ABC Extra – In Sickness And In Health

February 6, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Death is inescapable.  It doesn’t matter how rich or how poor, how healthy or how sick, how old or how young a person is.  Eventually and inevitably, death comes for each one of us.  After Steve Jobs passed away, many bloggers and journalists spoke of how Jobs sought to receive “the best care money could buy.”  And indeed, he did receive terrific care from world-renowned doctors.  But although they may have been able to prolong his life, they were not able to save it.  He passed away last year.  Death came for Steve Jobs.  Shortly after the world-renowned and lovably cantankerous atheist apologist Christopher Hitchens was diagnosed with cancer, he described his ailment in his characteristically colorful tone: “Against me is the blind, emotionless alien, cheered on by some who have long wished me ill. But on the side of my continued life is a group of brilliant and selfless physicians plus an astonishing number of prayer groups.”[1]

Like Steve Jobs, Christopher Hitchens turned to the most “brilliant and selfless physicians” money could buy, and though they may have been able to prolong his life, they were not able to save it.  He passed away last year.  Death came for Christopher Hitchens.

Death is inescapable.  And yet, I find it interesting that, particularly in the case of Christopher Hitchens, it wasn’t just medical professionals who were working to prolong his life, it was Christians who were praying to redeem his life.

In worship and ABC this past weekend, we looked at the story of a demon-possessed boy in Mark 9.  Initially, the disciples try to heal this boy, but they cannot (cf. Mark 9:17-18).  Jesus, however, is able to drive out the torturing spirit (cf. Mark 9:25-27).  Beleaguered by their embarrassing failure, the disciples ask Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”  Jesus’ answer is clarifying and convicting:  “This kind can come out only by prayer” (Mark 9:28-29).  This boy could not be healed by a pill, a surgery, a physician, or an exorcism rite.  Rather, persistent and consistent prayer was the key to this boy’s recovery.

For all of man’s collective medical wisdom, there are still some diseases which can be healed only by prayer.  This is why James asks, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14).  Prayer is more powerful and potent than any human remedy.  For prayer has God’s will and mercy as its answer.

Tragically, even in the face of certain death, Christopher Hitchens wrote, “Please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries.”  Christopher Hitchens’ commitment to his atheism was unflappable.  He refused to believe that his kind of sickness could “come out only by prayer.”  Then again, after asking people not to pray for him, he added this little caveat: “Unless, of course, it makes you feel better.”[2]

Christopher Hitchens never came to understand and see that prayer is not just for the therapy of weak minds, it is for the strengthening of brave souls.  Prayer, perhaps, really could have made him feel better – not only in his cancerous plight, but in his eternity as well.  For not only can God hear our prayers and sometimes grant us a temporal recovery, He will hear our prayers and always grant us a glorious eternity through Christ.  And that is a gift and blessing we dare not miss.

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[1] Christopher Hitchens, “The Tropic of Cancer,” Vanity Fair (September 2010).

[2] Christopher Hitchens, “Unanswerable Prayers,” Vanity Fair (October 2010)

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