Written J.M. Bergman
“God can’t heal you from chronic pain because you’re cursed.”
I sat, stunned, across from a highly recommended counsellor at a church I once called home.
“Because you were sexually abused, the demons from your perpetrators live inside you,” he said in a matter of fact way. “So God has never been able to hear your prayers.”
I blushed bright as my mouth dropped open. How could he make such a claim? I should have stood up and walked away. But out of sheer desperation after trying seemingly everything else, I stayed and I allowed him to prayerfully command the “demons” to leave my body—just in case he might be right.
That was ten years ago.
Since then, I feel I’ve heard all the other well-intentioned and even Bible-cited reasons why healing hasn’t come. Unconfessed sin, lack of faith, not fasting, not praying out loud, praying in tongues, not praying in tongues, using the wrong prayer language, and asking the wrong people to pray for me.
What was I doing wrong?
Did Jesus fall into one of these camps of prayer negligence when His request for “the cup of suffering” (the pain of the crucifixion) to be taken away from Him was denied? I’m being facetious of course—He more than any human knew how to pray. But God said no.
The obvious argument here is that God ordained Jesus’ suffering to play out like it did to spell out our salvation story. Can the same be said when a child loses their battle with cancer? Could God really ordain that kind of pain?
Before we look at this question, let’s first rethink the theories that suggest unanswered prayer is a result of human error. An article in Premier Christianity states, “It’s an easy cop out to throw out a Bible verse or some sort of loosely thought through theory into a situation that is incredibly complex and incredibly sad.”
As well-intentioned as they may be, these dime-a-dozen sentiments move the responsibility back to the person asking for healing. Better said: It’s your fault. Or in my case, “You were abused, and that’s sad. But the onus still lies with you.”
The onus of broken spirituality lies with humanity. With all of us.
Christians know this, and to toss these statements around like spiritual intellect only known by a select few is like slapping someone in the face. A pastor’s wife who was aware of my situation and had prayed for me in the past once said to me, “You’re not better because you must still have hidden sins that you aren’t confessing.” Then she moved past me to the next person requesting prayer.
I heard: You’re wasting my time.
My husband and I stopped attending church shortly after this. It wasn’t that we held a grudge against the church—it was more because Jesus’ love didn’t make sense in this context. When leadership becomes uncomfortable with your situation to the point of bypassing a chance to share love—well, that’s just not a community we need to be part of. Especially when shame and disappointment already cover nearly every other area of life.
I do work at confessing my sins (both present ones and those previously forgotten), and I do believe this practice renews my spirituality and brings me closer to God (even if healing has not taken place in His presence yet).
But I have also experienced renewal in my mind and body from working through past pain and forgiving those involved in causing it. Others who have experienced trauma and worked through it or are working through it with a professional may understand this.
I initially pursued Christian counselling, but was sent away with similar responses to the ones I mentioned above. These counsellors made me feel like I didn’t have enough faith that simply believing in God’s love could cure the pain trauma had caused.
My healing really started about a year and a half ago when I spoke to local police and an investigation was opened. Through this process, I was connected to appropriate counselling services that have served me well by examining and addressing the psychological pain.
I listened to a short speech recently by former football player Inky Johnson who, just games away from joining the NFL, suffered a career-ending injury leaving his right arm paralyzed. He says, “In life, people don’t need you to preach a sermon, they need you to live one.”
Words are hollow. Regardless of whether they speak the truth or not. Real faith lives unconditional love, even when it hurts.
Real love stays by your side saying, I don’t understand this either, but I’m not letting you go through this alone. And a real sister or brother in Christ never stops praying, even when God says no.
Rather than blaming our lasting pain on whatever reason seems true at the time, what if we adjusted the definition of our situations to something more like: Maybe through my journey with this pain my friends and family will witness godly strength in my faith. Maybe my focus on eternity with Jesus in a pain-free body may help those around me to develop an eternal perspective too.
So, what are some potentially more character-building and loving ways to use Scripture in conversations involving pain and unanswered prayers?
Humility, vulnerability and companionship
Admitting that we don’t know the answers, despite what the Bible verses say, can be a relief when everyone else fumbles to explain away our pain. Perhaps we can offer to study a portion of Scripture together, to fast, pray, and dedicate our hearts together to wait for God to speak. Answers may come or they may not, but what is most important is going deeper as a community.
How can you engage in healthy conversations to reach out and ask what is needed or desired by those who continue to suffer? Speaking as someone who understands, even having a coffee dropped off spontaneously or receiving a text that says “You still matter” goes a long way. Stopping by to visit, dropping off meals (even to couples or families where only one person is sick), or offering a helpful hand around the house can also go a long way. I can’t stress that last one enough. When you’re stuck inside and don’t have the ability to keep up with daily tasks, any home can become very uncomfortable and depressing fast.
Though physical and emotional pain may continue in Christians’ lives, their hearts are still fertile soil. Someone living in constant fatigue or pain may be angry often, and that would be understandable. However, if this same person receives the right spiritual support, their attitude may shift to one of trust and potentially even peace. This will not be what friends, family, or medical staff will expect, and perhaps the Lord can nurture seeds of wonder and faith in these relationships.
Should we keep asking God for healing? Absolutely. While I can’t speak for God’s action or inaction in relation to my own healing, I know that He is the ultimate source of love and of all real hope. If sojourning on in this life, in this way, is what He has planned to bring Him glory (even if I don’t ever understand it) then may I do it boldly.
God is good. Regardless of whether healing comes in this life or the next, I am thankful to be on His team. Even if His response to my requests continues to be: Not yet.
J.M. Bergman is an internationally-read author and creative content writer who has also worked in editing. She has published two novels and has written for a number of Christian magazines on topics such as trauma, grief, recovery, and wellness. Her upcoming release, a poetry collection dialoguing her journey from chronic pain to identity, will be available soon. J.M. lives in Manitoba with her husband and their exceptionally cute black lab.