Lisa Nichols Hickman: How does faith make us well?

There may be no more dangerous words in scripture than “Your faith has healed you.”

As the church observes Lent, American health care reform is now law. On his journey to the cross, Jesus went out of his way to heal. Each week of Lent, Lisa Nichols Hickman will ask, "Is there any balm in Gilead?"

When I consider great faith, Rosemary comes to mind -- with her rosy cheeks, silver hair, and a heart broken open for the world. When she learned of her breast cancer, Rosemary and her husband decided that because of the rarity of this cancer, they would continue to pursue treatment. Hope directed her actions: “Keep learning from me, so others might be healed.”

Rosemary had a faith that healed. But that faith did not heal the inflammatory breast cancer that caused her death.

In Greek, the word for “beautiful” also means “blossom.” While her family grieved the blossoming cancer in her body, we witnessed how Rosemary’s faith blossomed and touched so many others. Rosemary had the kind of belief that made others blossom: she believed the best, prayed for the best and saw the most beautiful part of any person.

At her funeral, a watercolor Rosemary painted of blossoming fireworks graced the bulletin cover. At the end of the service, her family passed out sparklers. They asked each person to consider the way a sparkler lights up, and then dwindles and dies out. So too, Rosemary’s life was one that shone brightly for Christ even unto her death. Even the closing organ postlude sounded like our resurrection hope being celebrated by blossoming fireworks.

The night of her funeral (in late March), my husband and I were going to bed when we heard fireworks outside. First, I burst into tears. Later I realized a college-sponsored event, which normally happened six weeks later, was rescheduled for this night. This event always ended in fireworks. Providentially, the dates coincided. Rosemary’s family heard the fireworks and rushed out of their home and up the closest hill to observe.

My husband Jason always says, “Those are the easy things for God to pull off.” I think rather of texts like Mark 10:52: “Your faith has healed you,” Jesus says to Bartimaeus upon restoring his sight.

There may be no more dangerous words in scripture than these very five.

They are the foundation of the Health and Wealth Gospel. Throughout the gospels Jesus encounters the sick, offers healing, and commissions them, “Go, for your faith has made you well.” If only healing were always that easy. We have all likely encountered faithful Christians who are hard on themselves, wondering if they possess this elusive “faith” that heals. The gospel is not conditional, as health and wealth might have you believe. God’s grace supersedes our actions. God’s goodness transcends our ability, or inability, to “have” faith.

“Your faith has made you well” can sound like reliance on a human ability to act as the source of salvation. But such a reading relies more on red-ink than relationship. Faith is not in a specific outcome, but in God. Faith is not in a desired result, but in an inspired relationship. Jesus doesn’t say, “Your faith has cured you.” Instead he offers a more wholistic, integrated response, “Your faith has made you well.” The difference is subtle, but salvific.

I paid Rosemary a visit near the end of her life. “Come and see what I have on my computer,” she invited. Her laptop was cued to the San Diego Zoo. “Look, they have a webcam into the home of this baby panda,” Rosemary explained. “Do you see how the mother Panda holds her baby in her palms?” I leaned in more closely to see. “The mama clasps the baby in her palms and breathes on her until the baby gains strength.”

Rosemary was held just as that baby, in the scarred palms of her savior. His breath was her strength. This beautiful, blossoming faith made her well.

Lisa Nichols Hickman is a Presbyterian Pastor and writer. She serves at New Wilmington Presbyterian Church in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.