Alpha Course: Reviewed

by Stephen Butterfield

WEEK 9: “Does God Heal Today?”

The long-standing male member is back for this evening’s session. I’m happy about that because we get along well and he’s always good value for a quote or two.

As a group we sit chatting about our recent holidays. Lady Two serves me two glasses of cold water, which was very nice of her. I never eat any of the food on offer, even though I’m quite partial to the odd slice of cheesecake now and again, so perhaps Lady Two is making sure that I’m well stocked up with at least something. It’s no secret that I find her views on God to be somewhat bizarre, but I do actually like Lady Two a great deal. She’s a nice lady.

We have three sessions left of the Alpha Course, but, says the pastor, “we have potentially four talks to cover”. It would appear that one talk is going to have to bite the dust. The pastor continues, “So we need to decide which three we are going to do. I personally suggest that the session entitled, “Why And How Should I tell Others?”, is probably not relevant, so I recommend we do “Does God Heal Today?”, “What About The Church?” and finally “How Can I make The Most Of The Rest Of My Life?”. So if you’re happy that those are the three that I suggest we do, then let’s proceed.”

We all nod in approval.

So, off we go with week 9, with a presentation entitled, “Does God Heal Today?”

Gumbel begins by telling us of the time, almost thirty years ago, when a charismatic evangelical preacher from the USA, by the name of John Wimber, came to visit his church. Ever the sceptic (of course!), Gumbel tells us how he felt about this American gentleman: “When I saw [him] I was deeply cynical about him”, and “I was deeply suspicious”.

Gumbel continues, “He came and spoke here on the subject of the Holy Spirit, and healing, and wonderful things. But I still left deeply cynical”

The next night Mr Wimber came to speak again, and Gumbel arrived still “very, very cynical”. Wimber spoke primarily on the subject of healing that night, and during his speech he announced to the group, “After a coffee break we’re going to DO some healing”

Gumbel admits to being quite nervous at the prospect of such a thing happening in the church, and tells us that most of the congregation, in typifying the “British reserve”, weren’t too keen to get involved. All that showbiz/razzmatazz kind of stuff might appeal to an American audience, but not for the shy, retiring, self-deprecating British equivalent, intimates Gumbel.

After the coffee break the preacher told the audience that he and his team had been praying, and that they had been granted a few “words of knowledge”. Gumbel tells us that Mr Wimber then defined ‘words of knowledge’ as: “A supernatural revelation of facts about a person or situation, which is not learned by the efforts of the natural mind but is made known by the Spirit of God. This may be in the form of a picture, or words seen or heard in the mind, or a feeling experienced physically.”

Gumbel tells us that no one in the room expected anything special to happen. No one had high hopes for Mr Wimber’s routine to succeed. All of them were sceptical. In fact, admits Gumbel, some of them wanted to see the flamboyant preacher fail miserably.

The preacher stood at the front, thought deeply about the ‘words of knowledge’ he’d received from God during the coffee break, and then declared to the audience, “The first person is a man who injured his back aged fourteen, chopping wood.” To Gumbel’s surprise a gentleman from the audience stood up and identified himself as that very person. Gumbel then tells us several more people came forward after Wimber mentioned “back problems”. The preacher went through his divinely inspired list of personal information, and people came out of their seats “one after another after another after another” in response. Gumbel beams as he states, “we could feel the level of faith in the room rising!”

Gumbel then tells us that there was in fact ONE ‘word of knowledge’ that wasn’t responded to by any of the audience members. God hadn’t got it wrong, though, nor had the preacher misinterpreted the information from God. In fact the information was absolutely correct. The problem was that the person in the audience didn’t respond to the call because the information was of a delicate nature. It concerned a lady who was apparently barren. Allegedly she was unable to have children, and was understandably embarrassed to bring attention to herself. Gumbel sympathises with the lady in question by saying, “We’re British, we don’t even talk about things like that, let alone come forward in response to a word like that!”

The preacher waited. And he waited. Eventually the lady got out of her seat and bravely came forward. Gumbel tells us that the preacher “had no idea that she’d been trying for children for some time and that [she was] unable to conceive”. He also had no idea that the lady and her partner had been “having various tests” in the hope of identifying, and solving, the problem. Gumbel states that the preacher then, “prayed for her”.

