by Geoffrey Kragen
There is much suffering in the world today. There are many people in pain. They suffer from physical disease, everything from asthma and allergies, all the way to life threatening illnesses such as AIDS and MS. Disease is a major problem of life, one which can effect anyone regardless of their race, age, social position or material prosperity. It effects all, Christian and non-Christian alike.
But the presence of illness in this world brings up an added difficulty within the Christian community. The problem is that some Christians believe in healing and others do not. Some teach that when Christ died He provided healing for any and all disease. Others believe that God allows us to suffer from illness and doesn't intend us to be healed. Finally, there is the middle ground which holds that God can and does heal--when He desires to--leaving us suffering from disease when He knows that we will benefit spiritually in the midst of that affliction.
There is a substantial amount of disagreement over the whole issue of God's healing of individuals. Did God heal? If God did, does He still do so? Did Messiah's death and resurrection on the cross provide healing for all individuals? How should we pray when confronted with illness? In this article we will endeavor to deal with these touchy questions.
When discussing a Biblical perspective on healing there is only one place to start and that is with God's word. What does Scripture teach about healing?
WITH HIS STRIPES
First, let us examine a passage that is frequently used to support a view that not only does God heal, but it is His intent that no believer suffer from physical illness:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5 NIV).
This is a very familiar passage and, as already noted, some take it to mean that with Messiah's death and resurrection comes the promise of healing for all believers. But is that what the passage really teaches?
We have one expert on this passage we can turn to; the Apostle Simon Peter said, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24). While it can be argued that the some of the Jews of Jesus day saw miracles as a fulfillment of this passage, Peter moves it out of the context of the physical into one of the spiritual. What were we healed from? We have been healed from SIN.
The overall context of the Isaiah passage focuses on the sin of those who are looking up at the suffering servant, at Jesus. The whole of His suffering was directed at paying the price for sin. The thrust of the passage is not concerned with physical illness. Clearly, if one looks at the entire section, versus part of one verse, it is dealing with that fatal illness which ends in spiritual death, SIN and what Messiah suffered so that we would be healed of our transgressions. Regardless of what some teach, the passage has nothing to do with God healing people from illness. To hold other than this is to have much lower view of the verse than the author intends. It teaches something much more important than physical healing, it offers the only answer there is to sin, the suffering of our savior. The message of Isaiah is the glorious message of the Gospel, by God's grace we are saved from an eternity in Hell to an eternity in His presence.
GOD HEALS - OLD TESTAMENT EXAMPLES
Now certainly this does not mean that Scripture does not teach that God heals illness. We find numerous passages within the Old Testament showing that God heals, even including the raising of the dead, for example this passage involving the prophet Elisha. "When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch. He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the LORD. Then he got on the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out upon him, the boy's body grew warm. Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out upon him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes" (2 Kings 4:32-35). As the reader moves through the Old Testament, the healing mercy of God is made abundantly clear.
GOD HEALS - NEW TESTAMENT EXAMPLES - JESUS
In the New Testament it is also very clear that Jesus healed. It fact it is important that we look at the factors involved in His healings. When Jesus healed, people were completely healed. "A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy" (Matthew 8:2-3; also see Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 5 and other passages).
Jesus brought back the dead "As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out--the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry." Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!" The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother" (Luke 7:12-15).
Jesus healed all who came to Him, as we see throughout the Gospels, and in these examples. "News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.": "When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick" (Matthew 4:24, 8:16).
It is also worth noting that while Jesus said in many cases it was faith in Him that lead to healing, it was not necessary to have faith to be healed. In John chapter 5, we read of the healing of a crippled man who not only didn't have faith in Jesus, he didn't even know who Jesus was. As far as Jesus' ministry went, all who came to be healed were. Generally, there wasn't even an issue of having enough faith. How contrary to the teaching that if you aren't healed it is be cause of your lack of faith.
JESUS HEALED - WITH A TOUCH - INSTANTANEOUSLY - TOTALLY - JESUS RAISED THE DEAD:
Before moving on to other New Testament areas, it should be noted that the miracles performed by Jesus were primarily for the purpose of authenticating God's sending Him to the Jew. Almost all that he did was done within the context of His ministry to Judah and the Jew. His healing of Gentiles was by exception. John makes the authenticating purpose clear when he said, "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:33- 31). Essentially, no ministry today needs this type of authentication, as we have the testimony to it within the Scripture with the works of Messiah.
NEW TESTAMENT EXAMPLES-THE APOSTLES
But as far as the issue of healing goes, things changed with the ascension of Jesus to Heaven. While the Apostles healed, God no longer healed everyone who desired to be healed. After the death and resurrection of Messiah, God no longer carried out a wholesale healing ministry. So much for healing being a product of Messiah's work on the cross.
The apostles and others who were around Jesus did heal, but in a much more limited way than the Lord. Even here, the healing was an authentication of their ministry (see Acts 3). But when they did heal, they carried it out in exactly the same way that Jesus did, that is, with a touch - instantaneously - totally, even to the raising of the dead.
