52: So… divine healing. (Questions Part 2)
Is it your responsibility to call out your racist uncle? Does God heal people and is it helpful to believe that? Are the women heroes in the Bible messiah figures? Nate and Tim continue responding to your questions.
Nate: Hi, friends! Welcome back. This is part two of us responding to your questions. If you didn’t listen to part one, might want to go back and do that before listening to this one. And if this sparks any questions of your own, you can send them over to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Friends, I wanted to share that Tim and I plan and produce this show in our spare time because we want you to know that you’re not alone in your doubts, questions, and pain and hurt that you’ve experienced in the church or in your faith community, or even if your beliefs are just changing or you’re rethinking stuff and you don’t have anyone to talk to about that. Whenever you reach out and share how this show has personally helped you, that means so much to us and encourages us to keep going. So if you feel compelled to share your story or help support the show, you can do that all at almostheretical.com. Okay, let’s jump into part two of your questions now.
Nate: Okay, Angela Witten: “I’ve been listening to your question for a while. Here’s my question: What are your thoughts on divine healing or miracles? I was raised in a Pentecostal church that taught we should pray for healing when sick. My very devout father battled and died from cancer a few ago. I don’t believe God heals us and I don’t know how to respond to people in my old church and family who still hold onto the belief in miracles and healing.” I feel like I’m not going to have a great way to respond to people, but coming from someone who’s struggled with health stuff and had a lot of people pray over him, I think it’s all bunk and wrong. I don’t think that’s there’s this divine being that is deciding whether or not he wants to heal certain people, and if he doesn’t heal you then that means you either sinned, which some people believe, or don’t have enough faith, or he’s trying to teach you something. Those are the three options I’ve heard. Or that he is going to heal you. You know, I’ve heard, I think it’s Science Mike that says it, basically covers all the options. God’s response is either Yes, No, or Wait. And scientifically that covers all the potential options for a response to a prayer. So I don’t think that’s how God interacts with the world. I don’t want to come across insensitive, but I’ve been hurt very badly by beliefs about divine healing and things people have said to me about divine healing. So that’s just my personal thing, or should we go to the next question?
Tim: No, no, no. This is good. Here’s something I think is significant. This question, which at first seems completely disconnected from evangelism and the question of, “What is the gospel?” is entirely related. And this may help people understand my cynicism or it may not. This is why I question versions of the gospel, because things that are presented as positive often actually, effectually come across as incredibly negative to many people. And so some versions of the gospel that effectively act as promises for what God wants to do in your life: heal you, in some worlds it’s make you happy, healthy, give you a marriage, give you a spouse, give you kids, give you money, whatever. If there’s some contingency of well-being connected to your version of spirituality, when that stuff doesn’t happen, you will either be left floundering, or even worse, people will try to stop you from floundering by doing just what you said, Nate: offering explanations for why you aren’t getting what you were promised. And that stuff happens all the time and leads to absolutely toxic Christianity where people have said, “Yes, if you’re not being healed…” So Nate, you’ve had chronic health issues; I’ve had a chronic back issue for eleven years. We’re both pretty decent case studies in what it’s like to go through faith journeys with dealing with pain, where it would have been really nice to be healed about a decade or two ago, right? And I remember—so I’ve never been very charismatic.
Nate: Yeah, same here.
