A Facebook friend of mine shared a video of a “divine healing” this morning. His comment on this video was simply “smh” – internet shorthand for “shaking my head.” The video showed a well-dressed preacher praying for a young boy, who apparently had one hand significantly shorter than the other due to some kind of abnormality. The preacher had the boy put his hands together, palm to palm, and then he adjusted the boy’s hands so that his fingertips were offset by a couple of inches. After calling on the name of Jesus and on the power of the Holy Spirit, and after encouraging the congregation to pray in the same way, the unbelievable happened:

The boy’s fingertips slowly moved closer and closer to each other.

The congregation celebrated what appeared to be a divine healing; they thought God made the boy’s smaller hand grow to become the same size as his larger hand. But to other observers like me (and the 1400+ commenters on the Facebook video), this was clearly a fraud. The preacher never showed us at first that the boy’s hands were different sizes. At the critical moment, the pastor’s hand moved to the boy’s elbow and seemed to guide the boy’s arm forward as his fingertips came together again. The boy seemed to have zero reaction to the “miracle” of his hands becoming the same size. I wondered what he must have been thinking at that moment: “All these people think God healed my hand, but it has always been the same size as the other.”

This was not a divine healing. It was a magic show, a parlor trick, and a fairly poor one at that.

When I was in sixth grade, I broke my left arm when I slipped on some ice. It was a compression fracture, not a clean break. My arm was in a cast for a while, and I eventually recovered. Ever since then, though, I have enjoyed trying out a parlor trick of my own. I tell people (usually young kids) that my left arm is shorter than my right arm because of this compression fracture. To “prove” the point, I hold my arms in front of me. Sure enough, my right fingertips extend a few inches beyond my left fingertips.

Without fail, someone in the room always notices what is going on: my shoulders are not square with each other. Of course my right arm looks longer than my left, because I have shoved it further forward. It’s just another (fairly poor) parlor trick.

What, then, about divine healing? Does God actually heal people miraculously when we pray? Is it ethically and spiritually justifiable for us to pray for someone to be healed? What about those many cases when we pray for healing and the person does not get well? How should we go about praying for real physical needs?

I hope to address those questions, and perhaps a few others, in my next post. Stay tuned.

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