“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”
Does that sound “too good to be true?”
Sooner or later we all hear offers that are, in fact, too good to be true: With “this” pill you can lose 20 pounds in a week! Buy this workout device and you’ll be beautiful and healthy in no time at all! Buy this, buy that! Try this, try that! Want a free vacation? Sign up here—and we’ll call you with details!
And yet, for most of these offers, the outcomes are often not what has been promised. But we only learn that these things are “too good to be true” by buying into the false hype. As a result, we live a lot of our lives in disappointment—and with skepticism—about extraordinary promises.
In a world of quick fixes and disappointing outcomes, the Letter of James can sound just a little “too good to be true.” Did you take in what James the brother of Jesus wrote? “Are any of you suffering? They should pray.” Or, “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elder of the church and have them pray over them…” or even, “The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up…” not to mention, this one: “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”
But how many of us have prayed, with faith, for a sickness to be cured? How many of us have asked spiritual mentors or guides to pray for us, or, on behalf of a loved one? And how many of us have lived with the loss and disappointment of prayer requests not working?
And yet, James isn’t trying to sell anything. He’s not asking for our money; and he’s not offering instructions for magical incantations. And James, himself, knew terrible loss and suffering.
So… what if instead of categorizing James as a spiritual charlatan, we picture the brother of Jesus opening a door—a door that leads to a new path for our spiritual journey? What if James is opening us to a worldview of mystery: in which the power of prayer, healing, and forgiveness are outcomes we can expect to happen, even if we don’t know “when” they will happen, or in what way. What if we throw away the dichotomy of “all or nothing,” and accept that the miracles of heaven do sometimes manifest on earth; even as on earth we also (and sometimes, often) face suffering.
As the brother of Jesus, James would know this well: that in the reign of God both the miraculous and the mundane are realities we can anticipate.
We too can stand with James and Jesus: believing that mountains can be moved—and yes, that sometimes crosses must be carried. And maybe as we trust God in both, we will be blessed.