I have to say that this is not my sort of book at all. Gloria Copeland, and her husband Kenneth, are prosperity gospel teachers. That is to say, they are charismatics who believe that God wants all believers to be healthy and wealthy – that both health and money are our right as Christians and that if we are poor or sick, we lack faith. They say that we should have no doubt about our victory over Satan, and his schemes to make us poor and ill, and that doubt – even saying “Your will be done” to God – will render our prayer null and void.
This 72-page booklet outlines Gloria Copeland’s view on healing. It is written in an odd way, I wonder perhaps if it started off as a talk, rather than being a piece of writing. She repeats her points several times – rather the way that The Sun newspaper does, as though you are too stupid to understand the first time! That is by-the-by.
She addresses several issues. She starts with the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) Traditionally this has been taken to be some sort of sickness or disease, perhaps an eye problem. Copeland is apparently one who dislikes tradition – I am not saying that something is right because it is a long-held belief, but she gives the impression of someone who would reject something just because it is a long held belief! She teaches that Paul’s “thorn” was Satan stirring up his listeners to attack the apostles, such as in Acts 14:5-6; 19-20. This is a plausible explanation – given that Numbers 33:55 describes the former inhabitants of Canaan as being “thorns in your sides.” However there is a reason why many Christians believe Paul’s “thorn” to be a physical or mental illness and that is that physical illness is described as being the power of the devil, for example in Luke 13:16 and Acts 10:38. Paul is also described, in Galatians, as having an illness: “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn.” (Galatians 4:13-14a)
Copeland teaches that the reason Paul was not relieved by God of his suffering was because he should not have asked God but driven the devil away himself. She says that heaven guarantees we will be able to resist the devil – but God will not help us. This hinges on the ability to use the name of Jesus as a sort of magical formula to guarantee success in spiritual matters. I say “magical formula” because if you read actual magical formulas written in a time when everyone was Christian, you will find that they invoke the name of Jesus, and Yahweh, as words of power to achieve whatever result they were after.
There are many conditions to receiving healing – perhaps this is why complete, final healing is so hard to find – Copeland writes: “Believing in healing is not enough. You must know that it is God’s will for you to be healed.” (p21 emphasis in original) She then goes into detail about the parable of the sower (Mark 4:14ff). She suggests that Satan will take the Word from our hearts through “doubt, unbelief and tradition” (p23) and that he will make us sick to cause that doubt.
She talks about the origin of sickness – placing this at the Fall. This is something I agree with. Adam’s sin caused the fall not just of man, but of the world, and is the origin of the non-perfection of this world, including sickness, disease and natural disasters. I do not believe God wanted this to happen, but that this is a natural consequence of our forefather’s (and foremother’s) rebellion.
Copeland talks about the Great Commission of Mark 16:17-18 which includes that the sign of healing will follow them that believe, and applies that to all believers today. However others interpret this differently, including John MacArthur who teaches that this particular sign applied to the 12 apostles, who were the only ones addressed, and also to the Seventy, in Luke 10, who were given power over the enemy, and also to the few men of the early church who are described as having the gift to heal. He argues that, because we know that sickness happened in the early church and was not healed – for example Paul, who did heal elsewhere, left Trophimus sick in Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20) – that the Bible does not claim healing as a power for all Christians to use and claim for themselves. For more on that see John MacArthur’s book “Charismatic Chaos” or his website.
She talks about Jesus healing all who came to him, unconditionally. This is, of course, true – however we can see the results in our own day where faith healers do not do this. She claims Christians today can heal anyone of anything – but as MacArthur says, when do you see charismatics going around hospital wards instantaneously healing everyone within? When do you see them stopping funeral processions and raising to life the deceased? Why do you see them wearing glasses? Why have faith healers died young of treatable diseases? Why doesn’t the reality match up to the rhetoric?
She argues that God can heal everyone but has bound himself by his covenant so that he will only heal those who believe they are healed. She says that if we wish to be healed we must listen to the Word, read it, and ignore anything which tells us we are not healed. She says “The symptoms of sickness may continue to linger after you believe you receive. This is the time that you must hold fast to a fearless confession of the Word.” (p70-1) She says that we make a choice whether to be sick or whether to be well, and that it is up to use to decide to be well.
To be honest, this sort of book really, really irritates me. As someone with several life-long conditions, I resent the implication that, really, I am choosing to be sick. I am not at fault for my illness, and neither are you. I worry about the implications for believers who choose not to go to see a medical doctor, even though the Bible is supportive of medical doctors. For example in Isaiah 38 God instructs Hezekiah to use a poultice, a medical treatment, and we know that Jesus talked about the sick needing a doctor in Matthew 9:12. There have been far too many cases of people who believed they were healed by faith dying unnecessarily of their illnesses.
I also disagree with the manipulation of God that this sort of approach attempts. It is up to God to decide who will be healed and who will not – not us. I do not believe that God has promised healing to all on this earth, not all Christians and not all everybody either. In this life there is sickness, pain and suffering, but we do know that all will be healed in the end. From reading the Bible I do not see this wonderful no-sickness promise. I see, both in the Old and New Testaments, people who suffered both persecution and sickness, and who glorified God in everything. I see some who were healed, and I see some who were not. To read what the New Testament says about suffering is to have a different understanding of its purpose. The Bible talks about suffering producing character, about our sharing in Christ’s sufferings, and about God being glorified in our weakness. It does not teach us to condemn those who are ill with casual instructions to have more faith and resisting Satan.
Teachers like this are a menace. They fail to do what they say you do (James Randi the atheist sceptic, tried to find one documented case of miraculous healing and failed to find any. Although he did find a fair bit of fakery.) They lead to the condemnation of those who “stubbornly refuse” to get well, that condemnation of us as sinners, lesser Christians or Satan-led that many mentally ill people have faced. They lead, in the end, to people rejecting Christianity entirely because they mix the message of Christ up with the self-serving ideas of prosperity gospel followers who seem to be in it more for money and fame than for Christ.
I have some links that may be of interest, one to a sceptical take on the Copelands called The Harmful Teachings of Kenneth and Gloria Copeland and to a sermon on John MacArthur’s site called Does God Still Heal? which is very good. For balance, the Copelands’ website is http://www.kcm.org/
- Charismatic Chaos: Sermon 12 – “Does God promise Health and Wealth? (Part 1)” (revivalandreformation.wordpress.com)