Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Ten Questions: Number One UPDATED

Noumenon linked me to a website called Why won't God heal amputees? On that site they have another page entitled, "Ten Questions Every Intelligent Christian Must Answer". Since these are likely to get rather involved, I will be answering them one at a time.

QUESTION ONE: Why won't God heal amputees?

It's a simple question, isn't it? We all know that amputated legs do not spontaneously regenerate in response to prayer. Amputees get no miracles from God.

If you are an intelligent person, you have to admit that it's an interesting question On the one hand, you believe that God answers prayers and performs miracles. On the other hand, you know that God completely ignores amputees when they pray for miracles.

How do you deal with this discrepancy? As an intelligent person, you have to deal with it, because it makes no sense. In order to handle it, notice that you have to create some kind of rationalization. You have to invent an excuse on God's behalf to explain this strange fact of life. You might say, "well, God must have some kind of special plan for amputees." So you invent your excuse, whatever it is, and then you stop thinking about it because it is uncomfortable.


In a later section they write:

"In Matthew 17:20 Jesus talks about mountains directly and says quite clearly:

    For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.
What could be simpler? There are no reservations in Jesus' statement. There are no conditions. There is no waffling."


In this they are entirely incorrect. There is a very simple, and clearly stated, condition in this verse. "If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed". Since we can be quite sure that there are no mountains being moved, we can be quite confident that NO ONE has a faith even so tiny as that. It is similar in this instance to the verse of Mark 10:24-26 "
24The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." 26The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?" (By the way, since the disciples reacted to his statement with astonishment, we can reject the hypothesis that "the eye of a needle" refers to a small gate in Jerusalem's wall.)

I have no doubt that amputees are very sincere in their desire to be restored. I have no doubt that they yearn with all their being. However, do they have faith that they would be healed? Would they pray, and then immediately reach out with the missing limb, knowing that it would be restored? We all doubt God. That which we "know" cannot happen--a limb cannot be restored--so we do not pray with the faith that it will happen. Similarly, despite myriad examples in Scripture of the dead being raised, people do not even bother praying for the dead to be raised, because they "know," even more so than they know that a limb cannot be restored, that it will not happen. It is a problem of faith, not of power.

UPDATE
A second interpretation, which I have recently come across, is that the crux of the matter is not the word "if," but the word "you". What is the source of faith? Roman's 10:17 says, "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." Luke 17:5 says it even more clearly, "The Apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" Thus it could be that this verse is speaking more along the lines of the "not of works" passage. Even your faith is not your own, as is evidenced by your inability to move mountains on your own.
UPDATE


A secondary argument is that when they ask for healing, God heals the real problem. In Mark 2:5-11, we read the following example:

"5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." 6Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7"Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? 9Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? 10But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . ." He said to the paralytic, 11"I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home."

Jesus saw the paralytic, and he immediately healed the truly damaged part--the man's soul. By our standards, Jesus lived in a time that makes ours look quite pleasant. So did he spend his time stopping torture, flogging, starvation, and healing the rampant diseases? No. He spent his time healing the problems which would lead to an eternal separation from God--a fate far worse than the worst of this life's troubles.

And finally, this is just a specific example of the theodicy problem, which will be addressed more thoroughly in later posts.

Back to the Ten Questions

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6 Comments:

Blogger Noumenon said...

"If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed". Since we can be quite sure that there are no mountains being moved, we can be quite confident that NO ONE has a faith even so tiny as that.

In other words, there's no such thing as faith. Or actually, Jesus chose a crappy metaphor because there is nothing smaller than a mustard seed, but apparently there is something smaller than a mustard seed's worth of faith. How many angels can be moved by a faith the size of the head of a pin?

The site's question presumes that you believe that God answers prayers and performs miracles. Therefore, you have to explain why people are capable of believeing that God intervenes in, say, burn recovery, but not amputations. I guess the answer is that people actually have no faith in God and their faith is only in what they've seen happen before. So the answer to Why doesn't God heal amputees? is that nobody believes He can.

