Jesus and Healing

In 1860 Phineas Quimby wrote in an essay on “Jesus’ Healing and His Mission” :

“Suppose a person believes he has a tumor in his left side. His knowledge (or error) believes in the idea of tumors, independent of his knowledge. He thus admits an error to begin with. Now his knowledge gives direction to the matter, and the matter is formed. This is proof that there is such a thing as a tumor. No one will deny that one is a phenomenon brought about by false knowledge, and true knowledge (or science) can destroy that tumor (or idea) and establish a knowledge of truth that will prevent a person from ever being deceived into that error again. All will admit that a person can be deceived into a belief and his belief make him sick. They will also admit that to correct his error (or belief) will make him well.

“This process is all that Jesus ever intended to convey to the world. This is a science and can be learned. Its opposers are ignorance and error. Its science is in unlearning what ignorance and superstition have bequeathed to man. Our belief makes ideas out of our identity of a body. Our bodies are nothing but an idea of matter that is under the control of error (or false knowledge), and happiness or misery is the wages of our investigation. If truth (or science) reigns – all goes well. If error reigns – the wages is death; for all the acts of error lead to death. Death is an idea (or matter), and all the acts of science destroy death and lead to life and happiness.”

When we speak of “Jesus’ method of healing”, what do we mean? To answer this question, we must examine the biblical evidence. None of it seems to support Quimby’s conclusions.

In the earliest records we have, the genuine letters of Paul, there is no mention of Jesus performing any miracles let alone healing anyone. Surely, if there had been any talk of Jesus healing, Paul would have mentioned this at least once. This leads to a conclusion that the stories must have developed later.[1],[2]

Jesus and his followers were Jews. Following the crucifixion, Spong concludes that the followers went to their synagogue on the Sabbath and met together on the next day. At these Sunday meetings they began building stories relating their beloved leader to the Jewish heroes according to the stories they had heard in the previous day’s liturgy.[3] In this way, stories of Jesus performing miracles matching those, in particular, of Moses and Elijah/Elisha developed.[4]

It is quite possible, though not necessarily so, that Jesus was an itinerant healer. From the above indicators, we must conclude that the biblical stories provide unreliable (at best) evidence of what healing he performed or how he achieved it. We cannot know Jesus’ method of healing from the gospel accounts.

What can we know? We must look beyond the bible itself to find any clues.

Crossan, following the distinctions of medical anthropology, differentiates between sickness, illness and disease[5]:

  • disease refers to a malfunctioning of the biological and/or psychological functions.
  • illness refers to the psychosocial experience and meaning of perceived disease.
  • sickness is a condition of society that can exacerbate illness and disease.

With these distinctions, anthropologists speak of curing disease and healing illness. “Doctors are better at curing, Shamans at healing.”[6]

It seems to me that, through his teaching, Jesus might have brought about healing of illness amongst those who listened to his message. This does seem present in several of the miracle stories which, even if not literally true, might reflect an actuality. Quite clearly, Jesus’ message of a new way of being had the potential of removing the sickness from the Roman dominated society in which he lived.

Jesus taught that the Divine Realm is within each one of us. In New Thought that concept is developed as affirmative prayer. Through affirmative prayer, healing takes place. Was this Jesus’ method of healing? Perhaps, but we cannot know.

[1]Funk, Robert W., and The Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus: What Did Jesus Really Do? (HarperSanFrancisco, 1998)

[2]Spong, John Shelby, Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World (HarperOne, 2011)

[3]Spong, John Shelby, Resurrection: Myth or Reality (Harper Collins, 1994)

[4] Spong, John Shelby, Did Jesus Really Do Miracles? (email Newsletter, 17 April 2014)

[5]Crossan, John Dominic, The Birth of Christianity: DiscoveringWhat Happened in the Years after the Execution of Jesus (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999)

[6]Crossan op. cit.


The Prodigal Son in Context

To fully understand any of Jesus’ sayings, it is necessary to understand the first century Jewish context in which he lived. Professor Amy-Jill Levine provides such a context in her exegesis of the parable of the prodigal son which has been summarised in a blog:

You can hear Dr Levine speaking on the subject here:

The Provocation of the Prodigal


Metaphysical Madness


In his book Prosperity, Charles Fillmore wrote of the parable known as The Prodigal Son:

The prodigal son took his inheritance and went into a far country, where he spent it in riotous living and came to want. When he returned to his father’s house he was not accused of moral shortcoming, as we should expect. Instead the father said, “Bring forth quickly the best robe and put it on him.” That was a lesson in good apparel. It is a sin to wear poor clothes. This may seem to some to be rather a sordid way of looking at the teaching of Jesus, but we must be honest. We must interpret it as He gave it, not as we think it ought to be.

I would say to Charles Fillmore:

Now Charles, is it really a sin to wear poor clothes? To claim that this was the message Jesus intended seems to miss the whole point of Jesus’ mission as best we can make of it.

In the synoptic gospels (those attributed to Mark, Matthew and Luke) the picture presented of Jesus is that of a caring man campaigning for social justice. “Love one another,” he said. He did not say, “Love those who are well dressed.” According to Matthew, Jesus said, “Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin.” (NET) This is very different from suggesting that it is a sin to wear poor clothes.

The photograph on this page is of an impoverished woman on a street in Mexico City. Her choice of clothes is not a sin; her dirty skin is not a sin. The sin in this image, which I discovered on Morgue File, is committed by a society that does not clothe the poor.

You say your interpretation of this parable is a metaphysical one. Metaphysics can be defined as the study of the ultimate nature of reality. I find it very hard to understand what the wearing of poor clothes has to do with the ultimate nature of reality. Rather, I would think that interpreting this parable as you have done, is metaphysical madness. It does not promote any understanding of the nature of reality. Instead, it helps promote rabid capitalism, encouraging your readers to constantly keep up with fashion and discard clothing that may be a little worn, but still serviceable. This, I would suggest is a true sin, Charles.

This entry was posted on June 29, 2013. 1 Comment

Unity and Islam

“For a Muslim to participate in Unity, it is not a leap of faith, but a deepening of faith.”
—Reginald Oliver, Unity Magazine, July-August 2013

The 9/11 destruction of the twin towers in New York generated a degree of fear of Islam in the community. Fear is overcome by love, so let us look at what there is to love about Islam. There is a lot to love, and Islam may be closer to Unity teachings than you might think.

In Unity we seek knowledge of the Divine through meditation and prayer. For most of us, I would guess, this means possibly once or twice a day. A practising Muslim does this at least five times every day so God (or Allah) is deeply integrated in his or her every day world. And the call to prayer, beginning and ending:

Allahu Akbar
La ilaha illa Allah


God is most great,
There is no god but God.

—is this not another way of saying as we do in our Statement of Faith:

There is only one Power and one Presence
in our lives and in the universe
God the Good

As stated on a BBC web page, “In the ritual prayers each individual Muslim is in direct contact with Allah. … Praying together in a congregation helps Muslims to realise that all humanity is one, and all are equal in the sight of Allah.” Indeed, one of the great Islamic ideals is tawhid or making one. As expressed by Karen Armstrong in her book Islam: A Short History, this represents the divine unity, which Muslims seek to imitate in their personal and social lives recognising the overall sovereignty of God—or, as we say in Unity: There is only one Power.

Many of us will have heard of two major branches of Islam: the Sunnis and the Shias. The Shias emphasise a mystical approach to the Divine, as do the Sufis (a mystical sect of Sunni Islam). We are very familiar with the Sufi poetry of Rumi, Hafiz and others. These writings resonate well with the teachings of Unity.

There is so much fear in our society when Muslims are mentioned. Why should this be so when the very name of their religion, Islam, means peace. It seems to me that the only explanation is bad press. Our mass media over-report bad things and under-report good things. How much good news was there on last night’s television news? We read and hear much of the actions of a few extremists but we find little in the media reporting the good works of organisations such as the Agha Khan Foundation that is doing so much to relieve suffering in the world. Reginald Oliver wrote in the article quoted above, “As the Klu Klux Klan has historically used Christianity [as] their cover for hate and violence, so now have a small number of Muslims used Islam.” Do we judge Christianity by the actions of the KKK?

Reginald Oliver’s article in Unity Magazine tells how Unity added to his Muslim faith. Perhaps there is something we in Unity can learn from Islam. First we must replace fear with love.

This entry was posted on June 26, 2013. 3 Comments

Ruach Meditation

Right away God’s Spirit made Jesus go into the desert. He stayed there for forty days while Satan tested him. Jesus was with the wild animals, but angels took care of him.

Mark 1:12-13 (Contemporary English Version)

Imagine you are in the Arabian desert at the height of summer. The temperature in the shade is 48 degrees centigrade. The air is deathly still. You are wearing a flowing caftan of fine Egyptian cotton. In the hot dry air, you feel as though you cannot breathe. On the sand hills in the distance you see a pack of wolves. Buzzards are circling overhead.

You feel a kiss of a breeze against your face: a cooling movement of the invisible air. The ruach, the mysterious spirit that is everywhere around you, has moved. It is in the air and now makes itself felt. You know that you are safe. You know that you are loved. You know there is something more than the harshness of this desert wilderness. You breathe in this air. You breathe in the Divine Essence that is always present. You breathe out. You breathe in. You breathe out the Divine Essence. As you breathe out, you breathe air into the world creating and spreading the ruach breeze.

Breathe in God.

Breathe out God.

… in the silence …

As you return to the room know that the ruach, the Divine Essence is always with you. Every breath you take invites the Divine; every exhale shares the Divine Essence in you with the world.

Listen now to the wind in the desert: the message of the ruach.

The Three “O”s.

God is:

  • Omnipotent – all powerful
  • Omniscient – all knowing
  • Omnipresent – all (everywhere) present

Power, knowledge, presence: these are three human qualities we would like more of. When we say that God has all of these in spades, do we mean that God is a superman or super woman? Are we simply creating God in the image of ourselves, albeit a super-duper version of ourselves? Is this not idolatry?

Perhaps in applying these epithets we are attempting to know the unknowable, to name the unnameable. In doing so, we reduce the Divine to a being—and an ugly one at that. If a being is all powerful, knows everything and is present everywhere, then that being is allowing some pretty bad things to happen.

We can only touch awareness of the Divine Essence when we enter the silence suspending all reason and all thought and that experience is indescribable, or when the Spirit touches us unexpectedly.

God is Spirit

In Lesson 2 of the classic Unity text, Lessons in Truth, H. Emilie Cady wrote:

When Jesus was talking with the Samaritan woman at the well, He said to her, “God is Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24 A.V. reads, “God is a Spirit,” but the marginal note is, “God is Spirit,” and some other versions render this passage, “God is Spirit.”) To say “a Spirit” would be to imply the existence of more than one Spirit. Jesus, in His statement, did not imply this.

Webster in his definition of Spirit says: “In the abstract, life or consciousness viewed as an independent type of existence. One manifestation of the divine nature; the Holy Spirit.”

God, then, is not, as many of us have been taught to believe, a big personage or man residing somewhere in a beautiful region in the sky, called “heaven,” where good people go when they die, and see Him clothed in ineffable glory; nor is He a stern, angry judge only awaiting opportunity somewhere to punish bad people who have failed to live a perfect life here.

God is Spirit, or the creative energy that is the cause of all visible things. God as Spirit is the invisible life and intelligence underlying all physical things. There could be no body, or visible part, to anything unless there was first Spirit as creative cause.[1]

Can we be sure that the Webster dictionary definition is what the author of the fourth Gospel meant by Spirit? The Authorised Version of the Bible (A. V.), the version usually referred to today as the King James Version, is a translation prepared under the instruction of King James I of England (VI of Scotland). Could the 19th century American dictionary referred to by H. Emilie Cady in the above quotation be providing the meaning of spirit intended by the 17th century English translators? Maybe. Maybe not.

According to an article in Wikipedia[2], King James had given the translators instructions intended to guarantee that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its belief in an ordained clergy. Such instructions would tend to bias any translation. We need to check the early Greek sources if we wish to know what the author of the gospel meant.

The word translated as spirit is the Greek pneuma meaning wind or breath. It has the same meaning as the Hebrew ruach. Referring to these meanings, Marcus Borg has written:

The associations of both are suggestive. Both are invisible yet manifestly real. We cannot see the wind, though its presence and effects are felt; it moves without being seen. When it blows, it is all around us. Breath is like wind inside the body. For the ancient Hebrews (as for us), it was associated with life. Metaphorically, God as Spirit is both wind and breath, a nonmaterial reality outside of us and within us. Our breath is God breathing us, and God is as near to us as our own breath. Speaking of God as Spirit, as both wind and breath, evokes both transcendence and nearness.[3]

Karen Armstrong comments:

The early Jewish Christians used the term [Holy Spirit] to describe the immanent divine force within them that filled them with an empowering energy and enabled them to understand the deeper meaning of Jesus’s mission.[4]

Spirit, then, is like the wind. Even when the wind is so light we do not notice it, it is there. We breathe it in: it fills us and keeps us alive, invigorated. We breathe it out: we share our out-breath with all that is and enliven all of creation.

The Hebrew scriptures generally use the word ruach in the phrase ruach elohim or breath of the Gods. Spirit is not the whole of God. God is beyond human explanation or description. Spirit/breath is but an aspect of God, the immanence of God.

[1] H. Emilie Cady (1896) Lessons in Truth, Unity Books

[3] Marcus J. Borg (1997) The God We Never Knew, HarperOne

[4] Karen Armstrong (2009) The Case for God, Knopf