disability / Faith / Theology

The Dark Side of Prayer for Healing

My latest journal article, “The Dark Side of Prayer for Healing:,” Pneuma 36, no. 2 (January 1, 2014): 204–25, has just been published by Brill. if I can be forgiven a boast, I received the following response to the paper:

I have to say that in the twelve or more years I’ve been copyediting Pneuma, this is the best article I’ve ever read. Nancy de Flon, PhD

To give you an insight into its content, the abstract reads:

  • This paper explores the relationship between disability and pentecostal theologies and practices of healing. First, it draws on the testimony of people with a disability, describing the challenge of being the “elephant in the room”: the obviously unhealed in a social space in which supernatural healing is understood to be connected to the gospel, a reward of faith, and a central part of a life and ministry of the church. Second, it deconstructs pentecostal theologies and practices of healing, identifying their potentially alienating effect. Finally, it proposes an alternative orientation, replacing the emphasis upon divine healing with a focus on well-being. To this end, it draws on the holistic intention of the pentecostal Full Gospel and relates this to the virtue tradition, with its concern for long-term flourishing in the midst of the hardship and fragility of life.

I know that journal articles are not everyone’s cup of tea (especially in this era of five-minute attention spans), but I do hope that some of you take the time to read it– available here. I’m certainly happy to engage in any discussion/criticism in the comments section below.

About Author

Shane is an ethicist and theologian, Honorary Associate for the Centre of Disability Research and Policy, the University of Sydney, and Assistant Director, Policy, at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation against People with Disability. Shane is proudly disabled, and an occasional blogger on


  • jaymcneill
    July 2, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    There is so much I want to say about this paper but I’ll leave it to two things because it elicits hope in me and hope after all is the holy grail.

    Quote 1.
    “In this way, the focus on well-being—the broadest possible conception of health— gives people with a disability, along with their families and caregivers, a uniquely important place in the body of Christ. They are capable of modelling faith of the highest order, not as a worked-up belief in magic, but as the struggle of faithfulness won over the course of a life, however long or short that might

    This quote gives me hope because it suggests that Jesus acknowledges the day to day commitment far above an illusive chase for a solution to the ‘problem’. It takes more courage to do each day with a physical challenge and do it well, than allow the intoxicating allure of healing to be the focus and do life poorly.

    Quote 2.
    “Prayer for healing is a compassionate response to human suffering and the cry, “God help me.” Indeed, who knows what God might do in response to heartfelt prayer? Healing itself, however, is not an answer to the problem of pain.”

    This second quote gives me hope because it gives permission to Christians to pray simply because they are compassionate and not because they feel awkward about life’s injustice and the implication of God being either distant or ineffective. For too long prayer has been used as a way to test God or fill the egocentric healer with a sense of power or even worse, create a culture where Christians only accept the ‘good’ parts of life as evidence of Gods blessing.

    You are so right Shane, healing is not the answer to the problem of pain nor is it the answer to avoid the narrow path ahead which I am guilty of praying for many times. Unfortunately some Christian leaders still continue to encourage us to pray for the path of the big motorway with lots of junk food options to feast our insatiable desire for a quick fix and finish with the sugar hit of perfection. Ultimately we will miss learning from life’s challenges that award us the best chance to know God better.

    Thank God for you Shane… thank you for helping so many of us who are on this unexpected journey have a voice of reason. Thank God for you!

  • Shane Clifton
    July 2, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    you would have to be the best lay theologian I’ve come across, Jay. every time you write you make me want to quote you in some upcoming paper! Thanks for the ongoing encouragement.

  • jaymcneill
    July 2, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Ahhh Shane, don’t be fooled by my ramblings – my wife would think your kind words are misguided and she would be right! I would fail dismally if asked general knowledge questions despite decades of sitting through sermons. A sad admission but a true reflection.

  • Janet McKinney
    July 2, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    Thank you for this article. In my 50s I have experienced a gradual, and then not so gradual deterioration of health that has lead to disability. I have come to many of the conclusions you have expressed on the reality of faith in a God who loves, and at times heals, and the reality of living with unhealed disability.

