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Friday, February 15, 2013

Don't get your theology from Mickey Mouse

The healings in Matthew 9:27-34 have me asking some questions about faith and associated things. Go over and read it (because if I wrote a summary, it would be as long as the whole thing).

First, we have two blind men chasing Jesus down to ask for healing.

Think about that. Asking for healing from a long-term disability. What does that feel like?

Seriously. If they had been blind for a long time, wouldn't that be part of who they are? Wouldn't it seem normal for them to be blind, and weird to even ask for healing? I mean, obviously they're BETTER OFF being able to see, but after getting used to being blind, would it even occur to them that healing was possible?

Isn't that kind of crazy, for a blind man to believe he could get his sight? On the other hand, it is reasonable to believe it, because Jesus had healed other people. But still- what a huge change! What a huge thing to hope for.

When I read the stories of Jesus' healings, it's easy to see these people as one-dimensional characters with very obvious problems (the gospel writers even identify them this way- "two blind men", "a man who was paralyzed", etc). Jesus shows up, fixes the problem, and then leaves. But real life is more complicated than that, and I think these passages have a lot more meaning if I keep that in mind. So I encourage you, when you read about Jesus healing someone, to think about what that person's life was like before and after the healing.

But anyway, they tracked Jesus down, and he said, "According to your faith let it be done to you," and healed them. Yay!

But wait, what is faith?

See, when I read "According to your faith let it be done to you," I subconsciously interpret it as "because you believed hard enough." As if "faith" is a feeling you need to conjure up, and if you believe it so HARD that you totally EXPECT to be healed in the next minute, that's what makes Jesus heal you. As if faith is an exercise for the imagination. As if faith means intuitively understanding something to be true and expecting a certain outcome- expecting it so much that you would be stunned if it didn't happen.

I submit to you that this understanding of "faith" makes no sense and is more consistent with the belief system put forth by Mickey Mouse in this one show I saw at Disney World where he told the audience to just keep saying "dreams come true, dreams come true" and it would cause the bad guy to shrink and go away, than with the bible.

Pictured: faith. Image source.

Yes, it's true that if you truly believe something with all your heart, mind, etc, then you will intuitively expect it to happen. But I think God's standard is much lower than that.

For example, let's talk about Newtonian mechanics. If you throw a ball, it will follow a certain trajectory, based on its speed and gravity and such, and as inhabitants of Earth, we all have a pretty good intuitive understanding of what that trajectory is. No one thinks the ball is just going to stop in mid-air, because with our entire minds and our entire understanding, we really believe the laws governing Newtonian mechanics to be true. (And I think it's our vast experience with falling/thrown objects that makes this so obvious and intuitive.)

But what about the rotation of the earth? The earth is rotating around its axis- did you know that? Of course you did. So, this means that if you're on the equator, you're traveling at about 1000 miles per hour, just due to the earth's rotation. I am not on the equator, so I'm only traveling at a few hundred miles per hour. Yes. As I sit here on my couch. I'm actually spinning at a few hundred miles per hour, relative to the earth's axis.

Do you believe that?

Now that's a silly question, "Do you believe that?" Like, it's true, it's definitely true. The earth spins, one full rotation per day, and so you can calculate the speed at which you personally are careening around.

(Or, if you'd like to switch reference frames, the speed at which space is careening around you.)

My point is this: It's definitely true, but it doesn't feel like it's true. I do not have any intuitive sense of the fact that I am spinning through space on a giant ball. So if faith and belief are as defined by Mickey Mouse, do I "really believe" that the earth is rotating?

Just because it's hard to visualize what it really means to say "the earth is rotating," that means I don't "really believe" it?

Image source.

OKAY SO back to Jesus and these blind guys. And the claim that "According to your faith let it be done to you" means "According to your feelings and ability to imagine let it be done to you." Yeah... I don't think so.

How could that be what "faith" means? How could Jesus judge whether someone is "worthy" to be healed based on that person's ability to conjure up certain feelings?

No, that CAN'T be what faith means. Sorry, Mickey Mouse.

So what is faith?

Last summer I wrote a post called Belief in a logical impossibility is not faith, in which I presented my definition: "Faith is believing something that SHOULD be true, based on logic and your original axioms about the world, even though emotionally it doesn't FEEL true. Faith is acting on it like it is true." (So that's my definition. You can argue about it if you like.)

The blind men came and asked to be healed because they believed Jesus could do it. They believed enough to chase him down and make the request. I don't know if their belief went deep enough that they could feel it, could anticipate how it would feel to see, could fully expect, with not a hint of doubt or uncertainty, to wake up the next day and see the sun.

Does it matter? Does it matter whether they had the corresponding feelings? They believed it enough to get up and come to Jesus- what more can you ask for?

"I'm gonna need you to look a little more like 'happy' before you can get healed." Image source.

In the final section of this passage, Jesus heals a mute demon-possessed man. Everyone thought it was pretty cool, except the Pharisees who claimed "by the prince of demons" Jesus was able to get rid of demons. (Side note: I love that one passage where Jesus explains to them how much that makes no sense.)

So after this guy was healed, he was able to speak. And I'm wondering what that sounded like. The way a person speaks is totally dependent on learned muscle movements that have been practiced for their whole life. When someone learns a foreign language in adulthood, it is incredibly difficult to get rid of one's accent and speak like a native speaker. It's almost impossible to "unlearn" those patterns which control the way we speak.

So what did this guy sound like when he was suddenly able to speak? I'm guessing he hadn't been mute his whole life- so did he just pick up where he left off? Or did it sound kind of weak and slurred due to lack of practice?

When Jesus heals a person, do they suddenly have the same abilities as everyone else? Do they suddenly talk like a native speaker and act like they've been able-bodied for their entire life? I don't know- but I'm guessing they didn't. There's a part of healing that involves the brain adapting to those new abilities, and it doesn't seem right to me for Jesus to just magic that away. (Feel free to disagree if you want.)

So. Discussion questions:

If you were the blind men (yes, if you were both of them. Don't make fun of my discussion questions), would you have asked Jesus to heal you? What do you think it felt like to ask him?

What did Jesus mean by "according to your faith let it be done to you"? What is faith, in this passage?

Do you think the people Jesus healed would immediately be just as able-bodied as a regular person?

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This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: Too Sneaky For Jesus? (Matthew 9:18-26)

Next post: To Send Out Workers (Matthew 9:35-10:15)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

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