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Where Has This Book on Healing Been? My Thoughts on Francis MacNutt’s “Healing”

Cogent, sane, and well-rounded, Francis MacNutt’s book Healing (Ave Maria Press, 1974) gives excellent insight on the topics of healing and prayer for healing. Clearly, MacNutt has been in the trenches. He writes with wisdom, humility, and transparency. This is truly one of those Where has this book been?! books.

I’m just going to cover here what were, for me, the high points, and end with a recommendation that this book is a must-read.

Why Am I Suffering?

In a section titled What is the Correct View of Suffering? (page 78), MacNutt makes a distinction between what he called two kinds of suffering:

  • a cross of persecution that has its source outside a man “because of the wickedness of other men who are evil,”
  • and a suffering of sickness, which is some physical, emotional, or moral suffering that “tears man apart from within.”

I could not help but note, however, as I considered MacNutt’s two categories, that the suffering of Job and Paul didn’t seem to fit either.

Job’s physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering was definitely from “outside” himself: it was not caused by Job or even primarily by the “wickedness of other men who are evil.” It was directly caused by Satan. But it also tore Job apart “from within.”

Paul’s physical suffering, a sickness experienced as a torment within his body, was also not caused “from within” Paul. It was also identified in Scripture as a messenger of Satan.

Later in the book, however, as MacNutt writes about the work of Agnes Sanford, he does say that “we are deeply affected not only by what we do, but by what happens to us through the sins of others and the evil in the world” (page 181). I agree entirely with that statement.

“We are deeply affected not only by what we do, but by what happens to us through the sins of others and the evil in the world.”

It once again raises my previous question, however, and I seriously wondered into which of his two earlier categories of suffering MacNutt would place the “evil in the world” kind of suffering. Is it persecution, per se?

My aim in pursuing this point is definitely not to argue with MacNutt (to whom I am extremely grateful for his writing of this book). It is to recognize that we will have to somewhere account for suffering and sickness that is not direct persecution by man but is direct persecution from Satan, as in the cases of Job and Paul. And we will also need to acknowledge that there is sickness which comes indirectly to a man because of the wickedness in the world (for example, a child who gets cancer from drinking contaminated water or breathing contaminated air into which carcinogenic chemicals have been discharged by industry), which may or may not be considered persecution, per se.

What Should I Believe About Healing?

MacNutt describes four basic attitudes toward healing that he has encountered (pages 115-119). I believe identification of these attitudes is helpful, because failure to understand this can be a spiritual and emotional minefield.

His list includes:
• “Healing is simply man’s responsibility”
• “Healing is possible but extraordinary”
• “Healing is ordinary and normative, but does not always take place”
• “Healing always takes place if there is faith”

I laughed the hollow laugh of recognition when I read MacNutt’s description of people he has met in the second group, who believe healing is possible but not at all likely, and probably not God’s will, so they end up with the philosophy, “Blessed are those who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed” (page 117). Maybe you are laughing with hollow recognition, too; or maybe you are way past laughing. This quote is definitely at one end of a continuum of thought about healing–even within the church, with another extreme at the other end. But my focus and the question I must address for myself is, “Where on this continuum is what God wants me to think?”

“Where on this continuum is what God wants me to think?”

As I was reading MacNutt’s discussion of the third viewpoint he describes (“Healing is ordinary and normative, but does not always take place”—which is the viewpoint he believes is most constructive), its corollary came to mind.

Stephanie O. Hubach, in her excellent book Same Lake, Different Boat, brilliantly outlines her own take on various worldviews about physical infirmity. She propounds the view that physical brokenness is a normal part of living in an abnormal (fallen) world.

(I highly recommend Hubach’s book, by the way, which focuses on disability. Her insights into how the church can minister to families on the long road of disability are excellent.)

How Knowing the Will of God Relates to My Healing

MacNutt then shares an insight (page 205) that unlocks so much for me. Getting this concept was one of those aha moments that made me really grateful that I was reading this book.

The key to having the faith for healing, and to knowing how and whether to pray for healing—the key to any and all of it—is to first pray to know the will of God in a particular case (either for oneself or for someone else).

The key to having the faith for healing… is to know the will of God.

