Healing Miracles and Saints1
As you’ve probably heard by now, Pope Francis recently fast-tracked the sainthood of two popes: John Paul II (d. 2005), and John XXIII, who led the church in the early 1960’s. In an article in The Week (July 19, 2013), describing this development, two things stood out to me.
First, “Francis declared that John Paul had performed two miracles needed for canonization, with the healing of two very sick women who prayed to him.” This is the identical language I read elsewhere and both times it surprised me. These women, we are told, prayed “to” a man. He is not said to have prayed “for” them but they prayed “to” him. I’m sure our Catholic friends would have a way of accounting for this, such as the notion that God has made the pope the “vicar” or substitute for Christ on the earth, the man in whom grace for healing and forgiveness is, as it were, invested or deposited. Aside from the fact that I see no basis in Scripture for such an idea, to suggest that anyone should pray “to” anyone but God himself is borderline heresy (perhaps without the “borderline”).
Second, the other thing of note also relates to the requirement that in order to be canonized as a saint a person has two have performed at least two verifiable healing miracles. According to the article, John Paul II has “only one healing miracle to his name.”
The thing that bothers me is that this assumes the performance of a “miracle,” in particular a miracle in which someone is “healed,” is special or of greater significance or an indication of the superior spirituality of the person performing the deed. But a close look at Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 indicates that the spiritual gift of “miracles” as well as that of “healings” (yes, it’s in the plural in the Greek text), like all other spiritual gifts, are made possible by the “same God who empowers them all in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:6b). Again, in 12:11 Paul declares that “all” these gifts “are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”
My point is that Paul will not let us think that any one particular spiritual gift is any more special or spiritual than any other, or that the person performing a particular gift is, because of the nature of that gift, any more favored or elevated or godly than another. The person who teaches is not for that reason more loved of God than the one who gives. The person who speaks in a tongue is not for that reason more spiritual than the one who exhorts. The person who works a miracle is not for that reason closer to God or more highly anointed or more deserving of “sainthood” than the one who serves.
Failure to realize this was one cause for the problems and divisions in the first-century Corinthian church. People mistakenly conclude that a spiritual gift which more overtly displays the supernatural power of God must be intrinsically more important. Likewise, the person through whom this supernatural power is channeled is thought to be more “saintly” or more worthy of recognition and praise or perhaps was made the recipient of a greater or deeper indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Let me put it this way. If in fact John Paul II prayed “for” a woman and she was healed, we give thanks to God, not to John Paul. If in fact this “miracle” occurred as is claimed, this says absolutely nothing about John Paul that could not also be said about John Doe who showed “mercy” (Rom. 12:8b) or about Jane Doe who “prophesied” (Rom. 12:6b) or perhaps you who “gave” generously (Rom. 12:8a) or yours truly who recently exercised the gift of “teaching” (Rom. 12:7b) here in Oklahoma City.
Those spiritual gifts that seem to be more “mundane” or “routine” are in fact no less the product or fruit of God’s presence and power than those we might classify as “miraculous.” So let’s be careful both to praise and give thanks to God when he chooses to work through us by means of a spiritual gift, but equally careful never to think that the human instrument for the display of any particular gift is for that reason particular.