Monday, February 23, 2009

Muaythai Aftermath and Two Cents on Sickness and Sin, and Prayer in James 5

The day after national fencing competitions, we used to wake with a start at 2pm on Sunday, after a night out at the local with the other uni teams and a long dangerous early morning drive back to campus bumping along unlit backroads in the Hungarian's Hungarian "it brought me to England from Hungary, it will bring us across this country!" car, and start craving salty food. Badly.
rye crispbread knäckebröd, salmon paste
As further evidence of the coral pinkness of my health, a similar situation arose after a single evening of muaythai where it was revealed that my punches were embarrassingly limpwristed, my stance had reverted to the fencing crab-crawl and my sprained right thumb was really sprained. Fortunately there was rye crispbread knäckebröd, salmon paste, smoked salmon and dill to be assembled with one hand into something saltily edible with the minimal agitation to the grumbly body. Bork bork bork!*
rye crispbread knäckebröd, salmon paste, smoked salmon and dill
If the body had been really sick though, in a serious bedridden sort of way, and this had been advertised on the Facebook status, then its person would have been inundated with well-meaning confident James 5:14-15 self-invites: "We'll bring some elders and a bit of oil!"

But if the elders and oil gig didn't turn the ship around, then caring Charismatic friends might have a quiet word about defectiveness in the faith of the sick person (cf James 1:6-8), defectiveness of the prayer or, perhaps, even defectiveness in the faith of the one praying (cf James 5:15). Catholic friends might recommend auricular confession (confession of sins through a priest) and then, when the end seemed near, extreme unction (last rites where a priest anoints and prayers with a specific form of words over someone who is dying). Evangelical friends would merely comment on sickness being part of the fallen world and a consequence of the general sinfulness of mankind and then ask for a list of songs for the wake.

If James thus far has been warning Christians of their double-mindedness in different circumstances then we can assume he continues to do so in this passage.

Experience within the church body will demonstrate that affliction and suffering (James 5:13a) can and does draw us away from God. So James' exhortation is that if suffering and affliction come to us, we should turn to God (James 5:13a) rather than turn away from him. Do not use this as an opportunity to slip away from him in despair.

Experience within the church body will also demonstrate that if all is going well and the Christian is successful not only in his personal life and career but also in church life and spiritual life, he too can be tempted to turned away from God, too confident that it is his self-made abilities and opportunities that brought him thus far and that his successes are his alone as well. To these, James reminds them to draw near to God too, in praise (James 5:13b) for their happiness.

Sickness is one of the chief things that draws us away from God. Too often, we are wrapped-up self-pity and caught up in the downward spiral of depression when we are in pain and uncomfortable and useless and a burden to those around us. (And if sin is cause of sickness, then God will seem very far away indeed.)

So whatever the circumstance in life, if we claim we believe in God, then we are not to be double-minded and not to wander from our professed confession of the reality of God and his truth.

If we are sick then, we should consider our illness in the light of God's word. The connection between sickness and sin is not necessarily causal. Some sickness is just a matter of not following the natural laws God set in the structure of the universe, for example, boxing with an injured finger is most likely to further injure the said finger. And besides, Jesus explicitly disabused his disciples of the legalistic notion of causality in the narrative of the man born blind in John 9:
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..."
At the same time, there have also been biblical circumstances in which sickness and sin have been declared to be interlinked, for example, the situation in 1 Corinthians 11:17-33 where some brothers were weak and ill and had even died because of their sin.

Interestingly enough, the Corinthian situation was similar to the one in James, featuring inner doublemindedness exposed in the disgraceful lack of love and ill-treatment of each other within the church body. So it is possible that James the apostle, having some direct revelation from God, knew that this was the reason for sickness in this congregation.

James' chosen reference to Elijah the More Than Weatherman (James 5:17-18) is also interesting. Instead of plugging the spot-on short sweet example of Elijah Raises Widow's Son From The Dead (1 Kings 17:8-24) which would fit in nicely with the current situation, James instead uses the rather long drought narrative in the wider 1 Kings 17-18 chapters. The point of the Elijah narrative appears to hinge on 1 Kings 18:21 where Elijah asks Israel, God's chosen people,""How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." Perhaps then James 5:13-20 is not so much about the cause of sickness or the power of prayer as what James has been banging on about all this while: if God is God, then follow him and obey his commands, exude heavenly wisdom rather than the earthly wisdom that comes from this world and from the devil (James 3:13-4:17).

God is passionately concerned with the way we relate to one another. If we treat each other badly, it is a very serious matter and we come under judgement. A person who falls ill in that situation is encouraged to consider his possible sinfulness.**

What a different culture James is urging upon his audience who were mired in pride, self-confidence, self-righteousness, partiality, judgementalism, oppression and bullying, grumbling against each other, speaking badly against each other and using their tongues in all sorts of disgusting ways. Instead they are to humble themselves both before God and before other men, acknowledging before both God and men that they were unable to do this or that thing or to heal themselves. And they were to entrust each other with confessions of sins (a public health campaign), and to love and care for one another and to pray for each other! A most gut-wrenchingly ego-deflatingly difficult thing to do if they were entrenched in seething disagreements and barely-disguised hatred for each other.

But if they knew that God was God and how serious he was about relationships within the body that his holy law included the law of neighbourly love, then they must change or continue to sin and face judgement (both current sickness and final condemnation).

This possibly then fits in with James 5:19-20 where the salvation of the sinner is a reference back to salvation of the sick person.

*safer than having the Swedish Chef cook. From Seasame Street, we learnt that live ingredients were dangerous things - like the roast toorkey, roast peegy, toortle with a souped up-shell, strangling spaghetti, deadly dough, squirrels in a stew about squirrel stew and lobster banditos.

Ah but the wonders of food preparation assisted by a shotgun - like getting the holes in your donuts and getting your salad chopped and your brussel sprouts minimised and multiplied.

And then the chocolate moose! And the cakenschmoosher - hiyak!

**Efficacy of prayers? (1) When you are sick, you most often can't pray, so you humbly ask people to bear this burden. (2) When two or more gathered, there is the promised manifestation of the power of God. (3) One of the marks of immaturity in young Christians is arrogance. Perhaps elders being hopefully more mature would have better helped to put situation right especially where the cause was sin. (4) Prayer of faith (James 5:15): Dick Lucas thinks this is something specific - special power in prayer given to some Christians where they know the answer is yes. Andy Gemmill thinks it is prayers prayed for other people that God wants to hear, that is prayers of the faithful who are after God's heart rather than prayers of the doubleminded who are after their own selfish desires, wanting to spend on their own passions. Douglas Moo notes that "in the name of the Lord" doesn't mean just appending it to the end of the prayer but that the content of the prayer is to be according to the will of the Lord. So Elijah, a common sinful person, demonstrated great power in prayer because he prayed in this way.

So is all proper faithful prayer for healing efficacious? Moo says that if prayer in fact recognises the overruling providential purposes of God, then a prayer for healing must usually be qualified by a recognition that God's will in the matter is supreme. It is clear in the NT that God does not always will to heal the faithful. Infact, Paul's own prayer for his healing was not answered (2 Corinthians 12:7-9) and the thorn in the flesh remained. Also, Paul mentioned that he left Trophimus sick in Miletus in Titus 3:20.

Anointing with oil probably not medicinal but rather anointing as consecretion to God.

Saving or raising up (James 5:15) is probably with reference to the sick bed. If this is a situation where sin is connected with sickness - if the person is convicted of sin, repents and confesses, they will know that when they are healed they have also been forgiven.

James

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