Tim: I don’t think it’s my job to go try to convince my friends who are pretty charismatic out of it. I’m not shy when we’ve talked candidly that I don’t know if I think any of it’s real or if they just have found mechanisms that are psychologically comforting for them. And that’s fine, if that’s what it is. Or it could be real. Who knows? That’s not my job to figure that out. But I do know that some of those charismatic friends and others over the last decade have time and again prayed for my back—I’ve got a ruptured disc—to be healed. And I remember finding comfort in that and feeling really loved by those people in the first couple years. But three back surgeries in, a whole heck of a lot of pain, and months and months of not being able to get out of bed, I really stopped finding comfort when people would come up to me and ask to pray over my back. It became very frustrating. It actually became spiritually discomforting. And I don’t know that that means that I… I never believed that it was impossible, or like, “I know the facts about reality and God does not heal.” It was more the sense of like, “Your hope that that’s going to happen, the way that resonates with my ten years of living out the fact that it hasn’t happened makes me want to run away from this entire world, this entire religious structure.” Because actually it’s just bringing about pain. And these weren’t even friends that would, like you were talking about, would say, “It’s because you’re in sin that you’re not being healed.” Or, “You don’t have enough faith,” right? “If you were really faithful, you’d be healed.” And that kind of manipulation happens all over the place. It was really just subtle and incidental that it got to a place where people wanting to pray for me to be healed became very frustrating. So this is one way where your version of the gospel can actually—and again, I would point, if you’re a pastor or someone who gets up on a stage or has a platform of any kind and are telling people things, you need to be careful about what you give to comfort people, because oftentimes the other half of the room will be equally discomforted by whatever you’re saying to those who you think you’re comforting.
Nate: Yep! I know we probably didn’t sufficiently cover every aspect of that question. I think some of that, as far as how to respond to people who are still holding onto that belief and how they’re interacting with you and possibly causing harm and hurt. I don’t feel like we’re qualified for that, and I really push you to therapy. And for anyone else who’s experiencing that same thing, I would push you in that direction and encourage you in that direction. Next question’s from Elaine Hunt: “If we are made in the image of God and we hold both potential for good and potential for evil, is this then an accurate image of God? God has as much potential of evil as we do? It’s one of those questions which often runs through my mind when I’m trying to get to sleep.” Pass! I’m just kidding. [laughing]
Tim: I think I kind of get where you’re coming from, Elaine. I think you have a sense of what it means for humans to be created in the image of God that I’m guessing, just based on your question, has something to do with sharing in a nature? So if something is true of us, it means it’s at least partly true of God. You’re not alone in thinking that. I don’t think that’s much of what the author of Genesis 1 and 2 had in mind, although it could be. But I think throughout most of the scriptures—and here I just sound like a classic Bible study pastor dude, but I’ll circle back to maybe a more emotional piece—it typically has to do with a kind of royal representative. So Caesar, for instance, or the emperor, was the divine figure and would set up a statue or his image, which represented this sort of semi-divine figure. Which, remember that whole story in Daniel where there’s this image that’s built Nebuchadnezzar that all the people are asked to bow down to that image. It’s basically this big statue. And Daniel’s not supposed to bow down to it because he believes and is supposed to remember that he, that humans are made in the image of the true God. So basically, this phrase, saying, ‘Mankind is made in the image of God; in the image of God we’re made,’ is a polemic against the use of hard idols. Not idolatry as in worshiping other Gods but the use of figurines, which were seen to be vessels that the spirit of the god would manifest itself in to become embodied in the world. That’s why there’d be these little carven things. They didn’t actually think the wood was god; they thought this was a vessel to house their god. And it’s a polemic against empire worship, in which the king and the king alone is said to be the image of the gods. So it is a really important piece of the positive ethics of Christianity, which says that all human beings, man and woman, no matter what class or gender or race or whatever you fall into, no matter what category, all human beings are equally royal. It’s a power polemic. It’s saying that no one has a right or a claim to authority at any divine place over another human being. I think that’s a beautiful idea. But I think that’s actually the primary meaning that’s being carried forth in the image of God stuff. Of course in the Adam and Eve story, we talked about this in our first few episodes, it’s about who is going to rule the world. God created this world, and then He made beings to rule, and then you have this battle between the divine beings that want to rule, which is the serpent in the garden thing, and the humans that want to rule. So all that to say, if this question is bothering, and you’re philosophizing trying to wrestle with, “If humans have the capacity for evil, that means God has the capacity for evil.” If it would help you sleep at night to know that I don’t think the biblical authors were making the kind of claim about humanity, that we are sharing our nature or entity with God, if that could help you sleep, there you go. If not, um, I don’t know.
Nate: Tim, do you want to read a question? I think I’ve read all of them.
