It’s winter and seems like everybody’s sick. I have a cold. I know of people with viruses. Several weeks ago 2 of my grandchildren had pneumonia. Then there’s the more serious stuff. A church member is suffering from ALS. Two weeks ago cancer took John at the age of 77. Not just a church member, John had lived with us for two years so he was also something of a family member.
Everybody dies eventually and death is not terribly choosy how it kills people: through choking, freak accidents, crime, and car wrecks. But the vast majority of us will die sick. Some illness or disease will take us. Why is that when God could heal? In fact, the gospel accounts seem to bristle with men and women who, once sick, became well after Jesus touched them. Blind men could suddenly see, lepers became whole, a deaf man could hear, a women’s 12 years of bleeding came to an end, a man’s deformed hand was corrected, and paralyzed people walked. Not only were individual people healed, but sometimes there was a healing service where entire crowds got well from His touch (Matt.15:30). Sometimes the Bible indicates those healed showed faith to be healed, but at other times nothing is mentioned.
Some Christians think God just healed during certain times in history, and that He did it only through special messengers like Jesus (God in flesh) or the apostles. They view those days as unique, believing their purposes have long ago been fulfilled. Consequently they conclude God no longer heals–and no longer gives Christians that ability as spiritual gift (1 Cor.12:9, 28)*. They believe that the main reason Jesus and His apostles healed was to authenticate Jesus and His message.
Faced with inexplicable recoveries that medicine can’t explain, fewer and fewer Christians actually think healing has ended completely–even though they may not expect it to occur as regularly as it appears to have in the gospels. Nevertheless, even some of those who do believe God heals, may quietly lapse into skepticism as a way to make sense of the fact that so few people seem to be healed by divine intervention.
Other Christians read their Bibles and insist, “Physical healing should be as common as it was in Jesus’ day. If it was normal then, why not now? After all, Jesus’ arrival on earth changed things.” They point to Matthew’s words that Jesus healed a lot of sick people (Matt.8:17) to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy: (Is.53:4: He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows [although the wording seems better lifted from Ps.103:3]).
Some go farther–particularly Pentecostal Christians who say that on the cross Jesus shouldered not only all of our sins, but all of our sicknesses. In the words of 1 Pet.2:24, By His wounds you have been healed. They argue that when Christ died for us on the cross, through His atoning work God guaranteed that believers who have enough faith–and clean hearts, should not get sick–at least not stay sick. That illness is the work of a defeated devil.
God did heal.
God does heal.
But God doesn’t always heal. Ask Job. Or Paul. Or, ask any of the saints now in heaven who died from cancer, diabetes, a heart attack, stroke or brain aneurism, or… If God refuses to heal even one person who’s faithfully serving Him (meaning, critics can’t blame their illnesses or diseases on weak faith or disobedient living), then we cannot say that 1 Peter 2:24 means Jesus atoned for our sicknesses like he did for our sins. As He did with Paul, sometimes God has a good purpose in physical infirmity and means to shape us with it (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).
On the flip side, some of us (by that I mean me and maybe some of you), may well be functional atheists when it comes to healing. We believe in the idea that God heals, but you’d never know it by what happens when we or loved ones get sick. What do we do first? Call the doctor. First. Maybe we think to pray in a day or two but is it more than a formality? Is any faith exhibited? The people who shun medicine altogether are wrong not to take advantage of the medical advances which are the result of God’s common grace. But perhaps we’re just as wrong to all but worship at the throne of medical science. Where’s our real trust rest?
Admittedly, many of us who believe God still heals are disappointed at how rarely He seems to. As a pastor I have prayed thousands of times for hundreds of people. Yet I can count on one hand the time I have seen remarkable and obvious healing that couldn’t be explained by medical treatment. Perhaps that’s part of the problem. If we more readily believe in the doctor’s power than the Lord’s, are we at times crediting medicine with what God actually did? Is my faith actually in medicine–not God, and because of that I’m missing some miracles?
God sometimes won’t heal and it has nothing to do with the size of our faith or the shine of our halos. It is because the sovereign God has some other God-glorifying and people-strengthening purpose in our suffering (2 Cor.12:9-10). But God STILL heals. Don’t stop praying for yourself or others “…to be in good health.” (3 John 1:2).
*What about the spiritual gift of healing? Do some Christians have the ability to heal people at their pleasure–rather than having to ask God to do it? Like the apostle John did, or Paul? There’s really no lasting legacy of such people in the records of Christian history but in the last century we’ve seen men and women like Kathryn Kuhlman, Oral Roberts, and Benny Hinn lay claim to the gift. However, when supposed healings by these and others are investigated, often more questions are raised than answered. Muddying the waters are the enormous sums being taken by the healers in contributions. But there’s nothing in Scripture to rule out that God could give this gift. I would assume the exercise of such a gift would be evidenced not just in arena events where large offerings are taken, but in hospitals where people can’t pay and where the need is more concentrated than anywhere else.