You may be wondering what happened to that lady. I’ll let Gumbel break the news, “Nine months later she gave birth to a little baby boy!”

Even after the immensely successful healing and ‘words of knowledge’ demonstration, Gumbel says that for some reason he was still sceptical about the whole affair. So when he got home that night he “started to re-read the Bible, to see what it said on this whole subject of healing”

He continues, “Of course, God heals with the cooperation of doctors, nurses and the medical profession, but the more I look the more convinced I am that we should expect that God would also heal miraculously. Today!”

What does “God heals with the cooperation of doctors, nurses and the medical profession” supposed to mean? This is something that was mentioned last week. If doctors and nurses are trained to help people recover from illness and injury, and all this is done through natural means, then why the need to shoehorn a supernatural God into the equation? The simple fact of the matter is that “God” offers no explanatory power here at all.

“If you look in the Old Testament God promises healing for his people. It’s [in] his character to heal. He says, “I am the Lord that heals you” It’s part of his love for us!” exclaims Gumbel.

He then gives us an example of when a certain person was healed by God in the Bible. This is quickly followed by Gumbel assuring us that, “If God acted like that in the Old Testament, when there were only glimpses of the Kingdom of God and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we can confidently expect that he will do so even more now that Jesus has inaugurated the Kingdom of God. And the fact that we live now in the Age of the Spirit!”

Yes, we know all too well how God acted in the Old Testament! I’d have thought that Gumbel would have wanted to have kept that quiet!

He then tells us of the alleged “first recorded words of Jesus” which can be found in Mark 1:15, “The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”

Gumbel then passionately enthuses, “The first time Jesus came he came in weakness”, but we shouldn’t worry about that because “When he comes back he’ll come with power and great glory. History is moving towards this glorious climax”

I must say, if he were reading this straight from a comic book it wouldn’t sound any more childish. Supposedly sometime soon a powerful, invisible, cloud-hopping sky-deity is going to materialise from the ether and wave his magic wand to make everything better. I wonder if Mr Gumbel is willing to place a wager on that? If so, I’ll gladly act as his bookmaker.

Gumbel continues, “When Jesus returns it will be obvious to EVERYONE

Let’s hope so, because it wasn’t so obvious to everyone the first time he put in an appearance on earth! Remember this fact: NOT A SINGLE SOURCE OUTSIDE OF THE BIBLE MADE ANY MENTION OF HIM DURING HIS SUPPOSED LIFETIME. That’s right, not a single one. So, like I say, let’s hope Jesus does a better job of convincing people the second time around.

More comic-book style claims follow from Gumbel, “There will be a new heaven and a new earth. Jesus himself will be there together with all those who love and obey him. It will be a place of intense happiness, which goes on forever. And we will all have new resurrection bodies that will never die!”

Even as I’m typing up this transcript I have to stop and make myself a cup of coffee. I have to have a break while I think to myself how it can be possible for seemingly intelligent, educated and mature adults to believe such obvious nonsense.

Gumbel then assures that “this future Kingdom is coming. It’s near!”. He tells us that Jesus told his disciples to go and spread the word and to heal the sick. “Healing is one of the signs of the Kingdom”, he adds.

Gumbel reveals more about the process of healing: “It’s God that heals, not us. There’s no technique involved. We pray with love and simplicity”.

Does God heal people because we pray? Or would he have healed them anyway? If it’s the former then he obviously wants us to beg before he acts. If it’s the latter then prayer achieves nothing, it’s merely an exercise in futility.

Gumbel then turns his attention to ‘words of knowledge’. “We have found that words of knowledge can be very helpful. It’s one of the ways in which God speaks” he says.

He then tells us of the time he had knee-cartilage surgery about four years ago. But the surgery wasn’t a success, as his knee problems started again shortly afterwards. One night at church someone had a ‘word of knowledge’ for “a right knee” and within no time three other people had received similar messages from God relating to a “right knee”.

Something tells me that perhaps the sight of Gumbel hobbling into church that evening may have had something to do with it. Not to mention the fact that Gumbel is well known in church circles, and many would have been already aware of his knee surgery anyway.