Once God has revealed his will in the given case, then I can pray with full confidence for his will to be accomplished.

I finally realized that this is why Elijah’s prayer—the one that is held out to us as an example of how we, too, can be effective in prayer (James 5:17-18)—was successful: because Elijah knew that what he was praying for was the expressed will of God. (Thanks to John Eldredge, Moving Mountains, for helping me finally put the pieces together on this one. Isn’t it a wonderful coincidence that I was reading both of these books at the same time?)

This is why Elijah’s prayer was successful.

Elijah modeled this type of involvement with God. God told Elijah to present himself to Ahab and that God would send rain (1 Kings 18:1). Knowing the expressed will of God, Elijah obeyed the instructions, and discerned when specifically to pray for the rain that God had already told him was his will. At the right time, Elijah prayed seven times that it would rain, and when his servant reported seeing a cloud the size of a man’s hand (that’s a small cloud), Elijah knew God’s will was being done (1 Kings 18:41-45).

Elijah had been involved in bringing about God’s will, and his involvement had stemmed from knowing God’s will. I expect that Elijah’s habit of listening expectantly for God was probably why Elijah had had the opportunity to become clearly aware of God’s will in the first place.

That is a clarion call to me.

Another excellent point MacNutt makes on the point of seeking God’s will in a particular case is that the gift of knowledge and the gift of faith go hand in hand (page 126). By having God’s will made to known to a person, the person can then pray without reservation—in faith—for God’s specific will.

MacNutt discusses this all in the context of healing, obviously, but I think that Elijah’s example demonstrates that the same principle applies broadly to all areas of life.

Eleven Reasons Healing Doesn’t Come

As I was first scanning the table of contents of Healing, I saw a chapter titled Eleven Reasons Why People are Not Healed. Do you think I didn’t flip immediately to that chapter first and read it in one sitting?!

As one might expect from the chapter title, MacNutt lists and discusses eleven reasons people are not healed. They all make sense, and some of them are real eye-openers.

I am totally in love with what MacNutt says (page 249) about how important it is to understand the reasons people aren’t healed, so we can get our faith aligned correctly and pray correctly.

It’s important to understand the reasons people aren’t healed, so we can get our faith aligned correctly and pray correctly.

Without that, we can do a lot of damage to ourselves and others.

That Sticky Wicket: James 5:14-15

I may have buried the lead in this blog post, because I really can’t tell you how excited I am about MacNutt’s discussion of James 5:14-15! MacNutt discusses the Scripture passage with the kind of wisdom and knowledge I have been searching out for a long time.

If you’ve ever wondered why I read so many books about healing; one of the reasons is that I’ve been looking for some specific answers about translation issues and other matters in this specific passage. If you’re a person whose healing hasn’t come, even after you’ve been prayed for and anointed with oil as James 5 instructs, I’d guess you may know what I’m talking about.

If you’re a person whose healing hasn’t come, even after you’ve been prayed for and anointed with oil as James 5 instructs, I’d guess you may know what I’m talking about.

I have been over so many miles of rough road with James 5:14-15. I won’t unpack the whole story here, but it will definitely be included in my upcoming book. (Update Oct. 2019: That book, Faith with Grit, is now available.)

After actual years of literally searching for answers about this passage, my questions about it have finally been addressed. MacNutt exactly understands and addresses my problems with the passage. Here in his book—finally—I found the precise answers I have been seeking.

Christians Need to Know This Stuff

Whether you are a person in need of healing (and MacNutt says that by virtue of being human, we all get damaged and need healing, page 290), or a person who is praying for others in need of healing, I will be so bold as to say you owe it to yourself and others to give this book a read.

By virtue of being human, we all get damaged and need healing.

The church—that’s us—needs to grow up and get wisdom in this area, and MacNutt’s Healing goes a long way toward helping us do that.

I’m so grateful for this book.

AmyLu Riley is the author of Jesus as Healer: Miracles and Meditations in Luke. Her upcoming book for people who are not yet healed is designed to build faith and dissolve spiritual discouragement. (Update Oct. 2019: Faith with Grit is now available.) To get book updates, sign up for her email list.

Related post: I Thank God for the Life and Work of Francis MacNutt

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