Growing up in the fundamentalist evangelical flock I believed my Pentecostal pastor when he told me God had revealed to him that I, a scrawny little schoolgirl who came to church because I had nothing better to do, possessed the gift of divine healing. I placed my little hands with their nervously bitten nails and WWJD beaded bracelets on many a searching and desperate soul and imagined the incredible power of Jesus transmitting from my soul and through my fingers to reach their every complicated spiritual and physical ailment.

No one ever jumped out of their wheelchair like they did at the televangelist megachurches on TV, but I didn’t dare doubt that magical healing would eventually take place. If it never did, I knew it was my fault for not having enough faith. I left Christianity behind in my early 20’s, much too far behind to pick it up again even as a crutch after I became disabled in a car accident at age 32.

Rendered a complete quadriplegic I often found myself seeking and extending solidarity and support in spinal cord injury support groups. In little time I became aware that Christians dominated these groups and conversations about faith healing would occur on a daily basis. These conversations are always depressing, with believers upset that they haven’t received their healing yet.

I would be screaming at God too if I still believed in him.

Instead I have become a keyboard warrior encouraging people to seek alternative paths to peace, an atheist minority that even believers reach out to because you can only reach out to a silent god for so long. As a wheelchair user I am always the subject of unsolicited prayers, sometimes extended by strangers in the grocery store.

Sometimes I let them just so they can observe absolutely no change in my physical state post prayer.

Why is faith healing so prominent in America? Especially since it has never worked?

Well it’s in the Bible, and although less of the American population is religious than ever before, offering prayer seems to almost always be the typical response to illness and disability.

Biblical Healing

In the Bible Jesus often healed by “laying his hands on” the one to be healed (Matthew 9:18; Mark 5:23; 6:5; 7:32; 8:22–25; Luke 13:13). My spinal cord injury community likes to point out the stories about the people who are permanently paralyzed being cured in the Bible.

“Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well? … Rise, take up your bed and walk.’ And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked” (John 5:3, 5-6, 8-9a, NKJV).

As a child one of my favorite stories was in Luke 5.

“Some men took a man who was not able to move his body to Jesus. He was carried on a bed. They looked for a way to take the man into the house where Jesus was. 19 But they could not find a way to take him in because of so many people. They made a hole in the roof over where Jesus stood. Then they let the bed with the sick man on it down before Jesus. 20 When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the man, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

Some Christians use this one to ascertain that disability is a punishment, which can be relieved only by the grace of Jesus. But in John 9,

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

What a cruel game that would be, knocking us down just to pick a few back up so God could hear more praises!

Some Christians in my disability groups play the martyr, waiting patiently for their miracle and probably trying not to resent God for not choosing them. Their bright wide eyed hope brings to mind the Nietzsche quote:

“Hope is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torment of man.”

These souls are tormented indeed, losing the present while focusing on a future that isn’t possible. They fight for faith and blame themselves when they don’t have enough. Sometimes in the case of individuals who do not have a complete spinal cord injury restoration of function is possible. Believers attribute the progress to spiritual faith when in reality it’s all science, and less knowledgeable members of the paralysis community see others being “healed” and their faith is even stronger that there is hope for their injury where there isn’t. They also ponder why God is healing others and not them.

Is their faith not strong enough? Have they not gone to the correct faith healer?

According to the Bible after Jesus ascended into heaven, his apostles began to heal with touch. (Acts 14:3; 19:11, Acts 28:8).

“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” James 5:14-15

It sure sounds easy enough. I grew up praying unanswered prayers and blaming myself for not believing they would be answered, though.

It’s very manipulative, such an innocent looking little verse full of hope. If you don’t have enough faith to be healed you have no one to blame but yourself.

Mark 11:24 says “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

I started off very small asking Jesus for little gifts when I was a little girl and when they failed to materialize I quickly concluded that I lacked the faith although I had possessed it in the beginning.I was disappointed in myself. At this rate I would never be the type of Christian that could handle snakes and drink deadly poison without being harmed. Those were the other two tests of faith alongside divine healing noted in Mark 16:18.

“They will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

As a kid in the Assemblies of God I imagined myself one day as a missionary handling snakes though. Presently I would just have to satisfy for divine healing and believing it was taking place even if I couldn’t see it.

The Laying on of the Hands

I grew up in front of one of those 1990’s style great big entertainment centers with a box TV in one of the shelves. Except it was always tuned to Trinity Broadcasting Network. If it wasn’t Paul and Jan Crouch on their golden couch begging for donations it was Benny Hinn or John Hagee threatening fire and brimstone, babbling in “Tongues”, and dramatically and divinely healing people in front of thousands. It was sensational and I ate it up.

I mean people were really stepping out of wheelchairs and walking and proclaiming themselves healed after being anointed with oil and having hands laid on them in the name of Jesus.

I can only imagine witnessing such footage as a paralyzed believer. I’d be holding my breath waiting for my turn. I’d be blaming myself and hating myself for not having enough faith myself. From the commentary in my spinal cord injury support groups I gather that this is the way a lot of believers with disabilities and probably chronic or fatal illnesses feel.

Part of having the faith required for healing involves not questioning healings that have allegedly taken place. So most Christians aren’t trying to follow up with individuals who claim to have they had healed by prayer and examine their medical diagnosis and history. Such would demonstrate an extreme lack of faith.So believers just assume that the person who stood up out of the wheelchair at the church service couldn’t have done that a day prior to take a shower, as if every person that uses a wheelchair has paralyzed legs and cannot stand, making them a perfect example to show God’s glory.

Many people in wheelchairs are a perfect example and delightfully selected by charlatan healers, knowing full well the subject is capable of some mobility. You don’t see them healing full quadriplegics in power chairs like I am. Several televangelists throughout the years have been busted conspiring with parishioners and performing fake healings. Still Christians flock to them. They fill pews and organize prayer chains. They have so much faith but it’s never enough to actually heal them.

It is sad and strange phenomenon but I guess it’s been going on since long before the religion of my particular indoctrination came on the scene.

Before humans understood disability and disease we attributed it to the gods, evil spirits and spiritual failures. Every tribe in the Bush practicing old medicine appeased to the gods for health and healing. There are Saints of Infirmary in every religion.

What are the success rates of these prayers?

If the person gets well it is the fault of science, and yet faith in prayer is credited. If they do not get well, it’s still the fault of science alone, the gods are let off the hook, and one’s weak faith is blamed.

The last time I was approached in a restaurant by an evangelist type wanting to lay hands on me in healing prayer I declined the offer and informed them that perhaps they shouldn’t assume that my own prayers won’t be sufficient, or that I share their belief system at all.

I don’t appreciate the intrusion and being called out for my broken body but Christians are good at making you feel broken so they can bring in God to fix you.

Ironically I feel less broken now than I did when I bent beat at the feet of the cross.