As I half-watched the news the other evening, a piece caught my attention that woke me up and gave me cause to become angry. That news story can be found here.
I am a priest, and as a priest I believe in a God who is made known in the created order, the miraculous and the unexpected. My eyes are open and so is my mind, but neither am I foolish about it. As part of this I believe in a God who pours his healing spirit into those in great need, and I am willing to believe that there are cases of cure from disease that are directly from God. The definition if miracles, however, is that they are not daily occurrences.
Someone very close to me has an expression: God will provide, but you have to do your own hustling. Put another way, God's healing spirit is poured into us by the gifts and skills of other humans more often than not - the talents of the pharmacologists, the vocation and gifts of those in the caring and medical professions, and sometimes simple time and faith by all concerned. I do not, in any way shape or form, believe in a God who, when some barmy cleric directs him, kills all known germs dead. Were this the God we were talking about, we would surely be living in a utopia where babies do not die of cancer at two years old and wars never happen.
Faith is the heart of all that Christians do. We proceed in faith through our every journey of life - be they good or the worst of journeys. What angers me is when a barmy cleric tells those whose faith is at breaking point in the context of a life limiting disease that God will reach down from a cloud and cure them. What that barmy cleric is saying is, with breathtaking arrogance, that he can cure people (perhaps he is his messiah). Then those poor people have died of the disease, and one barmy cleric has caused them to regard God as failed.
To me this is the worst of spiritual abuse. Strong words yes, but when you tell a dying person to say a prayer, or to cavort with the signs of the Spirit, that they will not be dying - that actually, so much will they be healed that they can stop taking their tablets - that is the worst of abuses. People look to clerics for support and whether we like it or not, and whether we ourselves believe what we say or not - many people take our words as absolute.
I pray for those who have succumbed to their symptoms because a cleric told them to stop taking medication. I pray for their families who are left to wonder where the lie or failure lay. I pray for the barmy cleric who is so devastatingly wrong that he is killing people with their love and with their faith.