As He passed by, He saw a man blind from his birth. And His disciples asked Him “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.”
John 9: 1-3
The universe is made up of an infinite number of particles. Some of those particles are positive. Some are negative. Each of us puts both positive and negative things into the universe through our actions, words, and even thoughts. There are lots of mysteries to the universe though. Some questions I’ve always had include: Why does God make a miracle in certain instances but not in others? A miracle, in my understanding, is when God suspends the laws of nature and something extraordinary (out of the ordinary) happens. For instance, the law of physics says that if I swing my arm in close proximity to someone else’s head, I will hit them and hurt them. If God stops my hand, that is a miracle. If God stops me every time I try to do something wrong, then He’s taken away my free will. So why does God sometimes suspend the law of nature and make a miracle and in other instances someone gets hurt? I don’t know.
Another question I’ve always had is, if two people, let’s call them Joe and Suzy, are both having surgery, and one thousand people pray for Joe and no one prays for Suzy, will the prayer or lack of prayer affect the outcome? Of course, while no human being might be praying for Suzy, the saints and angels are. But what about when we pray and the outcome is bad? Does that render prayer useless?
One thing we can say for certain is that when we pray, we are putting something positive into the universe. When we gather for a sacrament like Holy Unction, whether it causes physical healing or spiritual healing, something positive happens in the world. Something positive happens in our own lives. And worship, in a corporate context, causes something to happen in the lives of our neighbors. At the very least, we make a connection with God. We make a connection with our neighbor as well.
So is there utility value in prayer? Absolutely. Does prayer fix everything? Not necessarily. Can God work a miracle through the sacrament of Holy Unction? Can a body completely heal through this sacrament? We know that with God, all things are possible, so yes, this is possible. In fact, it has happened throughout the centuries. Are there instances when Holy Unction provides spiritual healing, but does not provide physical healing? That is absolutely true as well.
God can and does allow for outright miracles, but most often He chooses to act through doctors when it comes to our physical health. Here is another very critical point. Doctors never save lives, they only prolong them. The only person who can actually save a life is Christ. My body is wounded in a way that can only be healed by Christ. Sure, I can break a leg and a doctor can fix it. A doctor might even be able to get someone through heart surgery or cancer. Eventually, even the most skilled doctor will not be able to save life, because all of us are going to physically die. That’s because we live in fallen bodies. An amputated limb that is reattached does not make us whole. This is what our faith does. In fact, one of the reasons that icons don’t look like real people is that WE don’t look like REAL people.
The “healing” of a broken body, whether it comes through anointing with Holy Unction (or prayer) or the hand of a doctor doesn’t really. Rather, it just extends the life of our bodies, all of which are temporary. The only part of the body that extends past our time on earth is our soul. This is why we use prayer and the sacraments, specifically Holy Unction, for the healing of our souls. Because our souls can be healed regardless of how would our bodies are.
The Bible offers several answers to the questions we cannot answer. Isaiah 55:8-9 reads “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” In Acts 1:7, Jesus tells His disciples, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” In both of these examples, we are reminded that there are indeed questions for which we will not receive answers, and there are things that simply won’t make sense, at least in this life.
The most comforting verse I reflect on when trying to deal with the unanswered questions is John 9:3, in regards to the man born blind: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” While we may not always receive answers, or the answers we want, we can be assured that the works of God can be made manifest in any situation if we allow them to be. God can work even in the most understood of circumstances. In fact, God is at work, even at the times we can’t understand what is happening or why it is happening. And this is a comforting thought—That God can be at work in all places and in all things, and is even at work in the questions we have and the things we don’t understand.
Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for He is gracious, and a song of praise is seemly. The Lord builds up Jerusalem; He gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars, He gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure. The Lord lifts up the downtrodden, He casts the wicked to the ground. Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God upon the lyre! He covers the heavens with clouds, He prepares rain for the earth, He makes grass grow upon the hills. He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens which cry. His delight is not the strength of the horse, nor His pleasure in the legs of a man; but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love. Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For He strengthens the bars of your gates; He blesses your sons within you. He makes peace in your borders; He fills you with the finest of the wheat. He sends forth His command to the earth; His word runs swiftly. He gives snow like wool; He scatters hoarfrost like ashes. He casts forth His ice like morsels; who can stand before His cold? He sends forth His word, and melts them; He makes His wind blow, and the waters flow. He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know His ordinances. Praise the Lord! Psalm 147
Put as much good as you can into the universe today, because our goodness reflects God’s glory working through us, even in the times and circumstances when we have more questions than answers.