The case for: Healing? Not Always.
In my last post, I spoke a bit about the case for healing. In reading over that post, I affirm and agree with what I have written… but…
In my younger days I would alway use Romans 3:4 as a fall back position when people did not receive healing. God’s word says in Isaiah that salvation covers our sins, our minds, and our bodies (Isaiah 53:5). If we are not seeing that active in the lives of people around us, it is not because God’s word isn’t true – so it must be something within us…
Having grown up in a pentecostal/charismatic environment, I was indubitably indoctrinated into their way of thinking. Every denomination has their particular slant, and I’m not knocking that, but none of us are perfect and none of us see perfectly clearly (see Romans 3 and 1 Corinthians 3:12). I was taught that healing, as man sees it and defines it, is an absolute truth we can see and have now.
As I have grown to consider the message of some preachers in the prosperity/health/wealth movement, I’ve become bothered by common points made by (again, some) of the common preachers. In a nutshell, since God can’t be a liar and they claim his word demonstrates absolute healing no matter what, then it must be our fault if we are not healed. By default, that also implies that it’s our doing if we are healed. We had the faith or we didn’t. What bothers me here is the principal antecedent of the pronouns in these sentences – man. Is God not sovereign? Does everything really rest on our shoulders? For the poor soul who doesn’t get healed, this message tells them to act in more faith – that they must do something better, and if they do things right, their healing will come to pass. Sadly, with some of the preachers, giving more money to their ministry will be the seed that increases faith. Think about what is happening and being said here. Our healing is up to us, and if we don’t get it, then something is wrong with us. That is neither a yolk that is easy nor a burden that is light! (See Matthew 11:28-30)
The movement teaches that healing is absolute. There is no instance of Jesus not healing someone, except when it was due to the people’s unbelief (see Mark 6:5 – And in this instance, I feel I must point out the unbelief was regarding who Jesus was – not an unbelief in his ability/willingness to heal despite knowing and accepting that he was the Savior of the world). All through the new testament, it is said by most people in the faith movement, people were always completely physically healed.
Is this really true? Are there really no instances of people not getting healed in the new testament that we have to deal with? I have previously spoken regarding Paul’s thorn. The thorn itself wasn’t sickness. The bible clearly states that the thorn was “a messenger of Satan sent to buffet him” (2 Corinthians 12:7 – 10), but as I write this, I think, “could the messenger of Satan sent to harass Paul have harassed him by inflicting physical pain on him?” Maybe? Isn’t that what Satan did to Job – harassed him by bringing destruction, loss and sickness – all under the watchful and permissible eye of God?
But what about other instances beyond Paul’s thorn. What about those who are not in danger of becoming “conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations” given to them, as was the purpose of Paul’s thorn. What about the masses?
Mark 1:32-38 tells of Jesus healing the sick in the evening while staying at Simon and Andrew’s house. The text is clear in saying that they brought all who were sick and Jesus healed many of them. The text goes on to say that the next morning, the people were back, looking for Jesus who had gone off to pray. When Simon and others found Jesus and told him that there were people looking for him, Jesus said “let’s go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” Jesus did not go back and offer healing to the many that came out that morning – instead, he left town and moved on to another. He knew his primary purpose, and that was to spread the gospel everywhere, so knowing that this town realized that someone special named Jesus had come, he moved on to the next.
A similar happening occurred at the pool of Bethesda (See John 5). Here, the Bible says that there was a “great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting…” Jesus healed one man who had been there for 38 years, and that single healing caused a controversy with the Jews as it was the Sabbath and Jesus had told the man to take up his bed and walk – which he did. There is no evidence to suggest that Jesus hung around to heal the others. I’m sure the story of the Jews being singularly mad at the single man who was healed would have played out quite differently if Jesus were still there healing everyone in their midst. The Bible clearly says that Jesus had “withdrawn” after the singular healing.
