The devil, bad pizza, and Todd Bentley's healings

Brian Fulthorp writes an interesting post on spiritual warfare, a follow-up to an earlier post.

What he says is mostly very sensible and important. But there is one issue that I would like to take up. He writes:

We don’t want to confuse coincidence with causation – sometimes it really was the bad pizza from last night and not always a Spiritual attack.

He goes on to talk about Paul Hiebert’s “flaw of the excluded middle.” But it seems to me that his own thinking is characterised by a version of this flaw. For he seems to believe that a bad stomach, like the one his wife suffered on Sunday night, has one of two causes: either it is a spiritual attack from “the devil and his cohorts”, or it has a physical explanation such as a bad pizza.

But this is a false dualism. The problem seems to be that in Hiebert’s worldview, at least as I see it summarised in this short article which Brian linked to, the two separate tiers of a typical western worldview have been replaced by three separate tiers. And by implication any one action must originate in just one of these tiers. So, to the physical explanations and the transcendent divine explanations accepted by typical western theists, Hiebert seems to add a third separate explanation related to spirit beings in this world.

Now I believe Hiebert, and Brian, are right about the reality of this intermediate spiritual world. But it seems that they separate it from the other worlds, and if so they go wrong here. A better picture would be of this intermediate world as the filling which links together the otherwise separate world into a united whole.

An implication of this for me is that it is wrong to say that any event has a cause just in one of the three domains. So, I would say, Brian’s wife’s bad stomach had a physical cause, perhaps a bad pizza, but it also had a cause in the spiritual world, the devil or one of his minions attacking her. And it also had a cause in the divine realm in that God only allows such things for a good purpose.

So I don’t accept Brian’s apparent dualism. I would say that every bad stomach has a physical cause. I don’t think I believe that the devil can affect stomachs directly apart some physical means. I would also say that every bad stomach has a spiritual cause in that such bad things are always indicative of the activity of personalised evil. Also everything is subject to God’s sovereignty and only happens because he wills it. In other words, every event has causes in all three realms.

I would apply this principle also to good things that happen, like healings. Here we come back to the discussion of what Todd Bentley is doing. I would hold that healings like those reported at Lakeland, Florida are ultimately caused by God. I would suggest that in them there is some kind of agency of good spiritual forces such as angels – and this would partly justify Todd’s interest in angels. And I would also say that there is some kind of physical cause of each healing.

So, I would expect that when someone who has been healed at Lakeland presents themselves to a doctor, the doctor will generally find some medical explanation of the unexpected cure, some unusual coincidence of factors which has allowed a complete recovery. This may be one reason for the scarcity of medical attestations of healing. Even the girl who was raised from the dead on the third day was probably, according to the doctors, wrongly declared dead and in fact just in a deep coma. But does this invalidate these things as miracles? No, because God who is in control of all things is able to bring together the medical factors to bring about the healing at just the time he wants to. If he chooses to do so at just the time that Todd declares someone healed, then he is being faithful to his promise to do anything his faithful people ask (John 16:23-24).

Now I don’t claim that absolutely everything that happens has a physical explanation according to the ordinary laws of physics. The resurrection of Jesus, which was not just the healing of someone who looked dead but was not, is a clear example of an event with no normal physical explanation. And the final resurrection of our bodies will also be such events. I suspect that this happens rather rarely. Maybe it happens in some unusual healings, what Todd Bentley and others call creative miracles such as regrowing of limbs – but see this story about how even this can have a physical explanation. I really don’t know how common such miracles are in the world today. But when they do happen they are a sign of something extraordinary, the new world breaking into the old. There is a lot more to explain there, but I won’t try to tonight.

So let’s avoid unnecessary compartmentalising of events, good or bad. Let’s avoid overblown claims that every healing involves a complete suspension of the laws of physics, rather than what the world might describe as a lucky coincidence. Let’s also avoid the scepticism which denies any healings, which so often comes from a worldview which does not allow for the suspension of the laws of physics. Let’s instead glorify God for the wonderful things which he is doing, even when he is using physical processes to do so.

0 thoughts on “The devil, bad pizza, and Todd Bentley's healings

  1. Pingback: Pruning the vine, vertigo and the powers of this dark world « He is Sufficient

  2. Peter you said

    “I would also say that every bad stomach has a spiritual cause in that such bad things are always indicative of the activity of personalised evil.”

    So how would you relate that to Timothy’s stomach problems for which Paul suggests adding a little wine to his water. No mention of spiritual attack, just a simple solution to a simple problem.

  3. Peter

    You wrote:

    “So, I would expect that when someone who has been healed at Lakeland presents themselves to a doctor, the doctor will generally find some medical explanation of the unexpected cure, some unusual coincidence of factors which has allowed a complete recovery. This may be one reason for the scarcity of medical attestations of healing. Even the girl who was raised from the dead on the third day was probably, according to the doctors, wrongly declared dead and in fact just in a deep coma. But does this invalidate these things as miracles? No, because God who is in control of all things is able to bring together the medical factors to bring about the healing at just the time he wants to. If he chooses to do so at just the time that Todd declares someone healed, then he is being faithful to his promise to do anything his faithful people ask (John 16:23-24).”

