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04.25.10 We Are the New Temple, Revelation 2:12-17 Sermon Scraps

by on April 26, 2010

Recently I had a discussion with a group of pastors about how we pray for those who are gravely ill. One pastor in particular was seriously and sincerely concerned over the fact that he lacked the faith for asking God to heal someone. In terms of the distinction between healing and curing, the former being holistic, spiritual, and eternal, the latter being bodily, this pastor was referring to prayers for God to cure the sick.

This passage may have something to offer. Two things, actually. One of the likely “thrones of Satan” in Pergamum to which John of the Apocalypse referrs was the cultic activity surrounding Asclepius Soter, the god of healing. I can imagine Christians in the church at Pergamum either continuing to visit such shrines seeking healing, or not acknowledging the God revealed in Christ behind Asclepius Soter as the true source of their healing. Either way, these Christians would be committing idolatry, or at least “eating food sacrificed to idols.”

So the first thing we might learn from this passage is that prayer for, and our spiritual attitude in general regarding the welfare of the gravely ill, can manifest idolatrous tendencies. Whether it’s misplaced faith in the medical community, or in prayer, or in our own faith, unless we acknowledge God and accept the outcome of his will, we have moved in an idolatrous direction. In the resurrection, God has assuredly answered our prayers for Shalom, for healing. But God has not guaranteed a cure.

With this perspective, I don’t pray for cures. I pray with and for people who are gravely ill. I ask the Spirit to provide peace, comfort, courage, and strength. But I don’t ask God to heal or cure the person. I don’t see the need to put God in the same situation as Jesus did by asking God to do the impossible—to allow someone to avoid death. If God didn’t spare Jesus, he’s not going to spare us.

But I also don’t want to be in the position of having to explain why God didn’t answer my prayer for a cure. (And I don’t want to be in the position of having to explain should God actually answer such a prayer either!) I rather express a desire, like, “We would like Richard to be free from his suffering,” which can be interpreted as either healing or cure, depending on the need of those listening, without obligating God to a cure.

But there’s a second lesson to be learned from this passage. Maybe it is faithful to look for healing (cure) by God through secondary means. I don’t recommend offering prayers to Asclepius Soter. But his symbol (that of snake surrounding a pole) is the symbol of the modern medical establishment. We can benefit from the technologies of the medical community, recognize God’s healing presence in their activities, and give thanks faithfully.

As it relates to prayer, this is exactly how I pray. I give thanks for the technology. I pray for doctors, nurses, and other caregivers, that they will be blessed by God to effectively perform their art, employ their skills, and fulfill their vocations. And I hope I’m being faithful, even though I’m not asking God to cure someone directly.

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