By Rev. Lakeya Stewart, M.Div. D.Min, ABD
“Believe and receive!” We’ve all heard preachers say this. Perhaps, we have even said this. God is indeed able to do anything and that includes healing; however, God is not a magician. Neither is God a genie in a bottle that can be rubbed to make random things happen that are perhaps out of His will. When I reflect on what I have seen with my own two eyes (or four, because I wear glasses) and what my faith says, I do believe God can heal instantly. This does not mean that all people will be healed instantly or even at all, however.
Often times when we think of healing, we assume physical healings. Because of my previous work as a resident Chaplain with Hospice and again at a local hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I have come to believe that Spiritual and Emotional healing can be just as important if not more important than physical healing.
I recently read the book “The Emotionally Healthy Church” by Peter Scazzero as well as listened to a class lecture on the topic. I was left wondering about the emotional health of the people of God in general but African Americans in particular.
Traditionally speaking, African Americans have viewed counseling and tending to one’s emotional health as taboo. In general, African Americans have neglected themselves and sometimes for the cause of Christ. I have heard ministers use scriptures to suggest that seeking counseling or even medical attention was due to a lack of faith. Peter Scazzero posits that we as humans have “emotional, physical, and intellectual capacities” that are God-given gifts. (Scazzero, 148) God gifts people with skills to assist us in the healing process. After all, we are Jesus’ hands and feet here on earth.
One of the things I heard a professor in school say to me was that “Spiritual maturity cannot be achieved apart from emotional maturity.” As leaders, we must model good practices including good emotional health. Many leaders feel that they must always be strong and appear to have everything together all the time before the people of God. This is simply wrong. Even the Apostle Paul knew the importance of acknowledging his wrong and short comings. In fact, we see from Paul after a close analysis of his writings, his theology based on weakness according to 2 Corinthians 12: 8-10. Verse 9 says, “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” As leaders, we must remain humble and honest with the people of God concerning the reality that we will all have trouble, “issues”, and emotions. Even Jesus was not exempt from this.
Now, there is a theory called Docetism which suggests “that Jesus only ‘seemed’ or appeared to have a human body and to be a human person.” (Westminister Dictionary of Theological Terms, Donald K. McKim, page 81) Some people use this thought to suggest that perhaps Jesus was not really human and therefore did not have emotions but we see Jesus displaying emotion when we see Jesus weeping after Lazarus’ death (John 11:35) and becoming angry and overturning tables in the temple (Matthew 21:12). Jesus was indeed human and partly divine and we must remember that showing emotions is not a sign of weakness. To believe that Jesus was not human is a Gnostic view. Jesus had emotions and we do too. Sometimes we need an emotional healing.
Too often the church has been guilty of believing that Jesus only instantly heals people without considering the possibility of skilled doctors (whether medical or psychiatric) being used by God for healing purposes. This is true for the doctor who is not a person of faith. So… Yes, God can even use the unbeliever for His glory.
With all of this being sad, there are some African American churches that encourage emotional health but the majority that I have encountered and studied in my short life has not encouraged counseling and good emotional health. Any leader who forbids a member to seek counseling should seek God for clarity and direction as to why this standard exists. This is an example of spiritual abuse. If anything, mental illnesses like depression are viewed as demonic or not of God. I have literally heard ministers make statements like, “Y’all walk around here all depressed, like you have no joy!”, as if someone who is having a tough time in life is demon possessed. The reality is that life can be tough and sometimes we need to talk to someone. God is indeed a friend that sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24) as scripture suggests, however, I believe God has more friends than one .God might just one to employ one of His other friends (doctors) to help meet our need. In all of this, we must remember that God is sovereign….God may just desire to do it Himself. God is able!
—Rev. Lakeya Stewart, M.Div. D.Min, ABD