Medical research and personal experience alike proclaim the importance of faith and a positive attitude in health and healing. Researchers have long spoken of both the placebo and nocebo effects. In both cases, belief shapes biology, for good or for ill. Positive attitudes enhance the immune system and promote well-being. Negative attitudes can depress the immune system and make us more susceptible to illness. This is the meaning of the “faith factor” in healing and wholeness.
In the story of the woman with the flow of blood, Jesus proclaims, “your faith has made you well.” (Mark 5:25-34) For this woman, whose illness had dominated her life for twelve years, led to ostracism, outcast status, and social isolation, faith was the tipping point in her recovery. However, it was not the only factor. When she touches Jesus, a power flows from him, not unlike the “chi” or “ki” described by Chinese and Japanese medicine. Divine energy, aimed at healing and wholeness, pervades the universe and permeates every soul and cell. When this unnamed woman touched Jesus, a synergetic energy was released involving the divine-human call and response. This energy transformed her life and changed her place in society. Her healing was truly holistic, changing both her cells and her social position. No longer an outcast, she could continue her life, perhaps have a child and re-enter society. Perhaps, she had a change of heart as well, and from now on would challenge social attitudes that ostracized persons with illness and identified sickness with sinful behavior.
Stories of faith can inspire you and transform your life. They do not counsel denial, but remind us that there is a larger reality that constantly seeking our well-being. In a world in which health and illness are the result of many causes, our faith – along with God’s vision for our lives – can unleash dormant energies for health and healing.
Faith is the ultimate freedom. In the spirit of Viktor Frankl’s reflection on his experience in the German concentration camps, they can take everything away from a person except her or his attitude toward the circumstances of her or his life. Faith isn’t omnipotent, nor does it “create” our realities as many new agers suggest. Rather, it shapes our reality toward the good and opens us to new and lively energies of healing and wholeness. (This multi-factorial approach to health and illness liberates us from full responsibility in health and illness, and from blaming the victim for her or his illness.)
My faith is making me whole.
I open to God’s creative energy flowing through my life.
Regardless of life’s circumstances, I have the freedom to choose new possibilities.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, healing companion, retreat leader and lecturer, and author of nineteen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living; God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus; and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry. He has taught at Georgetown University, Wesley Theological Seminary, Claremont School of Theology, and Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is currently theologian in residence at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His most recent book Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed will be released in May 2011. He can be reached for lectures, seminars, and retreats at firstname.lastname@example.org