In the glow of the lamplight, I looked at the face my dying wife, and was afraid. No, I thought, she’s not dying. She’s healed. We’ve asked God to heal her, and all we have to do now is believe that God’s done it. She’s not dying. She’s healed. She IS healed! Even as I forced these affirmations to play on repeat in my mind, the doubt continued to creep in. She certainly didn’t look healed. The cancer had eaten her away. Unconscious on our bed, Sarah looked hollow; her body hung loosely around her withered soul like a doll with all the stuffing removed. She was only 33. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t right at all.
My attention was pulled from Sarah’s face by sudden movement on the other side of the bed. Brother Don rose from his chair, still mumbling prayers under his breath, and grabbed my arm.
“Now, Brother Josh, I’ve just received a word from the Lord. You and I know that your wife here is healed. We know how the prophet Isaiah spoke of Christ, that by Christ’s holy wounds, we are healed. We know that Brother Paul, in the book of Romans, tells us how our sweet Jesus took the curse of sin and death for us, so that we might live. And you and I both know those sacred words in the Gospel of Mark. ‘Whatsoever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’ We have already asked the Lord to bless our Sarah with healing. Now, the Lord just spoke to me and told me that we need to believe that we have received that healing. We have got to praise the Lord for this healing. You and me, right now. We are going sing praises to the Lord for this healing!”
As he finished speaking, Brother Don grabbed my hands across the bed, raised them up over my head, and began to sing:
“What can wash away my sins?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the Blood of Jesus”
I stole a glance down at Sarah and wondered about my own sins. When Sarah got the diagnosis last year, I begged her to seek treatment, but she refused. She was a lifelong member at the Tree of Life Assembly, a church that shunned traditional medical treatments in favor of supernatural healing directly from God. “Why go to the doctors of men, when we had direct access to the Author of Life?” Brother Don preached on a regular basis. All we had to do, according to the church, was believe. And Sarah, she believed, really believed, that God would heal her of this disease. But I had doubted. Was my lapse of faith what was bringing this on? Was my unbelief killing my wife?
Brother Don’s voice continued to ring out in the quiet room.
“Oh, the Blood of Jesus,
Oh, the Blood of Jesus,
Oh, the Blood of Jesus, it washes white as snow!”
Sarah had called Brother Don, our pastor, from the hospital immediately after getting the diagnosis, and the next Sunday he brought us down front and the whole congregation laid hands on Sarah and prayed. She believed she received her healing right then and there. Even as she began to waste away, she would walk around the house, or as her strength began to fade, she would just sit in her chair, thanking God for healing her, day and night. At least, she did until she lapsed into her current, non-responsive state. A sudden pain in my right hand brought me out of these thoughts. Don was squeezing my hand and staring me hard in the face. “Joshua, you’re not singing. The Lord has healed your wife, and you are not giving Him praise! If you want this healing to manifest, you need to sing with me, come on!”
With wavering voice, I joined in the next chorus:
“Oh, the Blood of Jesus…”
With each chorus, Don became louder and louder, and his voice filled with more drama and emotion. Around the third chorus, my Sarah began to stir, brow furrowed and sweating. I dropped the hymn immediately and caressed her too-hot face.
“Sarah, can you hear me? You’re gonna be ok, sweetheart. You’re gonna be ok.”
Eyes still closed tightly, Sarah began to move her mouth as if trying to speak, but the only sound that came was low, raspy, and incoherent.
“Hah! Praise Jesus, look at this!” Brother Don shouted, “She’s trying to praise the Lord along with us! The healing is manifesting, bless God! I knew it! She has taken care of the Lord’s things, so the Lord is taking care of her!” With this, he began to dance around the room, as he did on Sundays when “the Spirit came upon him.” Looking on, holding my wife’s limp head in my hands, I felt sick. Many were the Sundays past when I had danced in the Spirit along with Brother Don. But here, in the late, lamplit watches of the night, this little old man in his ill-fitting suit dancing around the sickbed of my dying young wife felt more like an imp than a Man of God.
Suddenly, Don froze with has back to me, and began muttering to himself “Yes, Lord… Yeeeeeeeeeessss Lord…” Turning on one foot, he spoke with an air of immense gravity, “Joshua, the Lord has heard your prayers, and he has heard your praise. He asks one more act of faith from you. Do you recall the story of the Prophet Elijah and the widow?” At this my heart broke. I knew the story, and I knew what kind of request was coming. “During the time of famine,” he continued, “the widow had only enough flour to make one last cake for herself and her only son. You recall how the Prophet then asked the widow to step out in faith and use that flour to make a cake for himself, as a Man of God. God asked the widow to put the Man of God above herself and those she cared most about. And by God, when the widow obeyed, you recall how richly the Lord blessed her! He provided supernatural food for her and her son throughout the rest of that famine, bless God! The Lord is now asking you to perform a similar act of faith. Leave your wife’s side now… we know she’s healed, bless God… go downstairs, and make me, as your pastor and a Man of God, a cup of tea. If you do this, I hear the Lord telling me there will be an explosion of his healing power in this room tonight.”