Gumbel eventually came forward and told the group that he did indeed have an injured right knee (much to their surprise?), and that God must have been referring to him in these ‘words of knowledge’. The church group then prayed for his knee. “And I’ve had no problems with it since then”, boasts Gumbel, proudly.

Like I said last week, this talented bunch of churchgoers should pay a visit to their local children’s hospital and set to work on curing some poor, pain-riddled, terminally ill youngsters. Sadly, though, God doesn’t seem keen for them to do their work in such places.

I often wonder, too, why such prayers never work on amputees? We always hear of people that are supposedly “miraculously healed” of headaches, sore throats, knee pains and back pains, but I don’t know of anyone having an arm or leg grow back after a prayer to the omnipotent God. That’s something to think about.

“It’s important to persist” with prayers, states Gumbel. We mustn’t “get discouraged if we don’t see immediate and dramatic results.”

How long do amputees have to wait, I wonder?

“The reason I go on praying is not so much that I’ve seen masses of people healed, but because Jesus commanded us to do it. And that’s why I would go on doing it even if NO ONE was healed”

How incredibly revealing.

Gumbel then finishes his presentation with, “God is a God that healed in the past and still heals today!”

The lights are switched on and the bowls of fruit salad are passed around. As the group are eating, the pastor says, “If anybody wants a prayer for healing, we can pray tonight”

Hopefully it will have more success than the last time they prayed for God to reveal himself to me. Like those amputees, I’m still waiting.

Lady Three mentions that she’s been having trouble with her knee recently, due to the fact that she’s just taken up cycling. The pastor says that he’ll pray for a healing later on. I’m looking forward to that. Hopefully she doesn’t jump out of her seat and start tap-dancing or body-popping immediately afterwards. I’ve managed to keep a straight face for eight weeks, and I’m hoping to keep it that way.

“So, any questions, reflections, or thoughts about tonight’s presentation before we pray for people?” asks the pastor.

Unsurprisingly I have a few questions for the group, but I keep quiet in the hope that someone else will offer something. But no one else does. The pastor shuffles his chair closer to the troubled knee of Lady Three. He’s warming up his hands and looks as though he’s about to summon God into the offending area. At this point the long-standing male member turns to me and says, “Go on, ask your question, Stephen”

Well, I suppose it would be rude not to…

Me: [I turn towards the pastor] “I’m just curious about this ‘healing’ thing. I asked [Lady Two] a similar question last week, so I’ll ask you something along the same lines. If I were to now offer up a prayer to Lord Vishnu in the hope that he would heal her problematic knee [the knee of Lady Three], what are you going to do if her knee gets better? Will I have offered you sufficient proof that Lord Vishnu answers prayers, or are you going to dismiss it out of hand?”
Pastor: [Long pause] “Errr…”
Lady Two: “It would just be coincidence”
Pastor: [In response to Lady Two] “Yeah, probably”
Me: “So why would you expect me to think any differently about the prayer you’re about to offer? What good reason would I have for believing that your prayer made her knee better? Surely the best explanation would be that it was “just a coincidence”, yes?”
Pastor: [Embarrassingly long pause] “Because…. of…. continued experience… of… of… healing, and… the belief that… Jesus told us to do that”

The pastor looks completely flummoxed by my simple question. His face is red and he looks noticeably uncomfortable. Maybe he’s just about had enough of my pesky questions…

The long-standing male member jumps in confidently, as if to rubbish my question:

