“If God doesn’t heal, then what?” A question Pastor Philip Lyn grappled with
by Tan Huey Ying // January 5, 2019, 9:50 am
Ps-Dr Philip Lyn with his wife, Nancy (right), and Sarah (middle). All photos courtesy of Philip Lyn.
Strangled by a rope hanging from a clothesline, four-year-old Sarah Lyn was found clinically dead – her heart had stopped beating for more than five minutes.
A child’s play that went awry.
When she was found, her face was dark blue and her pupils dilated. Sarah was somehow successfully resuscitated, but her contorted limbs indicated extensive brain damage.
It was August 26, 2002 – the day before her fourth birthday.
In the hospital, she lay in a coma for close to 12 hours – before God worked a miracle and healed her completely.
It was an unnatural, out-of-the-ordinary intervention by God.
Today, 16 years later, Sarah is a final-year medical student.
Waiting and not knowing
While in the midst of despair, our perception of reality often challenges the truths of God – His goodness, His sovereignty and even His existence. God is sometimes even accused of being absent in and unaffected by our suffering and trials.
“If God doesn’t heal my child, she’s going to live with severe brain damage.”
But this was not the case for Sarah’s dad, Ps-Dr Philip Lyn, a medical doctor and bi-vocational pastor, and his wife, Nancy. Even though, in the 12 hours that passed between Sarah’s accident and her full recovery, no one knew what would – or would not – happen.
The parents were in a liminal space – a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing.
The heaviness of those 12 hours, Dr Lyn and his wife would have felt it in the most acute ways.
Nevertheless, their faith in God’s goodness and presence were sustained by the promise of the verse (Psalm 118:17).
Dr Lyn recounted his thoughts then: “As a doctor, I was like: ‘Okay, if God doesn’t heal my child, she’s going to live with severe brain damage and impairment.’
“I’d probably have to leave Kota Kinabalu and either move to Singapore or somewhere where my child can get better rehabilitation and special schooling.”
His wife Nancy, on the other hand, was more emotional.
“She thought very much along the lines of the pain.” Dr Lyn explained: “The pain that Sarah would have felt in her final moments before she blacked out.
“We are going to serve the Lord. We are not going to back off.”
“Nobody came. Sarah was probably thinking: ‘Where’s Mum? How come Mum’s not here?’
“That was a severe source of pain to Nancy – the pain of not being there when Sarah needed her.
“Between the two of us – separately – we made a resolute decision before God. Whether Sarah would die or come out of this alive with permanent brain damage.”
Dr Lyn paused before he continued: “We are going to serve the Lord. Continually. With all our hearts.
“We’re not going to back off.”
God can, God will.
At the time of the accident, Dr Lyn was one year into pastoring a church and working as a medical doctor at the same time. The church was in its infancy then.
Having seen many miracles, Dr Lyn is no stranger to the un-natural work that God does. Yet, he says: “But when something so personal happens, it is completely different – spiritually, emotionally and mentally.”
Dr Lyn said: “I think, the experience has grounded our faith.
“It has strengthened my conviction that God does heal and still does miracles today.”
One important point that Dr Lyn is quick to emphasise, however, is the “even-if” aspect of his experience. He observed that, sometimes people see ‘faith’ as: God can. God will. And God must. But there needs to be a backstop to it: ‘If God doesn’t, then what?’
“Will we still have that same faith? Will you still believe in the God Who Is?”
“That’s how our journey of faith has rounded off for us. The fullness of faith having a ‘front’ and ‘back’ to it.”
“I preach a faith that God can and God will.”
It is about seeing who God really is – and believing in Him.
But one thing Dr Lyn has learnt about faith is the personal aspect of it.
Faith is personal
He and Nancy were not the only witnesses to Sarah’s miracle – his older children, Frances and Andrew, were there too.
“It doesn’t matter how big – or how close – the miracle is, you need to experience God for yourself.”
Frances was in her teenage years, while Andrew was in his pre-teens. Both of them had kept a prayer vigil alongside family and friends.
Despite that, Dr Lyn recalls that they had the usual struggles and doubts about God – about His silence, His presence, and at times, even the reality of God.
“You would think to yourself: ‘What… Your sister’s been raised from the dead, for goodness sake!’
“When I talk to them about God being real, about how God speaks to them and about how close are you to God – they never refer to the miracle that happened to Sarah.
“They just didn’t use it as a reference point for their faith. And it rarely ever came up.”
He reckoned: “It doesn’t matter how big – or how close – the miracle is, you need to experience God for yourself.”
Even Sarah, herself, has had to own her faith journey – despite being the receiver of the miraculous healing.
Two to three months after the incident in 2002, the Lyns found that Sarah experienced no psychological scarring.
“We ventured to tell her about it,” Dr Lyn recalled. “She was rather nonplussed, maybe a little surprised. It turns out that she has no memory of the event, it’s what we call ‘retrograde amnesia’.”
“I had to seek Him for myself, and let God reveal Himself to me.”
Sarah, who is now a 21-year-old, said: “When my parents first told me about the whole incident, I remember being confused as to why it was a big deal.
“I honestly thought that what had happened was a normal thing.”
Then Sarah shared that, despite her realisation that what had happened was a miracle, “my faith journey was like anyone else’s – full of ups and downs.
“I definitely questioned my faith multiple times. Sometimes, I took the ‘devil’s advocate’ route and challenged my parents and other pastors on the nature of God, and the validity of the Bible. Other times I took the ‘emotional’ route, where I doubted God’s presence because I couldn’t feel Him.”
Whichever route she took, Sarah soon found that she would never be satisfied with answers that were not her own. She said: “I had to seek Him for myself, and let God reveal Himself to me.”
“It’s incredibly strange,” Dr Lyn said with a laugh. “They’ve experienced a great miracle but they still had to encounter God personally in their own inner life.”
Faith is not built on miracles – or the lack of them. And every member of the Lyn family has had to reckon with the reality of God; be it in a commitment to serve Him or otherwise.
Today, Dr Lyn’s church, Skyline SIB, is over a thousand-strong, and the couple are still serving faithfully alongside a team of other bi-vocational pastors. His children, Frances, Andrew and Sarah, are committed disciples of the Lord.