    This seems like aa cop out. How can we be sure something supernatural has gone on that can be defined as a miracle? Surely the idea of a miracle is that physical laws are not being followed because God has broken through those? Otherwise everytime someone gets better it is a miracle, when it is actually just the laws God has kept in a fallen world in His mercy.

    “Let’s avoid overblown claims that every healing involves a complete suspension of the laws of physics, rather than what the world might describe as a lucky coincidence”

    your hyperbole aside, a miracle is a suspensionof the laws of this world – otherwise how is it a miracle?

    “Let’s instead glorify God for the wonderful things which he is doing, even when he is using physical processes to do so.”

    Absolutely, but why call it a miracle – surely that is in a different category?

    “I would also say that every bad stomach has a spiritual cause in that such bad things are always indicative of the activity of personalised evil. Also everything is subject to God’s sovereignty and only happens because he wills it. In other words, every event has causes in all three realms.”

    Nonsense. We live in a fallen world with sickness – stuff just makes us ill – that is it. No ‘supernatual’ causes there. If I eat a bad piece of meat, catch c-dif, or something it is just part of the fallen world we live in.

  4. Ian, I agree with the last part and think that was what I was trying to say – yet there are times when an ailment may be a spiritual attack – how do we know the difference? Pray and ask God. The timing, and or circumstance are also key as well. Spiritual warfare and opposition to the gospel are real.

  5. Pingback: still yet more on spiritual warfare « συνεσταυρωμαι: living the crucified life

  6. The little girl…her name was Jaden.

    She died.

    Bentley said she died was because ‘a new age lady went in and prayed for her.’

    He got a week’s worth of attention out of that story.
    Charisma magazine had to print a clarification.(May 22th)

    Did Jaden even exist?

    All the Lakeland audience saw was Bentley supposedly on the phone to her father ‘Chuck’ who was supposedly at her bedside after she was supposedly completely healed.

  7. I’ve been a bit quiet over the past few days as I’ve een praying and seeking the Lord about what’s happening in Lakeland.

    At the present time, I just want to mention two things:

    Firstly, a Pentecostal pastor called Larry Reed, who Todd Bentley proclaimed to be healed of cancer on May 18, died from the same disease on May 27. Type Todd Bentley Larry Reed into Google to get lots of pages reporting this.

    Secondly, I’ve come to the opinion that the vast majority (possibly all) of the healings claimed by Bentley (and many others) are false and have a simple explanation. When people become emotionally aroused, as happens at Lakeland, it can trigger the release of endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers and have similiar effects to drugs like heroin – they produce pain relief and a sense of well-being. It’s the same feeling you get after working out at a gym. So people conclude that their pain has gone away and they have been “healed”, whereas in reality the underlying pathology is unchanged and things will be back to normal in a short time. This short term symptomatic relief is not miraculous divine healing.

  8. Glenn, I don’t say that every minor sickness has a purely spiritual remedy. I uphold good medical advice, whether from Paul or from a modern doctor. God can and does bring healing through medicine. That does not negate forces of evil being a cause of the sickness.

    Ian, you asked:

    How can we be sure something supernatural has gone on that can be defined as a miracle?

    The answer is simple: we cannot be sure. We have to take it by faith that if we ask God to do something and it happens, it is him at work, not just a coincidence – even if there is a physical explanation. But it is perhaps right that our faith is mixed with a little uncertainty, for the certain object of our faith should not be healings but God himself.

    Meanwhile on your definition of miracles they seem to be very rare, whereas people getting better after prayer but in medically explainable ways is quite common. Can the latter never be a sign of God at work? Can God never bring about what might be seen as a lucky coincidence? I would say rather that that is how he usually works in the world. Perhaps you are right that we shouldn’t call such things miracles.

    Then are you saying that there is no spiritual cause to the fact the world is fallen and so full of evil? What do you make of Genesis 3? Is the Fall not the result of Satan’s activity and God’s judgment?

    Brian, you ask:

    yet there are times when an ailment may be a spiritual attack – how do we know the difference?

    Just to clarify, I don’t think there is a difference.

    Bene, are you referring to this Charisma Magazine article? The relevant section is as follows:

    Hundreds are claiming healing from various ailments, including deafness, cancer, tumors and paralysis. There are also unconfirmed reports of the dead coming back to life.

    One of the cases involves a 3-year-old girl, dead for two days, who allegedly woke up and coughed as she was being wheeled into a room to have her organs harvested, Strader said. The hospital denied the report.

    It would be interesting to read exactly what the hospital said, but I would not be at all surprised if it was something like “The girl was not actually dead, she was just in a deep coma and had been wrongly declared dead” – just as I said above.

