Article by Professor Keener. Chapter 11: Supernatural Claims in The Recent West. p. 571 (Scribd ebook format).
On my request, Galen put me in contact with the member of that congregation whose story he had witnessed, (1) Ed Wilkinson. I quickly learned that Ed is not given to uninformed credulity; reflecting his training in neuropsychology, he complains about those who want faith to cure everything, using it as a neurosis to avoid dealing with reality (2). Many years ago, however, his family faced a crisis in November 1984, when his eight-year-old son Brad was found to have atrial septal defect, with two holes in his heart. The condition impaired his lungs in addition to his heart. To allow time to convalesce without interrupting school, the visiting pediatric cardiologist scheduled surgery for June, warning that Brad could not play sports anymore in the meantime.
The months of waiting proved stressful. As June approached, Brad began giving away his toys, not expecting to survive. One day he asked his father, “Am I going to die?” Ed answered his son honestly: not everyone facing heart surgery dies, but during heart surgery that is always a possibility. “Can Jesus heal me?” the eight-year-old asked. Aware of how often faith had been abused, the father cringed. “I’ll get back to you on that,” he responded. A few days later, after some anguished prayer and engagement with Phil 4:13, he shared his resolution with his son. God does heal, but whether he would heal in Brad’s case or not, they still had hope of eternal life in Jesus. Galen, the pastor, informed Ed that someone was planning to conduct a healing service in their church in June. Ed felt that this was their only hope apart from the surgery that was scheduled the Sunday following the service. When the anticipated service concluded, however, the visiting minister, Wesley Steelberg Jr., (3) initially was focusing primarily on praying for emotional healing, and Ed felt cheated. But then Steelberg called for those wanting prayer for physical healing, and Ed urged Brad to go forward. At first reluctant, Brad finally complied, explaining to this visiting minister what was wrong (4). “Do you believe that Jesus can heal you?” Steelberg asked. Brad answered affirmatively, and Steelberg offered a simple prayer. The following Sunday, the family traveled to the university hospital in Columbia, Missouri, for further tests; the tests merely confirmed that nothing had changed. The following morning, as Brad was taken for surgery, the doctor explained that Ed could follow Brad only as far as the yellow tape, and the team would be operating on Brad for four to six hours. At this point any hope of a miraculous healing had faded, so the family could only pray for surgical success (5). Ed returned anxiously to the waiting area. After about an hour, the pediatric cardiac surgeon, the pulmonologist, and the risk management director for the hospital entered the waiting area and summoned Ed to accompany them. The surgery should have taken at least three more hours, so Ed was anxious. Because the surgery was obviously no longer occurring, Ed, his mind racing, could only fear the worst as he followed them obediently down a long corridor. Ushering Ed into a room, they displayed films posted on the wall, taken the day before. “You see where the blood was leaking from one chamber to the next,” the surgeon explained. Then the surgeon showed the film they had just taken as they were starting surgery, with a wall of some sort where the leak had been. Too anxious and traumatized to process immediately what the surgeon was saying, Ed finally interrupted. “What happened to my son?”
“Brad is in the recovery room,” the surgeon answered calmly. “I beg your
pardon?” Ed demanded.
The surgeon explained that there was nothing wrong with Brad’s heart—even though the holes were clearly there the day before. His lungs were also now normal. “I have not seen this very often,” the surgeon explained. While this sort of spontaneous closure could happen in infants, it was not supposed to happen in an eight-year-old. “You can count this as a miracle.” The pulmonologist added, “Somebody somewhere must have been praying.” The hospital risk manager added firmly, “You can see from the films: this was not a misdiagnosis” (6).
Because they had done a cardiac catheterization, Brad would have to be kept overnight, but he was free to return home the next day, on Tuesday. Ed asked when Brad could start playing sports again. “When is his next game scheduled?” the surgeon inquired. “Thursday,” Ed responded numbly. The doctor assured him that Brad could play on Thursday. That Thursday, as they arrived late for the baseball game, Brad’s friend Paul spotted him. Knowing that Brad was supposed to be convalescing, but having prayed for him, he shouted, “Did God heal you?” “Yeah!” Brad shouted back, thrusting his fist into the air. Brad hurried to second base, where he soon caught a ball and tagged out the runner who had been on first base in a double play. A parent for the rival team complained about the catch, “That was a miracle.” “You have no idea,” Ed recalls muttering.
An agent from the insurance company later complained about the forms he received. “What is a ‘spontaneous closure’?” he demanded. “A miracle,” Ed tried to explain. Brad is now in his early thirties with a business and children of his own, and he has never had any heart problems since his healing. Although before his healing experience he had also had pulmonary hypertension, normally supposed to be irreversible, that problem was cured at the same time as his heart. Ed himself went through surgery for an unrelated issue last year and is well aware that miraculous healings do not always happen. He will never doubt, however, that at a time when he had virtually surrendered hope, God did a miracle for his eight-year-old son.
1. Galen Hertweck, interview, Jan. 26, 2009.
2. Ed Wilkinson, phone interview, Feb. 22, 2009; with confirmation of some details in personal correspondence, March 11; April 3, 2009.
3. Steelberg’s own background may be significant for his interest in healing: he “had been healed of a critical heart condition and was given just hours to live” before being healed (Galen Hertweck, personal correspondence, May 17, 2009)
4. Brad Wilkinson, personal correspondence, May 17, 2009
5. Brad recounts that this was “the first time I can recall when I just had to trust God and let go,” because there was nothing he could do (ibid.).
6. Anderson, Miracles, 96, notes another case of a hole in a child’s heart being healed, and that such recoveries when purely natural are rare and take years; another case appears in Schiappacasse, Heals, 30.