Tim: Sure, where is it?
Nate: Scroll down that list of all of them.
Tim: I like this one. “Joseph and Daniel didn’t do anything wrong, did they?”
Nate: Oh, yeah. That’s from Reddit from sillytony on Reddit. Explain what that question is referring to, if someone didn’t hear that episode.
Tim: So I think this question is in reference to one of our episodes in the How the Bible Works series that was talking about this feature that I’ve called snowballing, where characters are presented as false heroes. I think this is a fantastic question.
Nate: Yeah, so did they do anything wrong? Because the whole idea was that the Hebrew Bible would show this character, talk about a lot of the good they did in their life, and maybe there would be this thing that disqualified them from being the one we’re looking for, the messiah. And then it got passed onto the next one, and we’d look again. So this is person, sillytony, is pointing out, Joseph and Daniel, wait they didn’t have that moment where they did something that disqualified them, did they?
Tim: Or did they?
Nate: So, did they?
Tim: Yeah, so if you remember, what we pointed out is there’s intentional ambiguity. Some of the passages or stories could be read in multiple ways, and that’s on purpose so you could basically hold two opposing ideas in your head at one time. So remember we were kind of chuckling about the ridiculousness that Moses is presented as this great liberator hero, and then he gets banished from the Promised Land and is forced to die alone in the desert because he smacked a rock with a stick. And what we pointed out is what that strange ending to Moses’ story does is it allows us to see that, “Okay, Moses wasn’t the one,” and still hold a really high view of Moses so we could take all of his positive attributes and push them forward to look for somebody else who has those same attributes and more. So it’s basically a way of maintaining his reputation and souring it at the same time. So there’s something similar that goes on with Joseph where, I think intentionally, you’re supposed to be able to read Joseph as one of the few unblemished characters in all of the Bible and also Joseph as someone who kind of has a failing at the end. This is part of why I love this question; this is one of the writing projects I’ve been working on. I think Joseph as a motif and character motif, is one of the most important in all of the Hebrew Bible, and it’s what Jesus—Joseph is the character that Jesus’s life is modeled after. And so his story, the Joseph story, is of someone who is unjustly persecuted by his own kin, and then who graciously forgives those, in Joseph’s case his brothers, who abused him and tried to kill him, sold him into slavery. And then instead of getting vengeance on his brothers, he actually ends up saving his brothers. But he’s only able to save them because he’s exalted to power. There’s even this fun intentional ambiguity where it says Joseph was number two in command in Egypt, he was Pharaoh’s go-to assistant, but then it says practically he was basically in charge of the whole land. With all intents and purposes, Joseph is exalted to the supreme ruler over the entire world is sort of how it functions in the story. But if you remember how the story ends: why did the Israelites end up in slavery in Egypt in the first place? So there’s a famine in the land, everybody runs to Egypt, and Joseph was the one who gets these dreams that there’s going to be a famine so he can plan ahead and make the Egyptian empire rich by basically spending several years planning for this famine, because they had this divine warning about it. So first this wealth saves the tribes of Israel because they all get to escape the famine and come to Egypt; that’s how they end up in Egypt. But then Joseph is the one in charge who ends up—he’s in charge of all the food, and he ends up buying off the land and assets of everybody, essentially the way the story tells it is everybody in the entire Near East, in exchange for food. So he’s the hero whose political policy actually ends up enslaving everybody to the Egyptian empire, which is why later on the Israelites need to be liberated from slavery. So it doesn’t really say Joseph became this cruel dude, and yet Joseph is the one in charge of the policies that end up enslaving the entire nation. So interestingly, I think you’re supposed to be able to read it as Joseph as kind of this pure, unblemished archetype that eventually leads to Christ and Joseph was also single-handedly responsible, or almost single-handedly responsible, for the enslavement of thousands and thousands of people. And then Daniel, I’ll just say: Daniel is Joseph. We’ll have to abbreviate this part, but for fun just go read the book of Esther and the book of Daniel, and just know that they are retellings of the Joseph story. So Esther is one of my favorites because she’s the only woman who’s presented in this snowballing chain of messianic Joseph-like characters, but that she is.
