Some years ago my then church hosted bimonthly ‘healing events’ organised by the pastors in the city. People came from eight or more denominations, mainly from charismatic / Pentecostal streams. One dear lady was prayed for extensively by a string of well known charismatic ministers, as well as the ‘elders of the city’. She had become a friend to my wife and I in our early years of ministry and was someone we looked to with respect and for advice. She died not long after from terminal cancer. Despite all the prayers this did not come as a shock to us. Countering the natural desire to hold on to her even in this ‘veil of tears’ there was a sense that sickness couldn’t defeat this lady even if it was allowed to take her life. Although death and sickness is always an anomaly against God’s perfect plan, there was also a sense that death could be God’s gift as well. In Genesis it is God’s way of keeping us from having to stay too long in this shadowland. In the Psalms God tells us that the death of a saint is precious in his sight. This lovely Christian lady had a health that would go beyond her circumstance.

Health is not a simple thing to define. This statement may seem a little too bold for a word in common parlance. It is a word that most people can instinctively fit a BUPA type image to, and would almost without exception recognise and be able to discuss its meaning. But Morris Maddocks argues that it is a foretaste of wholeness to come.[1]

Bishop Morris Maddocks worked for the Acorn Healing Trust and was one of the co-authors of the Time to Heal Report. He has been significant in developing an official Church’s stance on healing and he is insistent that the God is calling the Church in this time to ‘proclaim good news by healing and teaching’.[2] But for Maddocks health is not the mere absence of disease.

In fact this may mean that Western culture is less healthy than in previous times despite prodigious medical advances. People are constantly encouraged to improve their bodies, by advertising for health programs, fitness classes and techniques, calorie control or gently warming our blood and skin in exotic holiday locations. Yet this vast increase in choice and cultural medley, he argues, has proved vacuous overall in promoting our health.[4]

Compounding this problem Dr Peta Dunstan, Cambridge Church Historian maintains that since the 1950s we have become an ‘analgesic society’ where the worst thing is pain, and it has to be removed.[5] This has impacted the church it seems has moved from an understanding of healing as reconciliation, whereby an individual is pastorally encouraged to come to an acceptance of what is possible, to one which has allowed a secular view to begin to dominate. Pain is bad and must be got rid of.

So are healing movements within the church buying into the idea that we deserve the ‘BUPA’ body body of a twenty year old? But will this do for a Christian view of health?  One of Maddocks’ most poignant arguments again echoes Wilson:

I am unhealthy however brilliant my mind and fit my body, if from the comfortable chair in my living room I can watch my brother or sister in the third world starve or destroy themselves in violent efforts to sustain the necessities of life.”[6]

So health is not just to be defined by ‘unhealth’ or properly ‘ill-health’. Health is purposeful. Wilson comments that health is ‘for God.’[7] It is also ‘just for the fun of it.’[8] It is more than any negative conception could make it. Calling on Jungian analysis Maddocks states that full health comes when a [hu]man is in ‘conscious contact’ with a ‘purposeful centre of reality’ in their lives.[9] In other words people have an instinctive drive towards wholeness in their consciousness.[10] Thus Morton Kelsey can point to the ‘religious life’ being the crucial ingredient for full health,[11]a theme that Maddocks quickly expands on. As the universe expands, mirroring the creativity of God, so a person’s spiritual life must continue to grow.

To make the ultimate point this is true even at the time of death. You can see it sometimes when you visit someone terminally ill. Maddocks talked about a dying woman who had kept growing with God who seemed to be separated from her illness and renewed with energy after receiving sacramental anointing.[12] Her son, an MP, Maddocks claims was transformed by this experience, having also felt ‘such a nearness to the Creator…that divine centre of all being’. Thus health can continue even through sickness and death, if it has to do with right relationship to the Creator.[13]

Maddocks’ conclusion on health is then that space is needed to enjoy it. This takes time of stillness, but it is at the heart of Jesus’ mission. His reasoning: the Hebrew root of Jesus/Joshua (meaning deliverer), is to be spacious.[14] Thus:

       His very name.. speaks of growth and enlargement, a process whereby a

power is unleashed that brings the life of man (or society) back into a new

spaciousness in which all the cells or members are released and delivered

to perform their full and purposeful function.

Through this notion of spaciousness the resonating themes of shalom-peace, forgiveness and reconciliation, and (to bring us full circle) wholeness and holiness can be attested to.[15] So ‘health’ becomes a notion that is inclusive of much of the Christian life. This is however not surprising when the Greek word for soteria is considered. Tynedale translated it as ‘health’ in Luke 19.9 where most modern translations have ‘salvation’. Thus as Jesus inspires Zacheus to put his life in order, he comments, ‘Today health has come into your house.’ If this is then what health is God may be safely said to be on the side of healing.

Of course Maddocks only properly represents one branch of the ‘Christian Healing revival’ that emerged during the twentieth-century,[17] and my next blog entry will be an analysis of those theologies[18] What I want to note here is the way Maddock’s vision of health as wholeness varies so markedly with the prevalent Western society view. Pattison’s analysis demonstrates this most succinctly.