Long-Standing Male Member: “Do you believe in any of those religions, Steve?”
Me: “No, of course not”
Long-Standing Male Member: “So if you say you’re praying to Vishnu then you’re not doing it in faith”
Me: “But the thing is I could do. And if I did you’d dismiss it, wouldn’t you?”
Long-Standing Male Member: “No”
Me: [Surprised] “Really? Then I’ll offer a genuine prayer to Vishnu tonight. Let’s see what happens.”
Long-Standing Male Member: “Look, the devil counterfeits. When Nicky Gumbel talks about ‘words of knowledge’ and ‘healing’, the devil does the same.”
Me: “So if [Lady Three’s] knee gets better after your prayer could I say that the Christian God wasn’t responsible because he is nothing but one of the devil’s counterfeits? Could I say it was actually Vishnu who answered the prayer instead?”
Long-Standing Male Member: “Nicky Gumbel pointed out that the motive for prayer has got to be love. It’s not how eloquent I am or how many big words I use. It’s none of that. It’s done in faith, and for the person we’re praying for it’s done with love. I don’t have to be a minister or a special person. It’s nothing to do with me. I’m just a channel that God uses.”
Me: “People of other religions pray in love and faith. They’re just as sincere as you are.”
Long-Standing Male Member: “Yeah”
Me: “But you wouldn’t accept their accounts of having prayers answered. You’d dismiss every single one of them”
Pastor: “Jesus never saw healing as a means to convincing people”
Me: “I’m not saying that he did. What I am saying, though, is that you would not be convinced by an identical account given by a Hindu, who claimed that his prayer was responsible for the healing of an individual’s knee. You wouldn’t see a causal link between that Hindu’s prayer and the recovery of an injured knee.”
Pastor: “No, I wouldn’t”
Me: “So, with respect, why would you expect us to believe that there’s a causal link between your prayer and [Lady Three’s] knee getting better?”

There’s another excruciatingly long pause as the pastor digs deep to think of an answer. Lady Three breaks the silence:

Lady Three: “The Christian faith works together with salvation. The Bible says that Jesus took upon himself our infirmities, our sorrows, and our sins. I can’t speak for the other faiths because I‘ve not really studied them. I don’t know what these other gods say about themselves but, for me, Jesus is there. He’s the author of creation, the king of creation.”
Me: “I don’t doubt that is what you believe, but, in all fairness, that’s got nothing to do with the question I’m asking.”
Lady Three: “Well, I can’t answer for the other gods because I don’t know enough about them. I only know what Jesus says about himself”
Me: “That’s all well and good. And by the way I hope your knee does get better. Now, we all know that I don’t actually believe in Vishnu, but I could take that “leap of faith” and offer up a genuine prayer tonight in the hope that it will result in your knee getting better. And, like I say, if it does get better have I proved that Vishnu answers prayers? If not, why would you expect me to believe that the pastor’s prayers will result in a recovered knee?”
Lady Three: “I believe that if God wants us to receive a blessing from him then we should receive it. It’s in the Bible, you see. [She then looks at me sympathetically] You’ve not got to that point yet where you’re persuaded that any of this is true, have you?”
Me: “I think the reason why I’m not persuaded is because all of the “evidence” that has been offered here, and the arguments that have been given, are exactly the same sorts of “evidence” and arguments that people of other religions offer. But you don’t believe any of them. You don’t find those arguments in the least bit convincing, yet you use them yourself. You use methods that you don’t trust.”

Out of the corner of my eye I can see that Lady Two is in a deep, contemplative mood. She’s looking at me, thinking deeply, trying to figure me out. I’m sure she’s in the process of diagnosing the reason for my scepticism, again. Suddenly she speaks, and so begins my therapy session. She’s going to get to the root of my problem through a process of elimination:

Lady Two: “You know when you were a child at school, during morning assembly did you ever say the Lord’s Prayer?”
Me: “Yes. Every morning, I think”
Lady Two: “When you were in your bed at night did you ever used to say your prayers to God?”
Me: “Yes. In fact my mother had placed a crucifix on my bedroom wall, and many nights before I got into bed I would kneel and offer up a prayer”
Lady Two: “And did you used to pray the Lord’s Prayer?”
Me: “Sometimes. But mainly they were prayers of my own. Having said the Lord’s Prayer at school on the morning, I didn’t feel it necessary to say the same thing again”
Lady Two: “Did you feel anything warm and comforting when you were praying?”
Me: “I suppose looking back it was more of a feeling of deep contemplation”
Lady Two: “Did you ever feel you were praying to your maker?”
Me: “Yes, of course”
Lady Two: “Were you unburdening yourself and being close with your spirit? Did you feel that?”
Me: “I should imagine so, yes”
Lady Two: “Did you ever relate to God with emotion? With… you know… your needs. Something you were afraid of, or an insecurity. Did you ever reach him and say “Can you help me with this? I’m struggling with this. Can you help me with this?” Perhaps a vulnerability within you or something”
Me: “No, I don’t think so. I was quite carefree when I was a child. I didn’t have any problems or things to worry about, thankfully”
Lady Two: [Feels she’s onto something] “So there’s nothing “deep” that you were appealing for from within your soul from your maker?”
Me: “Not for me, no. As I seem to remember, most, if not all, of my prayers were on behalf of other people”
Lady Two: “You must have had – because we all have – insecurities”
Me: “No. But I’ve got plenty of those nowadays” [laughs]
Lady Two: “We all have things that we’re nervous about and uncomfortable about. That’s where I get my sort of real soul with God. Where I am literally being like a child to him. And I’m looking at him and I’m saying in my heart, “I don’t know how to handle this, I don’t know what to do, but I’m just going to keep doing my best. I love you”. It’s that sort of unburdening yourself, appealing to him as your maker. Have you ever been able to be emotional and vulnerable with him, and seen him as your maker who wants to make everything really nice for you?”
Me: “I’ve seen him as my maker, yes, but I don’t think I’ve gone as deep as you have”
Lady Two: [As though she’s cracked the case] “Ahhh, I think that might be a key that’s missing, then. [Getting excited] Yes, that might be the key that’s missing! That childlike quality where you come to him as his child, and you’re looking at him in your spirit.”
Me: “Maybe”
Lady Two: “Yes, maybe you’re going home from here every week and saying to God, “I’d LOVE to have this faith that they’ve got. I’d LOVE to have this relationship with you. I’d LOVE to feel the Holy Spirit like [Lady Two] did, and feel it come on me and be washed clean like she was”
Me: “There’s none of that, unfortunately”
Lady Two: “Don’t you have the THIRST for the reassurance that he’s come into your life?”
Me: “I’ll have to be honest with you. No I don’t have that thirst”
Lady Two: “You don’t have that great NEED?”
Me: “No. In the same way that you don’t have the great need to know Vishnu, Allah or Zeus. What I do want to know, though, is if there is a god. I haven’t got this great need for your God. I have a need to have answers to the big questions in life. One such question is, “Is there a god?” But I don’t see answers coming for that particular question, unfortunately. Even when I ask people with deep-rooted beliefs such as yourselves. I’m not getting the answers”
Lady Two: “I think it’s the emotion that’s missing.”
Me: “Wouldn’t it be a good idea for God to tell me that, rather than you?”
Lady Two: “Well maybe he’s speaking through me and I’ve discerned it. I think it’s a problem with men. I really do. Women are very sensitive. Men have got to be strong. They’re seen as people in society who go and fight wars and be strong. I think that if you could just REALLY think, “Heck, I’m missing out on all this relationship with you, where I feel the touch of your spirit, to feel that closeness with you, God. It must be absolutely wonderful. I THIRST for it and I YEARN for it”. If you could unburden yourself like that with him, but REALLY MEAN IT. You see, you’ve come here [to the Alpha Course] so you MUST want it. The fact that you’re coming means you must WANT it.”
Me: “I’m here because there’s some big questions in life and there are lots of people saying that they have the answers. The makers of this course for instance. So that’s the reason why I’m here. But I don’t see any such answers”
Lady Two: “I think you’ve got to start talking to God deeply. But you must do it EMOTIONALLY. Look at your insecurities, the things that you’re nervous about, look at the things you’re frightened about, and start to talk to God as your FATHER who knows you. And before you speak it BELIEVE it. God is actually there with you anyway, but you haven’t opened yourself up to him”
Me: “I spent many a night praying to him. But I didn’t get even the slightest response. Nothing”

The rest of the group join the conversation and within no time the subject changes and we come to discuss morality and God’s law. The pastor intimates that if God hadn’t given us the Ten Commandments then society would have destroyed itself by now. The group agree that we only know that it’s wrong to kill because God said so.

That’s right, before Moses came down the mountain carrying those stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments everyone thought it was perfectly fine to slit the throat of a friend or family member. Pushing someone off of a cliff? Top fun. Beheading someone? Great. Disembowelling your grandmother with a blunt trowel? Lovely. All these things were “ok” up until the Christian God decided to make it officially illegal about 3,500 years ago.