Nate: Oh, which reminds me, Sarah, who transcribes all of our episodes—she’s amazing, thank you, Sarah. Which, by the way, Sarah now that you are transcribing these shows, I like secretly have this urge to put in crazy complex words into the show. Like what if I said, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?” Or what if I said, “You got any ta—” like, right off the top of your head? I mean, she’s going to type this!
Tim: [laughing] Just sneeze. [fake sneeze]
Nate: [laughing] Anyways, you should go check out the transcriptions. They’re all up on the website: almostheretical.com! So she also had a question along the lines of, “Why are there women included, then, if it’s kind of a patriarchal”—am I butchering the question? Do you have it there?
Tim: Yeah, I’m going to try to pull it up. Okay, I’ll just read it: “First, as Nate mentioned early on in the episode, the dudes in the Bible often seem pretty bad, but the women were alright. And Tim gave the caveat at the end that these protagonists are mainly men because the authors and arrangers and their audience were part of a patriarchal culture and wouldn't have looked to a woman to be their leader. So can we hold to the idea the women who are featured in the OT stories such as Deborah were actually commendable or morally upright? Are they heroes we can point to? Or do you think it's likely that they were also problematic, but the authors felt no need to use the literary device of letting the audience down because they would never have expected us to get our hopes up in a woman and put messianic expectations on her in the first place?”
Nate: That’s a solid question. I mean that’s—yeah.
Nate: That clearly comes from someone who transcribes our shows and knows everything that you said in there, because that’s a really complex question.
Tim: Yeah, it is. So you do have the same snowballing literary device happening with key women figures who are hero figures. They are protagonists. One of my favorites: there’s this early motif in Genesis about the especially beloved wife. So there’s the Rachel and Leah saga, and Rachel is the especially beloved one. And that’s the beginning of a motif that snowballs forward and then gets lumped in with this other kind of female hero motif which begins with Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, whose main role or part in the story is that of helping sing a song. But it’s an important song at the most important part in Israel’s history when they’ve just crossed the Red Sea and entered freedom for the first time. And both these characters, actually this is something fascinating. We should probably take more time to talk about it. Those then get merged in one female figure, who is Hannah, later on in the book of Samuel. And then Hannah sings a song as well, but Hannah also is positioned as Rachel, who is the heroic mother of Joseph, who ends up being a hero. Hannah ends up being the same ‘especially beloved’ and ‘mother of the important hero’ figure. But then both of those snowballs combine and they end up getting passed forward to Mary, of course. And that is why, historically in non-protestant world, Mary has been given great prestige, because she’s the pinnacle of the feminine hero snowball. So Mary, whose name literally is the same name as Miriam, she’s the new Miriam who sings a song at the great moment of liberation. So that’s what the Magnificat is. So there are these motifs of female protagonists getting snowballed forward. Which seeing these should very much question patriarchal views of the scriptures and at the same time, other than, like I just said, Esther as a type of messiah who saves the nation from genocide by rising to a surprising position of power within the empire—it’s Esther as Joseph, which is also as the Jesus story—other than Esther, all of the would-be messiahs are men. And again, that’s the same caveat, because, while they were willing to give certain women great esteem, they were not looking to elect a woman as their president, if you get what I mean. They weren’t ready for that. And so they were still looking to a man, a son, a boy child, to be the ruler, the king. So Esther is the queen, and that’s as close as we get. But the rest of it, you have female heroes but not female messiahs.
Nate: Okay, do you want to do a couple more questions here? And then we’ll wrap this up?
Tim: Sure. We could even split this in two.
Nate: I think we should. So maybe, if you’re listening to this, maybe you are in part two right now. You probably are.
Tim: [laughing] You just time-travelled.