    CharismaticSceptic, you may be right that endorphins play a part in divine healing. That is obviously a part of how God has designed the human body for healing. Todd also teaches that if people don’t hold on to their healing they may lose it. I don’t know what happened to the pastor who died of cancer – except that presumably he has now received the even greater healing of being with the Lord in glory. No one is saying that God gives perfect and permanent healing for all through Todd’s ministry. But if some are healed even temporarily, isn’t that a sign of God at work and something to praise him for?

  9. Peter

    When the bible talks of supernatural healing, I don’t think it is talking about medically explainable events. The truth is, these happen if someone prays or not, and I’m not sure any study has been done to suggest they happen more when people pray. Even if they did, that isn’t what the bible was talking about.

    I don’t get your reference to Genesis 3. Of course the fall had supernatural elements – but a miracle is something that happens outside of the laws we live under in this world. A world of sickness, sometimes getting better, sometimes dying, medicine etc.

  10. Well, Ian, actually I saw a recent study confirming that people being prayed for did on average recover more quickly, in medical explained ways, than those who did not. I agree that that is not the whole of what the Bible is talking about in terms of healing, but surely it is better than nothing.

    My point about the Fall is simple. I said that sickness etc had spiritual causes. You said that they were the result of the Fall. I said that the Fall had a spiritual cause, and that implies that the sicknesses etc which result from it have a spiritual cause.

  11. Peter, you really don’t seem to get it. An endorphin high is in the same category as a couple of paracetamol, and would you call that healing? And where in the Bible does anyone lose their healing? This is a false teaching from the word of faith movement. I think the catholics once set three criteria for healing miracles – they have to be be instantaneous, total, and permanent. We’d do well to take these to heart.

    As I said, there is a simple explanation for the short-term relief experienced by people at Bentley’s meetings. But it’s nothing to do with God being at work and is not healing.

  12. CharismaticSceptic, it is an old debating tactic to set up a definition which you know can’t be met and then define that as the standard which must be met. I do not accept your definition that a healing must be “instantaneous, total, and permanent” to be a real healing. (Here I deliberately avoid the word “miracle”.) After all, by that standard not all of Jesus’ healings were healings. Remember the blind man who at first saw trees walking? Neither instantaneous nor at first total. As for “permanent”, only the resurrection of Jesus was that, as all the others he healed later died.

    I agree that losing one’s healing is not a clear biblical principle, but see John 5:14 and Matthew 12:45 for suggestions that those who are healed but continue to sin may end up in an even worse state than before the healing.

    Is it really not healing to do away with the need for paracetamol? Yesterday I prayed for someone with a headache, who was looking for a paracetamol but couldn’t find one. His headache left immediately. Coincidence? Surely not. The effect of endorphins? Perhaps. Healing? I don’t claim to have performed a great miracle, but this did have a real positive effect on someone’s life. To be sniffed at? No!

    But I was thinking that endorphins may interact with other healing factors in the body to produce a lasting effect. It is well known that many diseases respond, in poorly understood ways, to the psychological state of the patient. If all I do in healing someone is give them a temporary high and a positive attitude, and as a result of this they get better when they might otherwise have got worse, is that not a good thing to do? Not miraculous healing, maybe, but worthwhile so I will continue to do it.

  13. We prayed for my friends leg a while back. He had a lot of pain and struggled walking around. Very soon after, the pain spread to the other leg too.

    An encouraging testimony, no?!

    The reason I mention this is because things don’t always turn out the way we would expect. I’ve known people praying for sick people who have died not long after – is that healing? Not as we might want it, but since when do we hold the monopoly on God’s timing and perfect will?

    I myself have been deaf in my left ear for 26 years, and have received enough prayer to sink a battleship over the years by family, friends, church leaders and people with gifts of healing. I remain, currently, deaf. Do I doubt healing, or God’s power. No, I’m not that daft. But I acknowledge that so often God has another plan in motion that I’m not (yet?) aware of.

    I don’t understand how ‘healing’ works, and I’m sure not going to try to define it (plaiting fog would be easier) but I do know that the Kingdom of God is borne by, amongst other things, healings.

  14. Thanks, Jamie. It is good to be realistic about healing, that it doesn’t always happen. It’s no ones’ fault when it doesn’t, but God knows better than we do what is happening and what is the best thing in the situation. Nevertheless we should press on.

  15. // I don’t know what happened to the pastor who died of cancer – except that presumably he has now received the even greater healing of being with the Lord in glory. No one is saying that God gives perfect and permanent healing for all through Todd’s ministry. //

    Oh… please. When will you people give up the fairy tales and join the rest of us here in the real world?

    The promises in John and James simply do ‘not’ hold water – period. Stop rationalizing this fact away and simply deal with the errant theology and try to love your neighbor. Pretty simple really.

    Trent

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