Yeah, right.

Lady Three: “When you come across a religion that says it is ok to kill then I would really hesitate to give that religion any serious consideration”
Me: “You can find lots of passages in the Old Testament where God and/or his prophets openly command people to go and kill others.”
Lady Three: “I can’t say such verses aren’t there because they are. Yes, I’ve struggled with that.”
Me: “I know of one particular verse where Moses’ conquering army are commanded to kill every man among the enemy captives, but are ordered to save the virgin females for themselves as spoil”
Long-Standing Male Member: [Flabbergasted] “IT DOESN’T SAY THAT”
Me: “It does”
Long-Standing Male Member: [Adamant that I’m wrong] “Where does it say to keep all the virgins?”
Me: “I don’t know the verse off the top of my head but I’ll get it for you for next week. [I turn to the pastor and ask] You’ll know of that verse, surely?”
Pastor: “No”
Me: “It definitely says something like that”
Long-Standing Male Member: [Totally dismissing my claim] “I think I would have remembered that if it did”
Lady Three: “I remember them saying to kill everything, and to spare nothing, but I’m sure it doesn’t say what you’re suggesting”

I suppose we’ll have to wait while next week, then.

Lady Two wants to tell me about the love of Jesus:

Lady Two: “What Jesus was preaching was all about LOVE, and all about the fruits of the Spirit. And how he would send the Holy Spirit to come upon us, and how we would be able to do great things in his name. It’s all about walking in the light with Jesus. It was all healing. It was all teaching the lovely way to live. That’s what Jesus was on about. And having love in your heart for people, and having kindness. But also it was about obeying the living God and following his commandments as well.”

Lady Three joins in:

Lady Three: “As Christians we believe that Jesus is the exact representation of God. That’s what the Bible says. I believe that Jesus is who he said he was.”

She then opens up her Bible and reads from John 5:19-23:

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.”

Lady Three: “It’s that last little bit that is the crucial difference between Christianity and all other religions. Jesus IS the one and only Son of God.”
Me: “According to the Bible, yes. But there were numerous ‘sons of god’ in antiquity. Christianity isn’t unique when it comes to that particular claim”
Pastor: “You keep saying that. Who were they, then?”
Me: “Well, off the top of my head there’s Perseus, Hercules, Mithras, and Dionysus. And there’s lots more.”

Lady Three dips into her handbag and pulls out a pen and paper. She wants to know the names of the deities I’ve just mentioned. I don’t think she trusts what I’ve just said. She’s going to look them up. Good for her.

My fellow sceptic turns to her and jokes, “I want a 20-page report on each one for next week”

Actually I admire Lady Three’s approach because all of us should be eager to examine claims that we find hard to believe. That’s the right way to go about it. I do find it strange, though, why these Christians aren’t as keen to examine the claims made in their own holy book.

The pastor is about to offer a closing prayer when Lady Two interjects:

Lady Two: “Before we end I just want to ask Stephen something. [She turns to me] In real terms, Stephen, how DEARLY do you want to find the answer?” [to the question of “Does God exist?”]
Me: “100%”
Lady Two: “Your heart is 100% wanting to find the answer?”
Me: “Yes”
Lady Two: “And are you depressed that you haven’t got it?”
Me: “No. Actually it fascinates me to look for the answers to such questions. The more I learn about existence the better. It gives my life meaning and purpose. I have one chance at life and I’m going to enjoy the search while I’m here”
Lady Two: “Yes, you want direction in your life; to know that your life has a point, and that there’s a place for you with the Father in heaven. Presumably that’s what you’d like for your loved ones? Wouldn’t you like the story to be true for everyone that you love?”
Me: “To be honest with you I wouldn’t want the story to be true if a hell exists. I couldn’t live an eternity of happiness when full in the knowledge that other people were frying in hell.”
Lady Two: “God doesn’t want anyone to fry in hell”
Me: “But people are going to be there if your story is true. I couldn’t live content while being in the presence of a God who tortures people for an eternity. So hopefully the story isn’t true.”