Nate: Welcome to part two! [laughing] You knew you were in part two before we did! Okay, so neverstopstarting—I kind of like that—on Reddit. Question is: I’m happy to have come across this podcast. I’ve been catching up over the weekend listening to the gender series. Thank you! I’ve struggled for years with the tension between sharing the Bible in a way that people are more likely to accept and feeling a responsibility to speak out about harmful ideologies. For me it’s interwoven into my testimony. I can’t share what God has done in my life without talking about the terrible religious ideas that wrecked my life. Some topics quickly turn into a heated debate. A person learns to avoid those things! Those are precisely the issues that need to be discussed more often. How can that be done? It’s a question I’ve been wrestling with. People become limbic over these issues and there’s just no point in trying to reason with them. I appreciated you guys sort of gently pushing Tim Mackie about this. Do we have a responsibility to say and do more when so many people are being hurt by the misuse of Scripture? I also appreciate his work. I see the value in shifting the way people view the Bible and really just increasing biblical literacy.” So there’s kind of a question in there. How do we do that? How do we push people on these hurtful and harmful ideas that are derived from scripture? How do we do that well? And is that our responsibility? And he mentions in there the Tim Mackie episode. There were two of them, part one and part two, go back and listen to those for a little bit of context on this question. I mean, I obviously think this is our responsibility. That’s A. why I’m doing this show and 51 episodes in, and B. why I pushed Tim Mackie on that. It’s the Spiderman line, “With great power comes great responsibility.” If you have the ability to help people that are being hurt by bad interpretations of the Bible, and you know that’s not what that biblical writer was actually saying, and you know there’s some complex explanation that’s going on there, I think you do have the responsibility to say that. To help those people that are being hurt by that, and oftentimes potentially killing themselves over some of these ideas. So I obviously believe that. Tim, what do you think? I know what you think.
Tim: I mean, I think it’s the perpetual question. Honestly, I think it’s the question our entire nation is asking. How do we talk to people when the conversation seems to turn into a complete blow-up? Because there’s such vast chasms between many of us. And I think it’s a perpetual question because I don’t think there’s an answer. There are strategies. People like, to quote Science Mike again—not quote him, but reference him—there are people out there who do tons of work to see psychologically what brings people’s defense mechanisms down and how telling stories is what actually wins people over and how no one actually changes their mind based on facts, but you change your mind based on your emotions, and then you find facts to support what you want to believe, so that can form our approach. Okay, fine. All of those are helpful things to understand, helpful tools. But to me, when we’re talking ethics, it is rather simple. If you’re at Thanksgiving, and this is just the stereotypical, cliche example, if you’re at Thanksgiving and you have a racist uncle who says something racist, your ethical responsibility is to call out your uncle, even if it ruins the entire rest of Thanksgiving. It’s black and white. That is your ethical responsibility. Your family responsibilities or your social-relational responsibilities to others who may not want you to do that are going to be competing with your ethical responsibility, and it will be up to you to decide what you’re going to go with. And in my personal experience, I’ve just found ideology at this point doesn’t matter; strategy doesn’t matter. Honestly in my experience, and I’m young, I could learn otherwise, it’s personality. People who are resistant and scared of conflict will run away from conflict even when engaging in conflict is the right thing to do.
Nate: Okay, so Tim, I did this.
Tim: Which part?
Nate: Uh, the, I—er, I didn’t do this. This Christmas. The “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” debate came up.
Tim: Oh, yikes.
Nate: And it wasn’t even a debate. It was one person sharing their opinions. And I didn’t.
Tim: Complaining about how we’re all politically correct and that stuff?
Nate: Mostly that. And it got into some other stuff. But I didn’t speak up or say anything. You know, I guess I just don’t engage on some of that stuff because I don’t want the debate. I don’t want the, I don’t know. But then if they were talking about a group of people—which I guess they are. For anyone who’s been sexually abused or sexually assaulted, am I not defending or standing up for those people when I don’t say anything there? I don’t know. I’m confused.