(We should invite Mr. Baby Sissy to this thread. No, not really.)

10:05 AM  
Blogger Octavo Dia said...

Or actually, Jesus chose a crappy metaphor because there is nothing smaller than a mustard seed, but apparently there is something smaller than a mustard seed's worth of faith.

Or he was using was underscoring the tinyness of the people's faith, as in the "eye of a needle" parable.


So the answer to Why doesn't God heal amputees? is that nobody believes He can.

That is essentially what I'm saying. Even in my own prayers, I naturally ask for a pittance, and have to correct myself--but it is a conscious, very Lutheran, correction, not a spiritual correction. I personally have trouble believing in very, very tiny things.

8:19 AM  
Blogger Noumenon said...

Or he was using was underscoring the tinyness of the people's faith, as in the "eye of a needle" parable.

It's as though your theology added the footnote,
"*It is also as difficult for a poor person to enter heaven as to go through the eye of a needle." It takes the whole meaning out of the statement.

God's word can easily be comprehended by anyone with a brain the size of a walnut. (p.s. In my theology, Einstein's brain is the size of a walnut and regular people's brains are the size of a tiny piece of sand. Therefore, what I'm really saying is that God's word is incomprehensible to humans.)

5:59 AM  
Blogger Octavo Dia said...

It's as though your theology added the footnote,
"*It is also as difficult for a poor person to enter heaven as to go through the eye of a needle." It takes the whole meaning out of the statement.


CONTEXT TO THE RESCUE!

If you read on, the disciples replied, "Who then can be saved?" implying that if it was that hard for a rich man, it must be similarly hard for everyone. Jesus response, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." also underscores this interpretation.


Therefore, what I'm really saying is that God's word is incomprehensible to humans.

In that you are correct. I believe it was Luther who argued that, to justify infant baptism, that compared to the wisdom of God, the understanding of an adult vis a vis an infant was insignificantly small. We cannot comprehend the fullness of God's word, for to do so would require the wisdom of God. We're left with just the barest of outlines, but that is sufficient.

7:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Octavo Dia,

I like your responses, but I'm not sure I agree with your interpretation of Matthew 17:20. Christ defined true faith as merely surrendering to God's will. Therefore if no one actually has faith, no one can be saved.

Matthew 17:20 presupposes, as the context indicates, that the thing being requested is actually God's will, and not just our personal desire. I think this is a figure of speech, like the parables, where Christ is just describing the immeasurable power of God. The source of all genuine faith, even faith as weak as a mustard seed, is God. And with God nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37).

But again the important thing that needs to be considered here I think is the presupposition that Matthew 17:20 is making, which is established by the context. There is no amount of faith that can allow us to move mountains on our own as we wish. No matter how well someone believes it, we cannot cause that to occur, because faith is not a substance or power we harness and use. Rather, what's being said here is that all true faith involves complete surrender to God and that God is the source and object of that faith. So, when one has true saving faith, naturally, that faith will be in what God's will is. They trust in what He has promised.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Octavo Dia said...

Christ defined true faith as merely surrendering to God's will.

Could you give me a reference on this?


The source of all genuine faith, even faith as weak as a mustard seed, is God.

This was the interpretation in the updated section above. I'm leaning more heavily towards it, but haven't decided entirely.


I think this is a figure of speech, like the parables,

I just finished reading Augustine's Confessions and he was, in my mind, overly prone to interpreting everything metaphorically. It reminds me of a perhaps apocryphal anecdote about Robert Frost. He had just finished a lecture at a university, and a student got up and asked him an involved question involving theories and symbols, and the interplay of whoitswhatsits, and Frost replied, "Well I don't know about all that, but ain't it purty?" That it can be interpreted metaphorically does not mean that a literal interpretation is not also true. Reading the versions of this story in the several gospels, none of them follows the parable style--they are all reported factually. I would assume, therefore, that the primary interpretation should be literal, as the text demands.

8:46 PM  

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