Sunday, June 26, 2011

Getting What We Don't Deserve

Mallet fingerImage via Wikipedia

There I was sitting in a former theatrical storage building in Bristol this evening, part of a crowd of around 300 people, when up gets John.

Here's what John had to say, paraphrased:

He is a recovering alcoholic who fell off the wagon two weeks ago and was walking home drunk. 

In his anger, frustration and shame, his emotions poured out  and, clenching his fist, he smashed his hand into a glass bus shelter. Despite modern shelters being made of safety glass, the impact resulted in John breaking three fingers in his hand.

Later in hospital, John's hand was put into a hard plaster and he was sent home. 

The following Saturday (last week), John went to church. Actually, he went to a meeting called urban healing, where Christians will pray for anyone who is sick or injured and needs to be healed.
Two guys prayed for John and, as they were doing so, the fingers on his hand started to move rapidly and involuntarily. John believed that his hand was being healed.

Back at the hospital, John asked the orthopedic surgeon to cut off the plaster on his hand. The doctor, quite understandably, told John that it was against his professional judgement to comply with the request. When John announced that he would cut the plaster off himself if the hospital would not do so, the doctor reluctantly agreed. Having removed the cast, the surgeon bound John's three fingers together and told him to leave the binding in place for several weeks.

Ever compliant, John removed the binding at home the next day. He experienced complete freedom of movement, and an absence of any pain. At a follow-up appointment this week, the examining doctor performed a number of tests on John's hand. The doctor's conclusion, as John recounts it, was that the bones in the hand had been "healed." He also said that he would normally have expected the hand to take about eight weeks before the bones were properly fused together again, with a cast on. The doctor pronounced this all-clear at the follow-up examination two weeks after the initial break.

What struck me as I was listening to John's story, and watching him freely move, bend and stretch his fingers, was not so much the evidence that a healing had occurred in response to prayer.

Rather, in a week in which the Prime Minister has called for absent fathers to be "shamed" by society,  the contrast of a man doing something foolish (smashing his hand into thick glass) who then received a healing from God, made me realise that at the heart of the faith of these Christians is the idea of mercy: people getting what they don't deserve.

If we're honest, I guess many people find mercy an unsettling idea, turning on its head some of our cherished notions of justice and accountability.

But there is is anyway.
John's happy about it.

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