How could I make myself leave her? She felt as though she was fighting for each breath. But then, if I disobeyed, would the Lord punish Sarah for my unbelief? I froze in indecision. As I shook my head, I felt a tear break free and make a shining trail down my face in the lamplight. “I can’t leave her, Brother Don. Hasn’t she done enough? She trusted God and refused the treatments. She’s spent days volunteering down at the church. We’ve given almost everything we have in faith. Don’t make me leave her, Don. Please. God’s got to have another way, Brother.”
At this, I saw his eyes grow darker. “Now Joshua, I understand that the flesh is weak. But you have to have faith. We have believed we received her healing! If you really believed she was healed, why would you hesitate to go get the man of God some tea? We cannot have any unbelief in this room, Joshua. We cannot give the devil that foothold.”
I can’t let my unbelief hurt my wife, I finally decided, Jesus, help my unbelief. I rose from my knees and gently stroked Sarah’s hand as I turned to leave the room. When I got to the doorway, I looked back to see my Sarah, but Brother Don, a black form standing at the foot of the bed in the dim lamplight, blocked her from my view. The distance from the bedroom door across the landing to the stairs felt like miles. My feet felt heavier with every step, like walking in combat boots through thick mud. To keep my mind from soaring into a frenzy, I counted the steps as I descended, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, and twelve. I found the electric kettle and flipped the switch.
I was putting the teabag in the cup when I heard it: Sarah screamed my name with a vigor I had not heard from her for months. Whether I ran or flew up to the bedroom I cannot say. My next memory is standing in the doorway of our bedroom. Sarah’s eyes were open now as she lay back on the bed.
But I knew instantly her soul had left the withered remains of her body.
I could not feel her in the room.
As I stood looking into her lifeless eyes, I watched in shock as her head lifted from the bed. It took me a moment before I realized that Don had my poor Sarah’s body by her wrists and was raising her up and yelling “Talitha Koum! Little girl, arise!” With this he let go of her wrists, and Sarah’s body fell back to the bed, head and limbs lolling like a macabre marionette. Before I could process what was happening, he grabbed her wrists and raised her again, this time shouting, “I said rise, in Jesus’ name!” And again, her body dropped back lifeless to the bed. Don made to grab her again, but this time I was across the room and pushed him to the ground before he could touch her. He looked up at me, anger burning in his eyes.
“How dare you lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed! Don’t you believe? We received her healing!”
“She’s gone Don! It’s over. She’s gone.”
I could make out the general shape of the little man struggling to get to his feet, but the room had begun to spin, and a mist of tears and rage obscured my vision.
“I knew it.” I heard him say, all his usual religious condescension replaced by icy derision. “I knew you never had the faith. You are like the people of Capernaum. Jesus could do no mighty works in that town because of their unbelief. And Sarah. I thought she had the faith. But when she opened her eyes just now, I saw fear. When you both let in fear, you made room for the devil. You both invited this sickness in. You denied the grace of God, Joshua.”
As he spoke, I thought of the treatments refused. All those hours spent at the church, praying for healing. All our savings going into those silver offering buckets. I thought about the life cut short. The children we would never have. And I thought about the fact that Don, this little pig of a man, this creature, had sent me out of the room…for tea… and that my Sarah died, afraid and in pain, asking for me, and I was not there to comfort her. My unbelief had not been a sin. No. it was my belief in this nonsense that constituted my sins. Sarah had died because of these sins. And sins must be washed away. In blood.
I felt my right arm swing out and connect with something hard. Don dropped to the floor, and I felt myself drop with him, swinging and connecting again and again. I heard the man underneath me cursing, “Get off me, goddammit! Get off!” and decided I was tired of hearing that voice. Salvation be damned, I needed to stop him from infecting anyone else with this poison. No more Sarahs. The bedside table was to my left. As I ripped the lamp from the socket, the room went dark, but it didn’t matter. I knew where to swing. As I brought the base of the lamp down hard, I heard a crunching sound and felt a warm spray on my face. I laughed then. A cold, hard laugh. Don took another swing, and grunted something, so I brought the lamp down again, harder this time. Thwack. Another warm spray. There was no movement now, but I brought the lamp once more. Thwack. It was rhythmic. Almost musical.
I heard the words then, in my own voice, but somehow as though coming from far off.
“What can wash away my sins…”
“Nothing but the Blood of Jesus…”
“What can make me whole again…”
“Nothing but the Blood of Jesus…”
Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.