The Healing Power of God
A Catholic look at the core belief of Christian Scientists
BY FATHER DAVID J. ENDRES
Editor’s note: This column, Outside Perspectives, addresses a religious topic and seeks to find a common element in another faith while emphasizing the Catholic Church’s teaching.
One can scarcely open the New Testament without encountering a miracle story, most often in the form of a physical healing. Jesus healed many: The blind began to see, the lame walked, the mute were able to speak. Christians believe that Jesus’ healing ministry was not meant to end with his death. He commissioned the disciples to continue his work, not just by offering spiritual help, but also physical healing.
Jesus instructed his followers to go from town to town. “Cure the sick … and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you’” (Luke 10:9). The Acts of the Apostles testifies to the same. When Peter and John encountered a cripple, Peter said to him, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, [rise and] walk” (Acts 3:6).
Since the apostolic age, many Christians have testified to being healed by God through faith. Whether one is Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, healings experienced by faith and through prayer witness to Christ’s enduring presence in the Church and the world.
While many Christians view healing as a rare, supernatural reality, the denomination known as the Christian Scientists (Church of Christ, Scientist) places physical healing at the heart of their religious experience. Mary Baker Eddy founded the denomination in 1879.
In part as a reaction to modern medicine’s claims, Christian Scientists reject all forms of medical treatment, believing disease to be an illusion linked to incorrect thinking. For Christian Scientists, the spiritual world is true, while the material world, including sickness and death, is illusory. Based on Eddy’s foundational text, Science and Health, Christian Scientists see health and healing not so much as supernatural, but a natural cooperation with the divine.
The possibility of such natural healing, according to Christian Scientists, calls for faith in God as supremely good and for whom nothing is impossible. While Christian Scientists are free to make their own decisions about the use of modern medicine, many do not avail themselves of such aids. Modern medicine, they believe, can interfere with the healing process. Since healing resides in better understanding God’s laws, many believe that healing occurs when God’s presence and love become more real to the individual.
While believing in God’s power over illness and the possibility of healing, Catholics view disease differently. Illness is seen as real, not illusory, and as a consequence of humanity’s sin (not individually but as part of our “fallen” human condition). Catholics emphasize the possibility of physical and spiritual healing through faith and prayer. The Church has affirmed the possibility of miraculous healings where there is no natural explanation for a reversal of illness — such as those that continue to be experienced at Lourdes, France, where the Blessed Mother appeared in 1858.
According to the Catholic understanding of restoring health, supernatural and natural means of healing can co-exist and even support one another. This is seen in the prayers that accompany the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick that ask for spiritual and physical aid:
Lord Jesus Christ … cure the weakness of your servant; heal his sickness and forgive his sins; expel all afflictions of mind and body; mercifully restore him to full health.
The ultimate source of any supernatural healing is God himself. Jesus is called upon as the great physician, the healer of body and soul. As such, medical intervention is not shunned, nor is concern for one’s health and proper preventative care devalued. While God is omnipotent and can heal, it is appropriate to safeguard one’s health and rely on the skills of surgeons, doctors, and nurses when necessary to help restore health.
At the same time, Christian believers recognize that there is more to reality than this world. The reversal of illness must not be pursued at all costs. The experience of illness, even when it is not cured, can be an opportunity to grow spiritually. Sickness can help unite the person to the suffering of Jesus, and in uniting with him, aid in the growth of holiness.
The witness of Scripture is unanimous: God can heal, and faith can dispose us to his healing. But illness is no illusion; it has real causes and manifestations. The ultimate evil is not illness, but loss of relationship with God. As Christians we are called to follow God’s will for our lives in sickness and health, trusting in his presence whether or not we are healthy.