Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Now and The Not Yet

Here's the headline: "Faith-healing parents charged in death of infant son"

There are an increasing number of these cases where parents are refusing medical treatment for their children based on religious reasons. Many times this involves some kind of appeal to believing God will heal the child without the help of modern medicine. Putting aside the legal questions for a minute of what we can and should do in cases like this, I'd like to offer some theological perspectives.

I think that there is a possibility that cases like this may be rooted in errant eschatology. Seriously. Here's why.

Eschatology is the study of "last things." But, to some degree, it also involves the study of how the end has already come. For example, when Jesus healed people, He was demonstrating what the Kingdom of God would be like - no more sickness. When He raised people from the dead, He was demonstrating that death would someday no longer have power over us. When Jesus Himself was raised from the dead, He gave us a glimpse into what it is going to be like to have a glorified body. When the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost to indwell God's people, it was a partial fulfillment of the "last days" described in Joel 2.

So while Christ is ruling and reigning in heaven right now, the Kingdom of God has not yet fully been inaugurated. We still die. We still struggle with evil. We still experience disease and sickness. Theologians call the current state we are living in, "the now and the not yet." Christians live “between the times” — meaning between the time of Christ’s resurrection victory and the time of its cosmic fulfillment in the coming of the promised Kingdom.

Ok, so how does this relate to the whole faith-healing parents issue? I think that people who adopt this approach are (either consciously or unconsciously) committing the error of thinking that the Kingdom of God has fully come. Because Jesus healed people during His earthly ministry that that is somehow a normative state. It WILL be normative in the New Creation (Rev. 20-21), but we're not there yet. Oh sure, we should expect God to break into this existence and heal people and there is nothing wrong with praying for healing. But to turn down medicine as somehow demonstrating a lack of faith is to not have a proper understanding of which era of redemptive history we are living.

Conversely, people who deny that healing happen today are, in my opinion, denying that in some sense the "end" has come and that we can expect healing and miracles.

One final note - I hear many people say, "I don't need to learn theology. I just believe in Jesus." The naivete behind such a statement deeply disturbs me. Because it's situations like this where what one believes about God and the nature of reality (that's theology) has a direct impact on our lives, and the lives of our children. And it's not enough to just hand-wave these situations away as being "nut-cases." These people have deeply held beliefs and reasons for what they believe. Do we? Sadly, I find that most Christians don't.


Eric Olsen said...

i love this post! great thoughts!

will you dare to claim an eschatological preference on this blog? a-mil preterist? pre-mil futurist? i'm curious now.

Child of God said...

These days I'm leaning toward historical premillenialism. But I do think preterism makes some interesting points. To be totally candid, it's not an issue I've done a lot of study about. So I'm generally hesitant of commenting on any topic I haven't read at least 2000 pages on from a variety of perspectives.