Then there are the small lines here and there throughout the new testament that have always bothered me. One of the more famous ones is where Paul tells Timothy to “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” (see 1 Peter 5:23). I’ve heard numerous preachers speak on this and say that the water was bad so Timothy had to drink wine as it purified the water, but with a little research and logic, this argument falls apart. Others simply blame Timothy as not having faith enough for healing. If this is the case, why was he allowed to be so involved in the initial spread of the gospel? Why did Paul not give Timothy better instruction on faith? Maybe Timothy needed to give Paul some money as seed for faith. This argument falls apart too. While Timothy was obviously well enough to work for the gospel, it can not be denied that while doing so he had stomach issues and frequent ailments.
Another one liner comes in second Timothy during the final greetings. In 2 Timothy 4:20 the word says “Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. (emphasis mine)” Here, Paul is speaking and he says he simply left Trophimus behind because he was sick. If anyone should have known about the gospel of perfect health, it would have been Paul, who wrote most of the new testament. Why would Paul leave Trophimus behind if he could have simply prayed for his healing. Why did Paul not say “and I left Trophimus behind because he did not have enough faith to receive his healing” as some preachers today would make people believe. Paul also did not say that he left Trophimus behind because he was weak and ill because of his sin. The word is telling in its simplicity. Paul left Trophimus behind because he was ill. If there had been better options, there is no reason to think Paul would not have used them. Paul is still sending greeting on behalf of Trophimus; he is still included with the faithful.
While Epaphroditus was ultimately healed, it is apparent in Philippians 2:25-30 that he suffered with a lengthy sickness that nearly took his life before he was healed. It is further pointed out that he was sick because of his work for Christ – the opposite of faithlessness or sin. This too, would not fit the pattern laid out by modern faith preachers. One could go a bit far and teach that if you are a lazy Christian, others may get sick because of your lacking, but that would not be a fair use of scripture either (Philippians 2:30 – “…for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.”). Finally, it says he was healed by the mercy of God, and not because of God’s obligation to heal or because Epaphroditus had finally mustered enough faith before the sickness took him.
These verses speak specifically to healing and sickness. These do not speak to suffering, which while denied by many faith preachers, is something to which we are called (John 16:33, Romans 8:17, 2 Corinthians 1:5, 2 Corinthians 4:8–10, Philippians 1:29, James 5:10). But that’s another entry.
And then there’s 1 Peter 4:1-2 (NKJV). These verses read: Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.
While the word translated as “suffer” in the verses above can refer to persecutions, it can also refer to sickness (compare Matthew 17:12 with and Matthew 17:15). When seeking the Lord, suffering in the flesh (no matter the form/source) can be used by God to remove us from sin. We know this speaks to us, and isn’t referencing Christ who suffered in the flesh, because it says that “he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men…” Jesus never spent any of this time in the flesh for the lusts of men. This is clearly a message to us. If we are suffering, no matter the cause, let us be sure we are allowing God to use that suffering to purify our lives. Even if for a season, the suffering can hang around and do us a world of good. Remember the point of Paul’s thorn, though – we should know what improvements are being made in us due to the suffering or the reason for it – if we do not, we are either wasting an opportunity God is trying to take to cleanse us from some sin, or we are allowing an unpermitted illness to wreck havoc in our lives for no purpose but the enemy’s.
I must reiterate this final point. I have not stated the above in an effort to disprove healing. My previous entry should speak to that. I fully believe Jesus is our healer. But I can’t say I believe we can always claim instant healing in this lifetime. Yes… we should pray. Yes… we should expect to see people healed…
Sometimes God has other plans and purposes in mind. As Romans 8 makes clear, all of creation is groaning and waiting for the final redemption, and this includes the redemption of our bodies.
As a final thought on Biblical healing, I encourage you to watch the following video with Joni Eareckson Tada. She speaks to a greater healing that we all need. Be encouraged.
Please note that the above video is from John MacArthur’s/Grace to You’s Strange Fire conference. While the conference (and book) give needed rebuke to some of the more outlandish in the charismatic movement, inclusion of this valuable and worthwhile video from that conference does not imply that I agree with the biblically unsound cessationist theology.