Why don’t Christian prayers empty hospital wards?
The ninth chapter of Matthew begins with verses that tell of Jesus healing a paralyzed man. Matthew says people brought the man to Jesus. Other Gospels record him being lowered through roof to Jesus. Matthew also tells of other healings. I believe the context of Matthew tells us why we read of healings. I also believe there are many biblical reasons why prayer doesn’t lead to empty hospital wards.
Let’s lay out the context of Matthew. The Book of Matthew was written by a Jewish tax collector for a Jewish audience to convince them that Jesus is the King of the Jews. Matthew writes down things that Jesus did to fulfill prophecy. The “fulfill prophecy” part is very important. We know Matthew’s purpose because of the number of times he wrote that Jesus did something to fulfil that which was spoken by the prophet. The Old Testament prophets said that the Messiah will heal. Matthew’s premise is that Jesus did things to fulfill what was written by the prophet. Do you know any prophecies that are not fulfilled unless a hospital ward is emptied?
One could debate if Jesus healed people solely to fulfill prophecy; that is, solely to show that he had the power to forgive sin and heal. I’m not sold on the idea that it is an either/or situation. It seems more likely that it’s a little of both and one of the reasons we don’t see hospital wards emptied today. At this point it’s important for me to stipulate I am extrapolating from scripture. I might be wrong in my extrapolation and am open to anyone who has scriptural reasons to argue differently. With this as my preface I suggest that we should consider that James tells us that our prayers will go unanswered if we ask for things simply because we want them. And even Jesus prayed in the garden before his execution, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me…” but stipulated, “…yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Jesus didn’t assume he needed to be delivered because otherwise he would die. He acknowledged that God’s will is more important.
Let’s reflect back on Matthew’s account of the man’s healing mentioned above. It says, “And seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man who was paralyzed, ‘Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.’” When those around him had thoughts that Jesus had blasphemed in saying this, Matthew says Jesus healed the man, “…so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” The man who was healed had faith as did the people who brought him to Jesus. His healing is part of a book that records Jesus’ actions that fulfill prophecy. His healing was part of God’s purpose. I’m not implying that suffering fulfills God’s purpose. Suffering is the result of a world made corrupt through rejection of God.
There are things in this world I find unboreable. For me it involves watching my kids when they suffer knowing sometimes there is no way for me to help them. Jesus asked that he not have to go through the suffering on the cross, but he was executed anyway to fulfill God’s plan. Just as his suffering was the result of sin and the corruption it causes, so too is the suffering we all experience while in this temporary life on earth. I think our prayers are often more about changing us than they are about changing the world around us.
What are your thoughts?