Faith Healing

According to Paul Tillich, faith is not just the antidote to doubt and meaninglessness, but to the existential anxiety produced by doubt and meaninglessness. He also argues that other sources of existential anxiety, such as guilt and condemnation, and fate and death, can only be overcome through faith.

Tillich makes a distinction between ordinary anxiety, “pathological anxiety”, and existential anxiety. Existential anxiety is ultimately at the root of all particular, neurotic, pathological anxieties, and whereas a certain amount of faith can assuage these, we need “absolute faith” to deal with the deeper, underlying anxiety.

Chronic anxiety is well understood to produce both mental and physical problems, through stress hormones such as cortisol, for example. And existential anxiety is by its very nature chronic. It is an underlying dis-ease, something akin, perhaps, to the suffering that the Buddha spoke about, dukkha.

This chronic, existential anxiety and suffering is usually pushed into the unconscious, below the level of awareness. It manifests itself in fits and starts through anxious thoughts and feelings, but also somatically, primarily through muscular tension. The physical discomfort can become quite unbearable and debilitating, experienced in its acute phases as a “pain body” (Eckhart Tolle).

Tolle makes the point that the central Christian image of a suffering man on a cross resonates with many people because it so powerfully represents the existential condition of the pain body. The Christian belief that Christ can take away the pain, that he has magical healing power to take away “the sins of the world” as well as the pain that goes with it, obviously requires a leap of faith.

But if absolute faith is the antidote to existential anxiety, which is the underlying cause of the pain body, then faith heals. And absolute faith in the saving grace of Christ heals.

“For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.

But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.”

Matthew 9: 21-22