The pastor intervenes: “On that point we’ll pray for [Lady Three’s] knee”

He stands in front of Lady Three, closes his eyes and places his right hand on her knee. He starts to pray, “Father we thank you for all we’ve heard tonight about your desire to bring the healing of God onto this earth, including seeing people saved and set free from sin, sickness and illness. We come now in the name of Jesus and ask, Lord, that you will heal [Lady Three’s] knee so she can carry on cycling. Lord God, we pray that you will give her strength and take away the pain. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen”

There follows a chorus of amen’s from the group before silence. Everyone sits quietly, eyes closed, apparently summoning God to act. The pastor’s hand remains on Lady Three’s knee, his head bowed and his lips muttering an inaudible and brief prayer. There’s complete silence for about fifteen seconds.

The long-standing male member starts to pray. He says his thanks to God and then asks for him to heal Lady Three’s knee and also to ease the pastor’s nasal problems.

There’s more silence before Lady Three offers up a prayer, which is also for the pastor’s [what I think must be sinus] problems, and reminds God that the pastor is “missing out on all the fragrances that you’ve created”. Another chorus of amen’s follows.

Lady Two then has a go. She thanks God for bringing my fellow sceptic and I to the course. “Thank you that they come every week. They are longing for answers for what’s been a burning question for them for a long time. I do pray, Lord, that you would remind them of who you are and of that all the good things that have happened to them in their lives you were responsible. Lord, you’ve wanted their lives to be close to you and for them to know you as a God of love. I just pray, Lord, that as they go home to their beds tonight and they look to you, Lord, that they imagine you as the Lord of their lives. That they just see you as a loving father who wants all good things for them, and wants them to have the security of knowing that they are walking with you, and that they are secure with you, and that they are at one with you, and that their spirit is in tune with you, and that they are your sons. Lord I pray that you want them as your children, and for them to acknowledge you as their loving father. Just soak away all the stuff that is keeping them from being able to rest in you, and to just be your child, Lord. I pray that they will recognise you as their Lord and saviour. I pray, Lord, that you will break down the barriers and they will tonight go home to their beds and just see you above them, and just see you wanting all the good things for them. You’ve wanted that love, Lord. You’ve wanted relationships with them. You’ve wanted them to have peace. You’ve wanted them to have the fruits of the Spirit in their hearts, minds and souls. You’ve wanted them to be surrounded by people who love you and who are also walking with you, Lord. I just pray all these things in Jesus’ name. Amen”

More amen’s follow.

It’s turning into a prayer-a-thon as Lady Three has another go. She too thanks God for bringing my fellow sceptic and I to the course. “I thank you for their honesty”, she says.

She continues:

Lady Three: “There are so many questions, particularly that Stephen has, that maybe we haven’t got convincing answers for. I just pray, Lord, that you will meet with them and prove yourself to them, Lord.”
Pastor: “Yes!”
Lady Three: “Prove yourself, Lord. Prove yourself”
The Group As A Whole: “Amen!”
Lady Two: “I pray, Lord, that they will ask for the Holy Spirit to come into their hearts and minds. And I pray, Lord, that you will reveal yourself. We know that you know, Lord. We know that you know when people need you. Stephen has said tonight that he wants you 100% [did I?], just like I did that night. I wanted you 100% and didn’t think I could get it. And all I’ve wanted ever since that night is to let other people know about my experience so that it might help them to find you. I pray that you will come in to their hearts and minds and souls. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen”
The Group As A Whole: “Amen”

Ooooh, so close! I thought we were going to see out a session without Lady Two mentioning her testimony, but she managed to slip it in right at the very end. She’s certainly persistent! Joking aside, she’s a nice enough lady. She’s absolutely filled to bursting point with religion – she’s got it bad – but she’s a harmless sort.

We all slowly rise from our seats and pack our booklets and pens away. As I’m fastening up my jacket the group remind me to bring the Bible verse, which I claimed existed, to next week’s session. I smile and joke, “If I cant find it I’ll give you a pound”. The long-standing male member laughs and replies, “We’re going to give it to charity!”. Everyone laughs and we all wish each other a good night.


November 8, 2008 Posted by | Alpha Course, Atheism, Christianity, God, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments