There’s a story in the Gospel of Mark (9:14-29) that demonstrates that healing is not always easy or instant. The “healing of the boy with a spirit” begins with arguing. A crowd is gathered around a father who has brought his son for healing. The spirit afflicting the boy disables him from speaking and causes him seizures, muscle rigidity and teeth grinding. The disciples are unable to cast it out. Jesus, exasperated at the lack of faith of “this generation,” explains that “anything can be done for the one who believes” (Mark 9:23) and then commands the Spirit to go. After screeching and convulsing the boy one last time, the spirit departs, leaving the boy in the appearance of a corpse, which Jesus quickly dispels by helping him to his feet. The disciples ask why they could not cast it out; Jesus replies, “This kind can only come out with prayer” (Mark 9:29).There are a few things that are comforting about this story. The first: Jesus says that all things can be done *for* the one who believes, not *by* the one who believes. We thus do not have to heal ourselves, which is kind of a relief since it is hard to heal. The second is the similarity in appearance between suffering and healing: the spirit caused seizures “since childhood,” as reported by his father in Mark 9:21 and the boy experience one more shaking before being freed from torment. This is comforting because sometimes the “signs of healing” can look very much like the “signs of suffering.” As in, healing can be a messy process, too, and we should retire notions and expectations to the contrary as they only serve to further wound.
Admittedly, though, I’m also left with a few questions every time I read this passage. Jesus’ evident anger at “this faithless generation” (Mark 9:19) has been twisted to blame the victim when she does not receive the healing she prays for. Could it really be true that those who do not receive healing simply did not have enough faith? How much faith is required for healing if merely a mustard seed is needed to move a mountain (Matthew 17:20)? Ideas like this, too, add to suffering. At the end of the scene in Mark, though, when the disciples ask why they were unable to remove the spirit, Jesus does not reference their lack of faith He was apparently so upset by earlier; He says that only prayer (some translations say “and fasting”) can bring “this kind” out.
But the text doesn’t tell us that Jesus prayed before casting out this spirit. In fact, it could be taken to imply that the disciples weren’t praying or don’t pray. And the text is not clear what “this kind” actually is. We know from the father’s report that this spirit has tried to destroy the boy from childhood by flinging him into water and fire. According to Jesus – though interestingly, the father didn’t mention it – the spirit keeps the boy from hearing as well as speaking (which both men mention), along with seizures and their attending issues. Does Jesus mean “spirits that convulse” when He says “this kind?” Does He mean spirits that render a person mute (and deaf – literally and/or unable to hear the good news of Jesus)? Perhaps a spirit that afflicts constantly, beginning in childhood? Whatever the specifics, one thing I see here is that wounds that began in childhood both a) continue to hurt and b) require prayer for healing. My questions remain, to say nothing of the many other intriguing things about this passage, but what I take from it at this point, among other things, is that it is hard to heal so we should not expect people to do so immediately (or without prayer with and for each other).