Sword and Trowel 1987, No.1,pp.8ff.
465 Dr. Ann England (herself a medical doctor) in Ann England (ed.) We Believe in Healing(London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1982), p.15.
466 Rex Gardner, "Miracles of Healing in Anglo-Celtic Northumbria as Recorded by theVenerable Bede and his Contemporaries: A Reappraisal in the Light of Twentieth-CenturyExperience,"British Medical Journal, 287, 24-31 December 1983, pp.1927-1933. Gardner compared the contemporary accounts with similar ones recorded in seventh-century northern Britain by the Venerable Bede, arguing that the modern cases lend credence to Bede's account of similar miracles.
467 Rex Gardner Healing Miracles: A Doctor Investigates (London: Darton, Longman andTodd, 1986).
468 Gardner Healing Miracles, pp.202-205. He also quotes from the medical report of the consultant ENT surgeon, who confirmed these details and concluded, 'I can think of no rational explanation as to why her hearing returned to normal, there being a severe bilateral sensorineural loss'.
469 David C. Lewis Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact? (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1989), pp.28-30. (The consultant's remarks are also confirmed by the authoritative text in the U.K. on Hoffa's disease, Smillie's Diseases of the Knee Joint.)
470 James M. Boice, "A Better Way: The Power of the Word and Spirit," in Michael S.Horton (ed.) Power Religion: The Selling out of the Evangelical Church? (Chicago: MoodyPress, 1992), p.127.
471 Lewis Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact?, op.cit., pp. 276-283.
472 For further medical details, see pages 221-228 of my book Healing: Fiction, Fantasy orFact?, op.cit.
473 E.B. Chung and F.M. Enzinger "Infantile Fibrosarcoma," Cancer, 38 (1976), pp.729-739.
474 He cited an article by P.W. Allen entitled "The fibromatoses: A clinicopathologic classification based on 140 cases," American Journal of Surgical Pathology (1977), pp.255-270,305-321, which mentioned the possibility of remission among the 'fibromatoses'. However, Allen recorded no cases of 'spontaneous remission' among the tumors of the type which this baby had. In his article he classified them as 'congenital fibrosarcoma-like fibromatosis' but after his article was submitted for publication Allen read Chung and Enzinger's article (cited above,note 14) and then added a footnote to his own article stating that the tumor should now be reclassified as an 'infantile fibrosarcoma' rather than as a fibromatosis. Therefore Allen's remark about the possibility of 'spontaneous remission' in the 'fibromatoses', which this baby's consultant quoted to me, is not in fact applicable to this case.
476 David C. Lewis, "Signs and Wonders in Sheffield," in John Wimber with Kevin Springer Power Healing, op.cit., pp.248, 250-259.
477 Lewis Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact?, op.cit., pp.132-135.
478 Lewis Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact?, op.cit., pp.155-157. Owing to the relatively small numbers who received prayer in response to highly specific words of knowledge, the correlation is statistically 'noticeable'-- meaning that it is almost statistically significant but would need a larger sample to confirm if this is the case.
479 Peter Masters "The Texts all say No!" in Sword & Trowel, 1987 No.1, p.21 and passim.
480 Differences in psychological and other characteristics associated with Christian and occult involvements are shown by my research among a random sample of 108 nurses in Leeds:Power of the Cross--App. 7--Sufficiency of Scripture
448 those nurses whose principal spiritual experience was the 'presence of God' ranked higher than average, and those who had consulted spiritualist mediums ranked lower than average, on scales of psychological well-being, satisfaction with life, and two different measures of altruism. Using a statistical technique known as the analysis of variance, this difference turned out to be statistically significant. Details are given in my chapter on "'Spiritual Powers'--Genuine and Counterfeit," in Michael Cole, Jim Graham, Tony Higton and David Lewis What is the New Age? (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990), pp.112-120.
481 Lewis Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact?, op.cit., pp.140-142; id., "Signs and Wonders in Sheffield," op.cit., pp.251-259; id., "Is 'Renewal' Really 'New Age' in Disguise?" in Michael Cole, Jim Graham, Tony Higton and David Lewis What is the New Age?, op.cit., pp.127-133.
482 See David C. Lewis "Spiritual Powers--Genuine and Counterfeit," in Michael Cole, Jim Graham, Tony Higton and David Lewis What is the New Age?, op.cit., pp.122-123. (Stokes sent free tickets to a woman who had consulted her over the telephone. At the meeting Stokes then announced details of the row in which the woman was sitting, the name of her dead son--with whom Stokes claimed to be in contact--and other previously ascertained details. Although the woman in question was asked to stand up, she was unable to say in public that she had already told Stokes these facts over the telephone.)
483 Examples are given in Lewis Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact?, op.cit., pp.139-140, 148-149, 351.
484 Don Matzat Inner Healing: Deliverance or Deception? (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House,1987), pp.48-57.
485 John Wimber with Kevin Springer Power Healing, op.cit., p.276.
486 Matzat Inner Healing: Deliverance or Deception?, op.cit., pp.63-75.
487 However Jn. 5:19 suggests that in all his ministry activity Jesus looked for and saw whatGod the Father was doing: "The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees (tiblepei) his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does" (cf. Jn. 3:34; 7:16;8:28; 12:49-50; 14:10, 24, 31; see W. Grundmann, TDNT, vol. 2, p. 304; W. Michaelis, TDNT, vol.5, p. 343 and n. 152; C. H. Dodd, The Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel [Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1963], p. 386, n. 2). Jesus also tells his disciples in Jn. 14:19, "Before long, the world will not see me any more, but you will see me (theoreite me). Because I live, you also will live" (cf. Jn. 14:23; Heb. 12:12; 13:5; Mat. 28:20; Rev. 1:10, 13-18; cf. W. Michaelis,TDNT, vol. 5, pp. 362-363).
488 The same confusion has arisen concerning words of knowledge and prophecies, because the methods (visions and strong 'intuitions') can be used both in spiritualism and in Christian contexts. In the same way, apparently similar methods for healing hurts from the past can be documented from both Christian and secular sources.
489 See Gardner Healing Miracles: A Doctor Investigates, op.cit., pp. 175-184; Francis MacNutt Healing (Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1974), pp.327-333.
490 For further discussion of these issues, see chapter two of my book Healing: Fiction,Fantasy or Fact?, op.cit., or pages 133-141 of my chapter "Is 'Renewal' Really 'New Age' in Disguise?" in Michael Cole, Jim Graham, Tony Higton and David Lewis What is the New Age?, op.cit., from which most of the above material has been reproduced.
491 This section summarizes some of the material in chapter four (pp.162-202) of my book Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact?, op.cit., to which the reader should refer for further supporting evidence and documentation.
492 See appendix 6 in this book: "Models of Prayer for Healing and Related Phenomena."
493 Peter D. Moss and Colin P. McEvedy, "An Epidemic of Overbreathing Among Schoolgirls," British Medical Journal, November 1966, pp.1295-1300.
494 See appendix 6 in this book: "Models of Prayer for Healing and Related Phenomena"; Dr.Cyril H. Powell, the British New Testament scholar, points to occasions when Jesus said Hefelt "power had gone out from him" to heal people (Mk. 5:30; Lk. 5:17; 6:19; 8:46). Some Power of the Cross--App. 7--Sufficiency of Scripture 449 scholars, points out Dr. Powell, have viewed "the dunamis [power] mentioned here assomething automatic and quasi-physical, like a fluid or operating like an electric current" (C.H. Powell, The Biblical Concept of Power [London: Epworth Press, 1963], p. 109) ; cf. the descriptions of others regarding the power of God in these passages--"material substance (stoffliche Substanz)," F. Fenner, Die Krankheit im Neuen Testament (Leipzig, 1930), p. 83); "a power-substance (eine Kraftsubstanz)," W. Grundmann, Der Begriff der Kraft in derneutestamentlichen Gedankenwelt (Stuttgart, 1932), pp. 62 ff.
