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How I Stopped Hating Faith Healing and Began to Pray

Dean

During the time I was in medical school in Minneapolis, the renown faith healer, Kathryn Kuhlman, held a healing crusade at the Minneapolis Auditorium.  At the time I was merely puzzled; what she did seemed to have nothing to do with what I was trying to learn.  Six months later a journalist for the Star and Tribune published follow-up interviews with those who had claimed to be healed at the crusade.  Less than two percent had any lasting physical benefit.  To be fair, the journalist also reported that even those who did not have measurable improvements in their physical maladies somehow felt better.  I concluded that the faith healing experience was a placebo effect, harmless but ineffectual.

A few years later I became more hostile.

A patient I’ll call Debbie, a twenty-seven year-old dental hygienist, came to see me because she was quite sure that she must have a slipped disk–her left leg wasn’t working right.  Bright and cheery with a perfect smile, she told me she had friends who had gotten weak legs from slipped disks.  She needed it fixed quickly because between her job and two small children she couldn’t be slowed by a clumsy leg.

Some things–the lack of pain and the progressive weakness–nagged at me even before I examined her.  Then, on her examination, although what she had noted about her left leg was true–loss of coordination–she had ignored or not noticed the loss of coordination in her left arm as well.  Her reflex pattern pointed to a problem in her brain, not her spine.

“We need to rule out another problem,” I said.  “I’ll arrange a scan of your head today.”  I suspected a tumor, but hoped I was wrong.

A few days later Debbie had surgery for a tumor called a glioblastoma.  The surgery went as well as it could go for a malignant tumor–no worsening of her weakness, no dangerous brain swelling, no infections.  Everything was good except the prognosis: roughly a year with radiation and chemotherapy, about four months with surgery alone.

She had small children; she chose radiation and chemotherapy.

The day after I gave her the prognosis and told her about radiation and chemotherapy options, I entered her hospital room as a minister was leaving.  His card and a New Testament lay on the tray-table.  Good for her, I thought.  Time to be prepared for heaven.  And perhaps a community of good-hearted people would surround her family in their time of need.

As the months went by Debbie lost her hair and her cheery disposition.  Although always polite, she became a stoic warrior.  Complications due to her treatments led to hospitalizations for bone marrow suppression and consequent infections.  Her left-sided coordination problems progressed to disabling hemiplegia.

As medical miracles failed her, she turned to religion.  A new Bible and Christian books appeared on her bedside table.  Gospel music played from the radio.  The television broadcast evangelists’ sermons.  More cards from more clergymen appeared at her bedside.

She lost the ability to speak.  I would come by to see her each day she was on the oncology ward and, lacking any material skills to help, hold her hand for a few moments before moving on.  Sometimes she would meet my eyes, sometimes not.

One day near the end, I held her hand and let my emotions wash over me: sadness, anger at her disease, the frustration at my own ability to make such little difference, and helplessness.  Her eyes were closed, her expression pained.  I squeezed her hand and she squeezed back.  I asked if she needed pain medicine; she shook her head.  The radio, tuned to a Christian station, played this message:

“The doctors told her she had cancer,”  the voice said in a Texas accent.  “They told her she couldn’t be cured.  But if she wanted to live a little longer she had to go to a big hospital in Houston.

“Well, I tell you, my friends, she got in that car and they started driving to Houston.  But she didn’t make it.  No, sir.  She had a message from God just as clear as if she had a telephone call.  She heard this radio station. She heard me talking to folks like I’m talking to you all now.  And she knew she could go home.

“Because, if you have enough faith in the Lord Jesus, if you turn your heart to him in earnest prayer, you will be healed.  Yes, I said, ‘Will,’ not might. No maybe about this folks.  It’s there in the Bible.  It’s your blessing to be claimed.

“She called me up and we started praying.  Two months later she went in to see her doctor.  Well, you can believe he was mighty surprised.  He thought she would be dead by then, I suppose.

” ‘Did you go to Houston?,’ he said to her.

” ‘Why no,’ she said, ‘I started praying.’

“I know I don’t have to tell you folks this.  You already know the end of the story, don’t you?  When she did go to that big hospital in Houston those doctors never could find a single sign of cancer.

“She was cured and you could be, too.  If you only have enough trust in the Lord Jesus.  Call me, write to me, send your donations to…”

Debbie could’t tell me what she was thinking about herself in relation to this story; I could only imagine.  Debbie had fought valiantly for her life, for her children as much  as for herself, and now lay dying while someone who didn’t know her told that her the only reason for her death was her lack of faith.

I released her hand, brushed the hair from her face and turned off the radio, certain God didn’t work that way.  Jesus wouldn’t tell her she wasn’t good enough.

So for fifteen years I didn’t pray for patients to be healed.  I didn’t believe it worked.  And, if they didn’t get better, I didn’t want them to feel like they died for lack of faith.

Then I found myself in the Philippines on my first mission trip.  I carried a backpack with first-aid supplies and felt totally alien. Evangelism classes for the local church were the focus of the week, but a “healing crusade” was the climax on Friday night.

In the largest building (a basketball gym with bleachers) in this village outside Davao City, hundreds of people packed in to hear preaching and praise music.  One man came in carried in a chair by his children.  I recognized the signs of a major right hemisphere stroke and, by his obvious contractures, it must have occurred at least six weeks previously.  No way, I thought to myself, no way is this guy getting healed.  That brain is damaged beyond repair.  I’ve seen it hundreds of times.

Ministers spoke in tongues.  People “fell out” in the Spirit.  Then people came forward for healing.  They lined up in front other members of the mission team and local pastors.  Then some lined up in front of me. I felt inadequate; I felt like a fraud.  But I put my hands on people’s heads and hearts and feet, wherever they were in pain, listening but not understanding them, and prayed as well as I could.

Then I looked up and two men set down the chair holding the man with the stroke.  They expected a miracle; I did not.  But I laid my hands on his head and prayed that I was wrong and this unfortunate man would get up and walk.  As I expected, nothing happened.

Then my friend, Jerry Winkler, too ignorant of medical signs to be timid, also came, laid his hands on the stroke victim and cried out to God for healing.  Crazy, I thought.

Then the guy got up out of his chair and limped to the stage to thank Jesus and the lead pastors.

Okay.  He wasn’t completely whole.  But he got carried in and he walked out.  A couple years later, the pastor who had organized the healing crusade visited the U.S.  I asked him about this man with the stroke.  He’s driving a bus now, he told me.

Did neurons regenerate and form new synaptic connections?  Would a follow-up CT scan post prayer showed resolved stroke areas?  Or was it a placebo effect and the guy got enough hope to rehabilitate his disability?

I don’t know. All I know is a guy with a stroke was carried in, got a prayer, walked out, and now he drives a bus.

And now I had a decision.  Should I hang on to what I thought I knew?  Or should I open my heart and believe my eyes?

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7 thoughts on “How I Stopped Hating Faith Healing and Began to Pray”

  1. Beloved Dean: I can relate to your latest message in my (our) own journey! I was reminiscing of the healing mission trips we have taken with Francis and/or Judith MacNutt and by ourselves! Fortunately, my doubt had disappeared by that time in my life. It builds faith so strongly when one witnesses the awesome anointing of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives and have the privilege of participating with Him in His miracles! We were also touched by the story of Jerry Winkler on your trip to the Philippines!

    Now to my doubt melting away: Anne and I had just returned from a healing conference led by our colleagues, Francis and Judith MacNutt in upstate New York. (This was the first time we had met them on a personal level) Upon our return home, Anne was scheduled for surgery in Louisville, KY. As I visited her in Norton Hospital, I heard a wheezing sound as she was breathing. I found a nurse in the hallway to inquire of this. She came into Anne’s room, listened to her lungs via stethoscope and rushed to find a doctor. The doctor informed us she was having a pulmonary embolism (frankly, I was unaware of the potential danger) and they looked for a wheel chair for my wife. As they were out of the room, I said a quick prayer for Anne and her impending danger. I decided to try what we had learned at the conference. I even had anointing oil given to us there. As I was anointing her, the nurse came to wheel her off to x-ray. I had doubt as to what I was doing – as well as what Jesus may be doing! It seemed like hours when she was finally brought back to her room with an astonished look on the nurse. Her comment was there was no embolism by the time of the x-ray! Wow! “Maybe” there is something to this concept of Jesus healing!

    This released both of us to rely on God’s power to “set the captives free.” We both began to pray for many people and see His healing touch. Many healing stories followed …… and still continue! All for His Glory!

  2. Powerful story, Dr. Lohse. Thank you for sharing. I volunteered as a translator for a group of doctors in South America several years ago. Something one of the doctors said to me has stuck with me to this day. He said (and I paraphrase), “Many of these people have terrible illnesses. I prescribe them medicine that will last them only so long. Many are depressed or lonely so I try to connect with them on a personal level – hold their hands, look into their eyes, listen to their troubles, pray with them, etc. What I try to do is give them hope to live better for another day.” And I witnessed this! The medicine was merely a token, this doctor’s impact of paying attention to his patients and sharing a prayer with them made more of a difference. It is really something.

    1. So right, Emily! I became aware of the temporary nature of the benefit of allopathic medicine on my first medical mission, but the lasting benefit of showing up, sharing life and showing love counts for a lot

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