Faith in God vs. faith in faith

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I recently watched an episode of “Our America with Lisa Ling” about a faith healing ministry in Fort Mill, S.C.

Ling, a television journalist, took a camera crew to document the very Pentecostal healing meetings to which hundreds of people came, some traveling hundreds of miles.

Two sisters came with their mother who had terminal cancer, as did Steve, a man in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down.

Steve had lost the use of his legs, but hadn’t lost his faith. He said his wheelchair caused him to depend on God more deeply than he ever would have if he could walk.

That said, Steve told Lisa that God had specifically told him that at the final service — in the last 10 minutes — he would get up and walk. He knew that would happen.

The two sisters also believed God would heal their mother. Mom’s insurance had run out and she couldn’t afford any more treatments. This healing service was her last resort.

I was interested in how Ling would approach her coverage of the topic. She admitted that she grew up going to church and Bible camp, but this was out of her realm of experience and comfort. She was clearly an outsider with a camcorder, although her questions and commentary were respectful and not at all argumentative or scornful.

The premise of Ling’s documentary series is “whether you agree or disagree, this is our America.” Likewise, whether you agree or disagree, there are some Christians who believe God has called some to be faith healers, conduits of God’s healing power.

That’s why people flock to see them, to be touched by them.

As I watched the show, my heart went out to those who had come for healing, especially the two sisters and Steve. I didn’t know how it would end for them, if they would get the healing they wanted and believed that they would get.

My heart also went out to Lisa Ling and her discomfort at the “craziness” of the healing services, as she called it — people speaking in tongues, falling on the floor shaking, people shouting and jumping and laughing.

It’s scary, she said. It looks crazy. She didn’t understand it, and in many ways neither do I. Stomping and shouting in church makes me nervous. So do bold claims of faith that God will absolutely do something.

It’s never that I don’t believe he can do anything. I’m just not convinced he will. I’d rather err on the side of cautious hopefulness than brash assumption. I always hope God will heal and grant miracles, but I leave room for him doing something else.

As the final healing service was about to begin, Steve, in his wheelchair, was ready. He was surer than sure, positive that he would push his wheelchair out of that place.

I confess that I didn’t think he would, but I hoped. I really, really wanted him to.

But he didn’t. And the mother of the two sisters also left unhealed, her cancer still eating her up.

However, as they and Steve told Ling, they hadn’t lost their faith. Steve said his was actually stronger.

That, I think, is the mark of a true believer, a true follower of Christ. When Jesus was on earth healing people, many followed him just for the goodies he was giving out. But the ones who follow even when their sickness and troubles remain, do so knowing that full healing awaits the other side of death.

It’s the difference between putting your faith in faith and putting your faith in God.

Faith in faith leads to disappointment, but not faith in God.

The apostle Paul wrote, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17).

Of course, if it’s you or me that is paralyzed or dying from terminal cancer, it might not seem a “light and momentary” thing. This side of eternity, our pain and struggles consume us. Some live their whole lives suffering.

But when compared with eternity and the foreverness of being healed and whole and pain-free, our struggles are small.

So, we don’t put our faith in faith. Instead, for those who put their faith in God who ultimately heals will discover that he, in the meantime, will go with them through life and through death, will promise to never leave them or forsake them, who will carry them when they falter, pick them up when they fall and give them joy even in their sorrow.

That is a faith that heals.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at (352) 564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.