Pattison shows seven ways in which society conceives of illness. The fundamental one is medical. In other words disease is a physical function that can be accounted for biologically. The body is a machine, and treatments consist of intervention in an individuals’ physiology, where the disease will be contained. This means that social, psychological and behavioural explanations of illness are avoided.

There are plenty of weaknesses of this first ‘medical perspective’. It can lead society to focus on producing curative rather than preventative medicine. It can cause an inability to deal with both chronic disability and mental illness. It can make a patient into an impersonal battleground on which to wage a ‘war against disease’.[19] Nevertheless the medical category remains the main way we (often unconsciously) view disease. Interestingly whether you are religious or not is unlikely to change that.

However Pattison points out that there are six other ways of viewing disease ranging from psychological, epidemiological, sociological, anthropological, social discourse to historical perspectives.[20] He explains them in some details. Each of these approaches focus on sickness as something to be solved. Yet they all stop at the eradication of the symptoms. They cannot replace it with an equivalent of Maddocks’ over-ridding vision of wholeness. Sick-less-ness is a lesser thing than health.

Perhaps then to talk about health and wholeness you need to talk about God. Wholeness is a properly theological subject. It exists only where there is a true purpose for it. That true purpose is defined by and requires interaction with a Creator who gives purpose. As health and wholeness are necessarily linked and health requires wholeness so health requires God. I am healthy because I have a divine purpose, and amazingly you could be more healthy as your physical body fades away than a bitter and self-centred athlete with enormous physical prowess.

However this is not to argue for a bury your head in the sand approach to physical illness (the medical perspective).  Quite naturally most of us think of health in this way, and so when we ask if God is interested in our healing, we instinctively mean will God enable our bodies to function ‘properly’. Jesus performed both restorative and creative miracles of healing in the gospel that enabled people’s bodies to function ‘properly’ sometimes for the first time. Certainly in the ministry of Jesus and the Acts of the Apostles the physical cures validate the Gospel message and prove who Jesus is. To slightly change the story of the paralysed man lowered through the roof: Which is easier to say ‘God is making you whole (despite appearances)’ or ‘get up and walk’? In a church birthed in miraculous it seems a sop to say that God isn’t interested in that anymore, especially when we keep hearing rumours, and see tasters of his healing power at work.

Indeed many churches and movements make very bold claims about the physical healing God longs to bring about. Some speakers who came at our city wide event claimed God always intends to (physically) heal. Others would place huge emphases on the role of faith. But if you can be whole even if you are not cured should preachers ever emphasise healing as physical cure? Doesn’t this just lead to bitterness, disappointment, self-doubt and makes wholeness less likely? And is there any way of working out where these speakers were getting their theology from?

The next post When a Healer Comes to Town starts a 6 post journey looking at these key issues and more…


[1] Here Maddocks is following Michael Wilson who argues that health is an ‘explosive vision’ an idea whose ‘time has come’. He claims it can unsettle the complacency of Western society, precisely because it means so much more than what most in that society instinctively recognise and want it to be. Health is for People (1975) pp. 117ff. Stephen Pattison points to this dependency on Wilson particularly to his ‘excellent little book’ from 1967 The Church is Healing. Pattison (1989) pp. 7-8.

[2] Maddocks p. xi

[3] Maddocks p. 4

[4] ibid.

[5] conversations 28th October 2002

[6] Maddocks p. 5.

[7] Wilson p. 118.

[8] ibid.

[9] Maddocks p.5.

[10] I have found Jung’s Memories, Dreams, and Reflections p. 356ff particularly interesting here, and it does seem to hold out Maddocks’ point, although I think it is debatable whether Jung would want his findings to be used in quite this way. Although he believed people should aspire after wholeness, (p.362) he also believed that the bulk of people are ‘hopelessly ill-equipped for living on this level.’ Much of the reason for this he attributes to education, so Maddocks may yet have the man he calls ‘the greatest mind of this century’ on his side.

[11] Kelsey (1973) p.305.

[12] Maddocks p.6.

[13] This is a principle my investigations have found illustrated in countless places. Oliver de Vinck, Sarah Bowen and Margaret Spurford’s books all touch on this theme of the nominally unwell bringing health and healing to others even in their death. Perhaps the most moving story is in Harry Blamires’ book (see later) a story that echoes my experiences on placement in Croydon Parish Church.

[14] Maddocks p.9. This he draws from Donald Coggan.

[15] Stephen Neill ‘The life of man can develop fully only through the harmonious evolution of the fourfold relationship, to the good earth beneath his feet, his physical environment; to himself, through a right ordering of his inner and complex existence; to God the source of all his being.’

[16] Theories that seek to explain illness and suffering in a pedagogical light. Cf. Hick, Evil and the God of Love pp.354-372, esp p.369f.

[17] That is the sacramental line inherited from the Guild of Health started in 1904.

[18] See further the incisive looks at these groups in Pattison (1989) p.51f.

[19] Pattison (1989) p.24.

[20] ibid. pp. 25-39.