  • Deb
    July 2, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    a good read thanks Shane. I have also come to appreciate a closer reading of James 5 (not just plucking verses 15-16 out in isolation) – the chapter talks patience in suffering, reminds us of Job’s testimony, and reminds us that we should pray for EACH OTHER so we may be healed….every one of us humans is broken in one way or another, we are seeking God’s healing in his community of faith

  • Marvin J. Miller (@MarvinMiller)
    July 2, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    Thanks Shane! As an AG pastor and a father of a child with disability, I totally agree with your summation. Keep writing!

  • Phil Moore
    July 2, 2014 at 11:03 pm

    yes it’s 5 min attention or less for me – except for a novel. i’ll enjoying reading it after watching the tennis & being in Estonia, its 4pm 🙂

  • Phil Moore
    July 3, 2014 at 2:27 am

    so i put the tennis on mute as the aussie is only about to play now… and read it. very good and provoking & accurate. i have 2 ‘thoughts’ – in the early 80s God used me in healing quite extensively -a lump in breasts, a person blind in one eye etc etc, all genuine but nothing out of a wheelchair. – what wld David Cartledge say/ respond

    tks for your continued writing Phil

    • Shane Clifton
      July 3, 2014 at 10:14 am

      David probably would not agree with everything I have written, but he was an open an engaging man. indeed, I had a very good relationship with David, and he was the sort of person who would have allowed me the disagreement and blessed me anyway.

  • TheBiblicalAssassin
    July 5, 2014 at 10:29 am

    Interesting read. I’d like to make a few comments. I am married to a woman living with cerebral palsy. I watch her struggle every day. She can’t do things fast. She needs a walker to get anywhere. Her condition at times infuriates her. I have come to accept the fact that her condition is not going to change. She has often told me the things in this paper are true. We even had one rude person watching her walking down the road berate her for not going down the front and getting healed.
    I believe in divine healing. There is too much evidence for me to ignore this both in my own life and in the word. So how do I resolve this tension?
    Her CP is a part of who she is. I married her because I loved her and not because she fits my predefined definition of being whole. Why would I want that to change? Initially maybe I would not have fallen in love with her if she was healed because she would be different person. People assume that it is one the negative implications that change in a person’s life when healed. That is simply not true. For someone with a significant disability to be healed, I believe their whole personality would change. For the better or worse, God only knows. Think of Jesus healing the ten leapers, only one came back to give glory to God.
    Praying for healing is fine. No, it is a good thing. But why must their be a show and dance about the process with cameras and attention and a flashy travelling minister? God hears our cries in the closet. I can ask God to touch her while she is sleeping peacefully at 4am. God is not limited by our often basic understanding of the complex situations we find ourselves in. We can ask. But as any good child, we must accept when that answer is no.

    BTW when we were dating we had a running joke. Often she would tell people about me, her then boyfriend and then they would ask, “Is he normal?” She would then reply that I was not normal and that I had two heads.

    • Shane Clifton
      July 15, 2014 at 3:50 pm

      thanks for reading your story, Colin. And it’s great to hear that you’re not normal!

  • Ann Tamtana
    July 8, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    I’ve been following your blog for quite some time, Shane. I first saw you in our theology class in Alphacrucis a couple of years ago and I’ve since become familiar with your story and your desire to start a conversation on the subjects of faith and healing and disability within the Pentecostal movement. I feel quite encouraged that there are more and more people from our Pentecostal churches who are coming out with their stories of hardships & struggles to try and give voice to those of us who are walking the deep valleys of life; those who don’t get the healing or the promise or the breakthrough.

    I find it quite sad that our mainstream churches seem to lack a good theology on issues such as pain and suffering and death and disability. Some of us are good at sweeping the hard stuff under the carpet, glossing over the ugly bits and focusing instead on signs and wonders and lightshows which draw big attendance with its feel-good message. Some of us talk about nothing else but living a life from one victory to the next and when you don’t feel like you are living victoriously at all, you feel isolated and confused, alone and alienated. You feel you’re just not good enough, you fail the faith test, you fail your Christian community, and you fail God.

    Hopefully one day we can all accept that life is not made up of a series of quick-fixes and God is not a genie who fulfils our each and every wish. We can increase our knowledge about God from the mountain top as well as from the valley. Thank you for sharing your story (and your paper) with us. I believe that some of our greatest hurt will probably be our greatest ministries. Like Thomas who doubted until he touched the scars of Jesus, some people need to see our broken places more than our victories.

  • […] Clifton offers an introduction to the article and a link to the full article on his blog: […]


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