Jamie Coots, a famous snake-handling preacher in Kentucky, died this past week due to a snakebite. Something about this story unsettles me.
This is not because I have a history with snake handling pastors, and I don’t have any long-standing issues with reptiles either. Actually, it’s not even his death which troubles me, but rather the way he described his approach to handling snakes.
Coots stated, “I made a vow to God when I first started taking up serpents that if ever I was bitten I wouldn’t go to [the] hospital. I believe that when it’s my time to go there ain’t a doctor in this world that can keep me here.” He insinuates that his faith has a certain purity to it because he is trusting God instead of physicians.
Coots puts modern medicine and faith at odds with each other
Coots felt he demonstrated his faith in God by refusing medical assistance for the snakebite. This choice has left his church in pain and sorrow. As a congregation, they have to push through this tragedy and reconcile his death with our good God.
Don’t mishear me though. I would never say God is not in the business of healing. I firmly believe God can and does miraculously heal people in an instant. I have seen it happen more than once.
I have felt God move intestinal kinks under my fingers to prevent emergency surgery. I have prayed for back pain and seen immediate results. My wife and I have prayed for a terminally ill coworker and watched her leave the hospital healthy 48 hours later. I wholeheartedly believe in the kingdom of God, expressed in miraculous healings.
I also believe in medicine and physicians. And there is no conflict in these beliefs. My daughter is on two anti-epileptic medications, among other pills. We have seen her without her seizure meds, and it’s horrible. She has twenty or more seizures every day.
These drugs are a gift from God for her health. Our choice to medicate our daughter does not lessen our faith in God.
The faithful and mature Christian is never sick
This is a related teaching about illness that is equally painful. I spent many years in churches that taught this, and I have seen so many people hurt by this theology.
Wise and seasoned leaders would sincerely ask me if I had any sin to confess when I asked for healing prayer related to my seizures.
One of my friends was told her husband would have overcome his cancer if only she had believed more. I met her four years and one husband later, and she was still scarred from that encounter.
When my shoulder pain flared up, I was informed that it would dissipate if I would only raise my hands and worship freely. Guilt was heaped onto my soul when I couldn’t do it without pain.
James 1:17 tells us “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
Pain and sickness are not good. They do not come from God. He does not judge us by inflicting us with terrible things.
Our God is gentle and compassionate. Full of love, He looks to bless us, not curse us. Our God is good. And He loves snake-handlers physicians. Just like He loves all of us.