Tim: I mean, two tools have helped me understand the great difference between me and many other people, which on my own personal journey has been important. The first is the Enneagram and the second was a Malcolm Gladwell podcast. If you’re into personality types, I just know, I’ve seen it first hand. Because it came up, I’ll go back to referencing the story of me getting fired and manipulated by my church. I’ll just say this: all the 1s and the 8s have an easier time ruffling feathers. These are the Reformers and the Protectors. They’re willing to jump into conflict. I had a lot of good friends who were 9s. Several of them agreed wholeheartedly with me, believed that what was happening to me was completely wrong and evil, and when it came time for them to be able to do anything about it, they completely shied away simply because they were scared to enter into a conflict. And they shared that with me later and apologized that they were too scared. So I just think we’re wired in very different ways. I am very different from you, Nate, and all of us as people are just very unique from one another. Enneagram is helpful because it points out patterns where you can understand yourself and understand others. I have spent time at hard points in life agonizing over this and not understand why more people wouldn’t stand up and take the hard choice. Stand up for me, stand up for others, stand up for marginalized people, etc. And it’s taken me a long time to realize that I have a much higher threshold for conflict than most people. And so that was the Malcolm Gladwell podcast. I just found it so fascinating. It was a story on Rick Barry, old white basketball player, who shot granny-style free throws. And the whole thing was, Rick Barry’s one of the best free throw shooters, statistically, of all time. And statistically, it is well-documented, proven, that people could add 5-10% better free throw shoot if they were to convert to granny-style understand free throws. Especially the bad free-throw shoots like Shaq or the big centers that shoot like 50%. So Rick Barry spent a long time with Shaquille O’Neal and others to go granny-style. And it just was this fascinating thing. Basically no one did it. Now Rick Barry’s son is the next one. It took an entire generation and someone who’s got some of the same personality, probably, as Rick Barry, to be willing to shoot granny-style just because it was so out of fashion, it was so frowned upon. And not masculine, not cool, to shoot underhanded. It just ended up being this exposé that Rick Barry is just off the charts when it comes to someone who not only is not conflict-avoidant but doesn’t even seem to mind conflict whatsoever. To the point where he wrote an autobiography and added to his autobiography uncensored some of the worst things that his wife and children had said about him. Like it didn’t even bother him to put [laughing] these scathing critiques about the kind of person he was in his own autobiography. No one does that! It was just someone who didn’t care at all what people think of him. And I think because of that, often was a jerk. He had a low sensitivity for how he was affecting other people, but also because of that was willing to do the thing that was completely uncool and would come with massive social ramifications. So in some ways I just realized that other scale, besides the Enneagram personality type, there is this scale of conflict-avoidance and how much the respect of society around us and the people around us drives our decisions. And we all fall somewhere on that spectrum. Nature, nurture, who knows? But I just know that regardless of your faith, your ideology, the things you believe in, when push comes to shove, what I’ve seen is that thing ends up deciding the kinds of actions you will take or not take as much as what you say you believe in. And that’s just weird, right? That I guess is another thing to just show that faith doesn’t solve all our problems, because I’ve seen a lot of people who believe beautiful things be scared to act on them. So all that to say, this is a long ways from the question, my view is that the ethics are black and white. Stand up for what is right, stand up for justice, call out when the things that people say or do or beliefs that people are promoting are toxic and hurtful and problematic. It is your ethical duty, responsibility, to call that out. I also know life isn’t that black and white and we don’t operate based on ethical black and whites. The things that actually determine our behavior are way more complicated than that. So I know I could do a podcast where every week we say, “Hey, it’s your duty to call out your racist uncle,” and nine out of ten people are going to go back to Thanksgiving and not call out their racist uncle. So in terms of what’s actually helpful, I don’t have any answers whatsoever.
Nate: [laughing] Okay, next question!
Nate: Okay, I’m going to stop this one right there. This was part two of your questions. In part three, the first question we respond to is, “Did the exodus really happen historically, and do we have to believe that it did?” So if you don’t want to miss that, make sure you click subscribe in your podcast app. And if this show has been helpful, maybe consider sending it to a friend that you think it could be helpful for as well. Okay, thanks for traveling along on this journey with us. Remember, you are not alone. We’re here with you, we’re here for you, and there are so many others on this journey as well. Catch you next time.