As we move on into the early period of the church, we find that even Paul didn't heal. Philippians 2:25-27 gives an account of Epaphroditus who almost died, and was healed, not by Paul, but by God. Paul didn't heal Timothy of stomach problems, he suggested taking some wine (1 Timothy 5:23), essentially a recommendation for medical treatment.
Finally, we know that God does not intend everyone to be healed because Paul himself suffered from a condition which he prayed about, and God chose not to heal him:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:7).
This passage shows a most important principle. God not only doesn't always heal, but he allows illness as a way to cause us to be more dependent on Him. Clearly Paul is teaching, that God is more concerned with our spiritual than our physical health, even to the extent that He allows Satan to torment us for our growth, just as He allowed Satan to do with Job. (It should be noted here that obviously God doesn't always intend us to be free from the persecution of Satan and his followers, but allows them leeway in our life for our growth.)
GROWTH THROUGH SUFFERING
This brings us to the real issue regarding healing. Scripture does teach that God heals, and still heals today. What Scripture does not teach is that God intends Christians to be without disease, that God intends all believers to be healed from illness and if we aren't it is simply because we don't have enough faith. To the contrary, illness is one of the things God uses to keep us dependent on Him.
There are essentially three principles that underlie this truth.
1) God is sovereign. It is not up to us to demand that God heal. It is up to Him to decide what is in our best interest, which may be to allow us to remain in our stricken condition. "The LORD said to him, 'Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD?'" (Exodus 4:11). Again, remember God's words to Paul: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). Who are we to say, "God heal me!" when He chooses not to?
2) Clearly, God is more concerned with our souls than our bodies. "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). Scripture does not teach that God desires our happiness. What He desires is our maturity. All suffering can bring us benefit. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). Now does this mean all things except disease, or does it really mean all things?
Listen to the words of Peter, the great Apostle, one who healed others himself. "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed" (1 Peter 4:12-13). Now while Peter is talking about the suffering that comes from standing for Christ, as a witness for Him, how we stand faithful in our pain is also a witness for Him. Notice then that we are not to be surprised by suffering. We are not to go demanding that God heal us. We are to rejoice that we are allowed to suffer so that God will be glorified in our dependence on Him.) We have certainly seen this principle of God using the suffering of believers to His glory. Joni Eareckson Tada, a paraplegic, has had the opportunity to touch the lives of many physically challenged individuals because of her willingness to accept God's decision to remain in her chair.
Merrill Womach, the great singer, has had an outstanding testimony for the Lord despite the fact that his body, his face, are ravished by the act of a fire through which he suffered.
Then there is the great Hymn writer Fannie Crosby who, in the midst of her blindness, wrote some of the outstanding standards of the church. Among her great works are "To God Be The Glory," "Tell Me The Old, Old Story," and "Blessed Assurance." As she wrote "Perfect submission, perfect delight! Visions of rapture now burst on my sight," in the midst of her blindness, she kept her "eyes" on her Lord.
Think the great loss to the church if God choose to heal all of His children. Think of the loss of testimony to the world of those who say their faith is in God, not in God's changing their circumstances.
First and foremost, we can praise the Lord for He is a loving God, and as such, God did and does still heal His afflicted children. "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. " (1 John 5:14). The key here is though according to HIS will, not ours. God does heal when He knows it is appropriate.
God heals directly today, miraculously. God also heals through competent medical practice. In fact, James teaches that we are to pray and get medical care. "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord" (James 5:14). Oil in this context is the best understood as medical treatment.
As believers though, our primary concern should not be on physical recovery. Our purpose is to live in a way that glorifies God and brings honor to his name. How we continue to trust in Him in the midst of pain says more about our relationship with Him to a fallen world than how He makes life easy for us. After all, Scripture says of God, "...He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Mat. 5:45). Everyone in the world suffers, the difference between the Believer an Non-believer is what they bring out of that suffering and accordingly model about God before a lost world. (For an example of the negative witness of one who demands healing, see the article "Thy Will Be Done" elsewhere in the issue.)
We must be willing to say that our joy, or life, does not come from God choosing to heal us. It comes for the quality of our relationship with Him in the midst of circumstances. Let us not boast in what God has done for us, but who God is. Paul puts it best when he said, "If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness" (2 Corinthians 11:30).
As believers, we are called to "walk on water," that is, to walk in dependency on the Lord in the midst of the trials and tribulations. We do this by keeping our focus on Him. Peter stepped out of the boat, and did walk on the waves. He only began to sink when he took his eyes of the Lord and put them on the waves (see Matthew 14:22-31).
As we deal with the waves of illness, the waves of pain, the waves of suffering, let us not demand that God take us out of the water, but instead, keep our eyes on Him, walking in His ways in the midst of the waves, knowing that He will heal us if he chooses, but that we can rejoice in Him even if he doesn't. Again, remember the words of Paul: "...we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). That means that both in times of peace and comfort, and in times of pain and upheaval, as believers, we can rejoice because our loving Father is in control.
Let us pray that we will grow in our willingness to trust the Lord to the control of our lives, and instead of looking at the waves, we will keep our eyes on Him. Instead of demanding physical health, let us pray for spiritual maturity, accepting all that God brings to us, as for our own good. And as we so live then one day we will stand before Him and hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" (Matthew 25:21).
Even so--come Lord Jesus!