Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Wednesday, March 26, 2008

    Prayer for Healing while Denying Medical Help

    It is reported "An 11-year-old girl died after her parents prayed for healing rather than seek medical help for a treatable form of diabetes..." Such a death is tragic not only because of the loss but because it did not need to happen.

    While it is true that God can heal by prayer alone, and while it is true that even in passages where prayer and accompanying practices are performed the emphasis is placed on the prayer, that does not deny the fact that God works through means and calls his people to be wise making the most of all legitimate, ethical and rightful uses of means that he has provided through providence.

    For example, in James 5:14, we read "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. While the emphasis lies on prayer and all being done in the name of the Lord, oil was also to be applied. As Donal Burdick in the Expositor's Bible Commentary states

    Prayer is the more significant of the two ministries performed by the elders. 'Pray' is the main verb, while 'anoint' is a participle. Moreover, the overall emphasis of the paragraph is on prayer. So the anointing is a secondary action. There are a number of reasons for understanding this application of oil as medicinal rather than sacramental or ritualistic anointing. James could have used the verb 'chrio' if that had been what he had in mind. The distinction is still observed in modern Greek, with aleipho meaning 'to daub,' 'to smear,' and 'chrio' meaning 'to anoint.' Furthermore, it is a well documented fact that oil was one of the most common medicines of biblical times. See Isaiah 1:6 and Luke 10:34.

    To illustrate this principle more clearly, so as to encourage parents not to allow another tragedy such as this to take place, consider the fact that Luke was "medical doctor" for a reason. Consider that while prayer alone could have been offered for the soldier whose ear was cut off by Peter, did not Jesus himself take action and place the ear back on for him? Were not the women who "cared for" Jesus himself noted for their actions? Consider that God could also have spread the gospel with prayer alone and without the use of the church but he has ordained the use of both. God could also have provided a wife for Isaac by prayer alone, but he accomplished this through the use of Abraham's chief servant (Gen 24). Paul could have relied on prayer alone, but he also saw the need to inform and instruct the Corinthians (2 Cor 13:7).

    It will not be surprising to ses atheists and others jump on this article as if to point to (1) the irrationality of believers, and/or (2) the impotency of prayer; but what you have in this case is the tragic consequence as a result of individuals being misinformed. Those who seek to prove the "irrationality" of believers or the impotency of prayer by this example must note the problem lays not with biblical truth or practice in this case, but the misinformed understanding of it.

    Type rest of the post here

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