On Faith and Healing: The fine line between hope and denial
Updated: Aug 31, 2022
“I don’t understand…” I heard his voice behind me. It was late, and I was standing at the sink washing the last of the day’s dishes, as twin toddlers and a pregnant woman (me) can produce multiple loads of dishes a day. I turned to face my 34-year-old husband. He had tears in his eyes, and his usual confident stature was bent and broken. I was quiet and let him continue. “I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong... I’ve claimed my healing. I speak in tongues. I have Christ in me. I believe...but why am I not healed? What am I doing wrong?”
I dried my hands and walked over to him, and held him in my arms as he sobbed. I didn’t have an answer for him as I had the same questions, so we just held each other in that kitchen. We held each other and our unanswered questions. All we had thought we could do to “fix” his stage IV cancer fell away that night. We weren’t each other’s saviors, just a dying man and his pregnant wife, fully human and crumbling under the pressure of the world’s darkest curse, death...except it wasn’t supposed to be this way because we were taught that we could heal each other with prayer and infallible belief. But we were failing at it, and if we were failing at it...was it our fault he was dying? Was it?
Logic says, “Of course not, stupid,” BUT I’m 100 percent sure we aren’t the only people to have ever uttered this question. But why? Why do we try to control things we know, logically, are out of our control? Why do we think we can tell God what to do, or even worse, throw Him entirely out of the equation while also doing everything in the guise of His name? Why? Why? Why? It’s a popular question when things don’t go our way, right? It’s human, but when you begin to prescribe faulty theology as an answer, it’s downright spiritually dangerous.
Let me explain:
My now-late husband grew up surrounded by fundamentalism and faulty theology. I’m not even going to name the religious group here because I’ve discovered this “positive believing” doctrine spans across many religious and non-religious groups. And really, it touches on a human fault perhaps we all struggle with; control of our destiny and trying to explain why we can’t, when we can’t. But I digress.
When I married my husband at the age of 23, I married into this doctrine but stayed on the outskirts, not wholly buying into it all. But it all sounded wonderful: God loves His children so much that He wants them to live abundant lives complete with abounding provisions of all kinds—gifts, money, and most importantly, health—IF we believed, of course. The irony of it all is that my husband was slowly dying of cancer for the entirety of our short, four-year marriage. So what gives? Why him? Why us? If the “positive believer” claims were absolutely true, he should have been the poster child of the best positive believer. We did it all. We prayed. We cast out cancer. We had other people pray and cast out cancer. We spoke in tongues. We believed. He was still sick. He still died. So either the doctrine was wrong all along, or we were utter failures in our own faith—and I dare you to say the latter to my face.
After years of grappling with this, I’ve discovered, perhaps, both were true. The doctrine was wrong, and yes, we were failures in our own faith because we had faith in ourselves and not God.
Let me preface by saying: I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with the hope and expectancy for healing—people have conquered incredible feats with hope—but it’s not hope if it leaves someone feeling guilty or ashamed or forsaken when life doesn’t play out the way we want it to. There is a very fine line between hope and denial.
Through the last two weeks of my husband’s life, I was told that his healing wasn’t happening because I wasn’t peaceful enough about the situation. I was told that I shouldn’t tell anyone that my husband was in hospice. I was told that I should take down the online updates about
our family because it “wasn’t anyone else’s business” and that the words’ cancer’ and ‘hospice’ made people give up hope and think negatively. I was told to tell people that my husband was “doing just fine” in his last days. This confusing theology swirled around in my head and resulted in an incredible burden shackled to my feet. I was tormented by “What ifs”: If I had said ‘goodbye,’ would that mean his death would be my fault? If I prayed for his suffering to end, did that mean I was giving up on him? Did that mean I was a failure at praying for my husband? Did it mean he just didn’t believe enough—that I didn’t believe enough? I know better now, and I know God a whole lot better now too. However, when the opportunity was still there because we wanted to cling to hope so badly, there was no final ‘goodbye,’ no special moments that allowed for “closure”—the kind people expect with a long illness, you know, “The Fault in Our Stars” kind of thing. There was certainly no using the ‘D’ (death) word. No one, not even the hospice workers, explained what ‘5 Wishes’ was or what the dying process looked like, so I couldn’t even brace for it—which may sound naïve to people, and they would be correct. I was a naïve 28-year-old way in over my head, and my husband was a 34-year-old doing everything he could to stay on this Earth for his wife and his newborn daughter and two-year-old twins, and if that meant not acknowledging it, then that meant not acknowledging it—and I don’t fault him for that. Church historian and outspoken author on the subject of “prosperity gospel,” Kate Bowler, who is currently battling cancer with a grim prognosis, said it better than I could have:
“The prosperity gospel has taken a religion based on the contemplation of a dying man and stripped it of its call to surrender all. Perhaps worse, it has replaced Christian faith with the most painful forms of certainty. The movement has perfected a rarefied form of America’s addiction to self-rule, which denies much of our humanity: our fragile bodies, our finitude, our need to stare down our deaths (at least once in a while) and be filled with dread and wonder. At some point, we must say to ourselves, I’m going to need to let go.” **
But it’s usually in our finest moments or in our most profound suffering that we want more time, or we want to turn back the clock, or we want to freeze it. And when death happens, something deep within keeps looking at that clock as if we could do something to change it. The day my husband died, I was asked by someone to request for him to be raised from the dead. I had heard from people after his death, “We didn’t come to see him because we thought there was more time…that he’d pull through…”
I don’t have a PhD in theology, and I’m no expert on what hope really means or why some people are healed while others are not. One might think that I should be jaded by hope or Christianity, or even God, but I can’t be, even though I’ve tried…I can’t not believe in hope; all I do is hope. Hope was, and still is, an essential part of my daily journey. I can’t imagine what life would have been like without hope from the day I met my husband until his last breath. I can’t fathom what my life would be like now without the hope that I embrace with each new morning. Where would my children be if I could not show them hope? I never did, and never will give up hope, for hope is essential for our time here on Earth—along with faith and love. (1 Corinthians 13:13.)
I can accept now that life happens quickly and slowly at the same time. Sometimes we have the privilege to determine its pace for a while, and sometimes we don’t. I can now see hope as something not used to manipulate a situation to the way we think it should go or to convince God to give me more time because I believed enough, but as the driving force that brings us through whatever this life brings us. God’s clothed us with the comfort of hope that our souls so desperately need. Hope is something greater than the current circumstance. Hope is something yet to be seen. It’s the force that drives one to push through the darkness into the light. Hope is a surety that surpasses physical time.
I’ve discovered, through the wrestling, through the pain, through the suffering, that the real tragedy is facing tragedy with the expectation that you are to be your own savior, an expectation in which you will surely fail. The real tragedy is going through life without knowing who God really is; a Father, not a magical genie here to do our will. A compassionate Friend who cries with us in our suffering, not the assigner of blessings if we perform well and do and say the right things. A Healer, not of our temporary bodies, but of our eternal souls. And that, my friends, is what it all boils down to...we can, most definitely, expect and believe that God will and has healed us. Sometimes on this Earth, sometimes not, but assuredly, when it all falls away, and we are faced with Him, our eyes will be opened and it will make sense:
“She began to understand quite clearly that truth cannot be understood from books alone or by any written words, but only by personal growth and development in understanding and that things written even in the Book of Books can be astonishingly misunderstood while one still lives on the low levels of spiritual experience and on the wrong side of the grave on the mountains.”
-Hannah Hurnard, “Hinds feet on High Places"
Byline: Nicole Hastings
FB page: @JustAMomNicoleHastings