495 The possibility that these cold sensations are sometimes indicative of demonic activityis suggested by a different report of cold sensations which were felt in the context of ministry, at a church in Sheffield, to a non-Christian Japanese man belonging to a Shinto-derived religion named Tenriky.
496 In a footnote to my report on the Sheffield conference (Wimber and Springer, PowerHealing, p.286) I mentioned that the Hebrew word for 'glory' (kabod) is derived from a root with a primary meaning of 'weight' or 'substance' (BDB, pp. 457ff.) and might be related to experiences of the 'falling phenomenon'. There might be a hint of this in 2 Chronicles 5:13-14 (and I Kgs. 8:10-11), when the priests 'could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God' (RSV). Compare also Ezek. 3:14-15, 22-23; Isa. 8:11;Ps. 32:4.
497 Some Christians are suspicious of 'out-of-the-body' experiences because in occult circles they are sometimes artificially induced. However, Dr. Richard Turner, a Christian psychiatrist, informs me that such experiences are also not uncommon 'when an individual isexperiencing a good deal of emotion', and that in some ways 'it can be seen as protective to the individual'. Biblical accounts of visions like those mentioned in Ezekiel 3:14-15, 2 Corinthians 12:3-4 or Revelation 1:10 are ambiguous about whether the person was within or outside his physical body, but Daniel 8:2 states that it occurred in a vision (which left him exhausted).
498 Fragance associated with Christ is referred to II Cor. 2:14, 16 (see G. Delling, TDNT, vol.5, p. 495; cf. A. Stumpff, TDNT, vol. 2, p. 810) and fragance as a sign of the Spirit of God's presence is attested in post-biblical Christian tradition (related to II Cor. 2:14, 16 by the well known New Testament scholar, E. Nestle, "Der süsse Geruch als Erweis des Geistes," ZNW 4: 272; ZNW 7 : 95-96; see S. M. Burgess, The Holy Spirit: Eastern Christian Traditions [Peabody: Hendrickson, 1989], pp. 3-4.
499 Mentioned by Arbuthnot in part VI, on "How We Minister" in the video series Christian Prayer and Healing (Ashford, Kent: Anchor Recordings).
500 Peter Horrobin, personal communication.
501 Jennifer Rees-Larcombe Unexpected Healing (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1991).
504 See pages 64-65 of my book Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact?, op.cit.; Gardner, Healing Miracles: A Doctor Investigates, pp. 84-85, 138-140; David Pytches Come, Holy Spirit: Learning to Minister in Power (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1985; published in North America as Spiritual Gifts in the Local Church, Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1985), pp.232-239; C. P.Wagner, How to Have a Healing Ministry in Any Church (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1988), pp. 172-178; Mel Tari, Like a Mighty Wind (Carol Stream, IL: Creation House, 1971), pp. 66f.; Kurt Koch, The Revival in Indonesia (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal, 1972), pp. 130ff.; Don Crawford, Miracles in Indonesia (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1972), p. 84.
506 Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact?, op.cit., pp.37-38. When I interviewed this man, I also could see no noticeable limp. However, one of the frustrating sides to this kind of research was that he was afraid lest my pursuing the medical evidence might affect his legal claim to compensation from his former employers if they learned that he had been healed!
507 Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact?, op.cit., pp.38-40.
508 For details, see, for instance, Gardner Healing Miracles: A Doctor Investigates, op.cit., 137-141, 175-184; Pytches Come, Holy Spirit: Learning to Minister in Power, pp.232-239; Lewis Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact?, op.cit., pp.331-332; C. P. Wagner, How to Have a Healing Ministry in Any Church (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1988), pp. 172-178; Mel Tari, Like a Mighty Wind(Carol Stream, IL: Creation House, 1971), pp. 66f.; Kurt Koch, The Revival in Indonesia (GrandRapids, MI: Kregal, 1972), pp. 13 0ff.; Don Crawford, Miracles in Indonesia (Wheaton, IL:Tyndale House, 1972), p. 84.
509 An example is given on page 248 of my appendix to Wimber's Power Healing.