A while back, I came across a tremendously distressing story:
A mother and father who prayed instead of seeking medical help as their daughter died have lost an appeal against their convictions for homicide.
The decision marks the first time a Wisconsin court has addressed criminal culpability in a prayer-treatment case where a child died.
The court ruled 6-1 that the state’s immunity provisions for prayer-treatment parents protect them from child abuse charges but nothing else, opening the door to a host of other counts. (Praying Parents Who Let Child Die Lose Appeal)
When I read this article, I assume that these parents loved their daughter very dearly and earnestly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Why then would God allow their daughter to die? As any parent will surely attest, no person could have greater faith than the person who prays to the Lord for healing for their daughter and does not “weaken” and take her to the doctor even when the child nears death. Why then did God allow the child to die? Is God’s inaction in this case proof that God does not exist and that our prayers are in vain?
Now any attempt to address this situation is going to appear tremendously callous. A child is dead and two parents are in prison for murder. The pain of this situation is enormous and I grieve to contemplate it. Nevertheless, I think it is important for us to understand the theological errors that have been made in this case in order to root them out of the church.
Let us make an analogy to see the problem with relying on God for healing as these parents have done. Let us imagine that I was lying in bed and I said to God, “God I believe by faith that you are going to bring me something to drink right now. Just as you provided manna from heaven and fed the five thousand with a few loaves and a few fish and gave water to the Israelites when Moses struck the rock in the desert, I have faith to believe that you are going to bring me a snack right now!” Would this work?
I believe that if you tried that experiment, you would not see any results of your “faith”. Why? The scripture is clear that “Thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the test.” (Matthew 4:7) Since God has given you the ability to work and go to the store and buy food and drink, He is not going to provide for you a snack while you are lying on your bed just because you want one. He has already provided for that need and asking him to give you a miraculous provision is testing God to strengthen your faith. That this is clearly a sin is demonstrated by the fact that Satan tempted Jesus Christ in just this same manner
“If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.'” (Matthew 4:6)
It is my strong conviction that we as human beings are to do everything that is in our power and pray that God will be with us to do the parts that we cannot do. Consider the following verse:
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)
The picture of the farmer is an important one because it illustrates how God meets the needs of believers. Yes, God has created manna and multiplied bread and fish miraculously in the past, but the commonplace way that he provides for the nutritional needs of believers is through farming. How does a farmer go about growing food? First, he carefully prepares the field by removing stumps and rocks. Next, he laboriously turns the soil and plants the seed. He then tends the crop by watering and protecting against weeds and pests. Finally, after God does the part that only God can do, the farmer reaps what he has sown. The food that is produced is produced as a partnership of faith. The picture that is painted in this verse, therefore, is that we do all that we possibly can and then trust in God to make our efforts successful.
Now some might argue that the above verse is talking about the conversion of people to Christ and not the healing of our physical bodies. But if God wants us to do our part in spiritual matters which are almost entirely beyond our understanding and control, how much more does he want us to do our part in physical things like providing food for ourselves and healing our physical bodies? The following verses suggest that God wants us to do everything that is in our power as we pray to him:
May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us– yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17)
Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. (1 Timothy 5:23)
We started this essay with the discussion of a terrible tragedy that occurred when two parents refused to take their child to seek professional medical help. Had the parents in this case had a correct understanding of God’s will, they would have taken their daughter to the doctor and prayed for her deliverance. If they had done so, I am confident that Christians would have yet another miracle story to use to witness to those who do not believe. “The doctors said there was no hope, but the church was praying and, praise the Lord! She was healed completely!” Instead they applied a poor theological understanding and we are left with an absolutely tragic result. If you test God by jumping off of the highest building in a city relying on God to protect you, your body will end up broken on the street.