“… he knew the healing presence of God in a way that I may never understand or experience.”
To many people he was a pastor and missionary. I knew him as a mentor and friend. Donald Krohn died in 1997 of ALS, a cruel, incurable, slow-moving disease that renders its victims physically immobile while keeping them mentally alert. For the record, if faith is the key that unlocks physical healing, Don Krohn should have been healed. Apparently the disease didn’t receive that memo and, almost in defiance of the prayers offered in faith, it pressed on unflinchingly. It was on its own clock and was not to be deterred.
When these kinds of stories finally come to an end, friends often gather around the family and console them with the thought that their loved one is now in a better place, free from suffering. Some people may offer an opinion on the sovereignty of God and His higher purposes. The wise among us usually say very little.
Doctrinally, the PAOC position on divine healing reads: “Divine healing provided in the atonement of Christ is the privilege of all believers. Prayer for the sick and gifts of healing are encouraged and practised.” Matthew 8:1-17 is listed in a footnote as the justifying text. At the end of this text, Matthew references Isaiah 53:4-5, a messianic passage that seems to causally link the work of atonement and healing.
The traditional understanding is that since Jesus accepted the pain and punishment of sin on the cross, then by accepting Jesus Christ as Saviour I need not suffer the pangs of sickness. As one early Pentecostal healing evangelist, Smith Wigglesworth, stated it, “He Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses; and if I dare believe, I can be healed.”
The claim sounds good, but I suspect—allowing for the effects of lifestyle, environment and genetics—that the health and life span of those who self-identify as Pentecostals are no different from the regional averages of any other people group. To be fair, our current Statement of Essential and Fundamental Truths states that healing is the privilege, not the right, of all believers. The nuance provides some wiggle room so as not to further victimize those who are already victims of failing health. But the statement is still used to encourage the sick to press on in hope of healing—even in the face of prevailing evidence that while there are reports that cures do occur, more frequently they do not.
So where does this leave the conscientious believer? Like most of us, I am long on questions and short on answers in this regard. But I’d like to suggest two observations as an invitation for critical reflection.
The first comes from a recent innocent college classroom inquiry. After I made a joke about my failing eyesight in class this past semester, a student asked, in all sincerity, if I had ever prayed for healing. The question caught me off guard momentarily. Then I remembered my optometrist’s quip: “There is nothing wrong with your eyes that youth can’t fix.”
“No,” I replied to the student, “in this case, I would no more pray for my eyes than I would pray that wrinkles would go away. In both cases my failing condition has nothing to do with sin or the fall; it has to do with living in a finite, mortal body that God actually thought was pretty good when He made it.” Reflecting back on my answer, I might have explained that though the fall had serious consequences, suddenly becoming finite was not one of them. Hardship became our daily bread. But we should not see finiteness—being located in time and space—as a product of sinfulness. It is who we are. Our bodies are a creation that, in the incarnation, Jesus reaffirmed as good inasmuch as He lived, ate, and grew tired in a human form.
The second observation comes by way of medical anthropology. For some time now, medicine has made a distinction between disease and illness. Disease is an abnormality in bodily function caused by a specific agent, such as a bacterium or virus, while illness refers to the accompanying social, cultural, spiritual and emotional effects of the disease on the suffering individual.
Some theologians, such as Pentecostal scholar Amos Yong, have picked up on this distinction and submit that we should also distinguish between curing and healing. Curing, they say, addresses disease, and healing addresses illness. Writes Yong, “In relational perspective, healing takes place in community, sometimes including cures, but more often reconciling lives who were formerly strangers to one another.”*
After the disease took away his speech, modern computer technology enabled my friend Don to communicate some of his final thoughts on faith in print. Somewhere in his journey with ALS, he gave up his attempts at spiritual gymnastics. From the vantage point of his wheelchair he reconstructed his faith, his sickness, and his relationship with God. In one of several articles he wrote, all of which were laced with insight, humour and a newfound contentment, he explains: “My view has changed again. I get to look small children right in the eyes. Adults, well, I seem to look them in the abs but that’s okay since abs are really in right now according to far too many TV commercials. However, many of the abs that bounce across my field of vision are far from in, with more than a few appearing to be permanently out to lunch and having the consistency of homemade tofu. To look adults in the eyes I have to look up—way up—which is where we all need to look more often for, as David said, that is where our help comes from and I know that I need all the divine help possible.”
I believe, with confidence, that Don Krohn died a healed man. He was not cured. But he knew the healing presence of God in a way that I may never understand or experience.
Dr. Randall Holm is associate professor of biblical studies and associate dean of student affairs at Providence College and Theological Seminary in Otterburne, Man.
. PAOC Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths, Article 5.6.5.
. Smith Wigglesworth, Ever Increasing Faith, ed. Wayne E. Warner, rev. ed. (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1971), 43. First published 1924.
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This article appears in the July/August 2015 issue of testimony.
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