Healing (Jon Fryer)
Before we look at healing in a biblical setting we first need to answer some other questions: What is sickness? Where does it come from and what causes it?
As Christians we believe that all sickness is the result of the fall of Adam in Genesis 3, either directly or indirectly. As part of the curse that God lays down in Gen 3;17-19 the world itself is twisted to produce bad things instead of good – thorns instead of grain. The animals, formerly living in peace with man, are driven wild. In Rom 8;19-22 it says that the entire universe groans in pain because of what was done to it not by its own choice, and that it longs to be liberated from its bondage to decay. It is from this setting that harmful microbes came into the world. Read Genesis 3;17-19. Sickness is simply part of the outworking of the curse that eventually leads to physical death. Physical sickness is a distortion of what God intended for our bodies that mirrors the distortion of sin in the soul of mankind. If we use this idea of a distortion of God’s plan as a definition of sickness then we see that other conditions can also be called ‘sickness’. For example, strong agonising mental or emotional torment such as grief, depression or insane anger is also a ‘sickness’ for it is a distortion of the peace of God that is our natural state; the Hebrew concept of ‘Shalom’, the peace of God, is a holistic concept that comprises of total wholeness, a peace and completeness of situation, body, soul and mind. If sin, or the consequences of sin, disturbs this peace then we are ‘sick’ and need healing. For example, read 1 Kings 19;1-8. Elijah is in such fear and depression and emotional turmoil that he needs God’s direct intervention via an angel to strengthen him and allow him to go on when all he wants to do is die. Similarly, read Luke 22;39-45 Jesus is in such anguish over his decision that he is sweating blood and he too needs healing from an angel of God to strengthen him for his task.
Again, a distortion of our natural spiritual state is also a sickness, such as in the case of demonic activity. Read Luke 6;17-19 and Acts 10;38. In both of these verses it describes the activity of casting out demons or breaking the Devil’s power as healing.
It is clear then that anything that disturbs our natural state of peace in God, whether physical, spiritual or emotional is ‘sickness’, which ultimately requires healing in some form or another.
This leads us to our second question, which is particularly common when we get ill – ‘Why me?’ or ‘What have I done to deserve this?’. The question of why we get ill is both very simple and very complicated. Is God to blame? Is it the Devil? Is it me? Does it just happen? Sickness occurs for many reasons, and often the real reasons may be hidden from us.
Firstly, as we have already seen, sickness may just be random fallout from the sin of Adam. You got ill because you came into random contact with a hostile microscopic organism. You got ill because you are old and your body is breaking down as part of the ‘natural’ process of decay in this universe. No one is to blame, it just happened. This is the most common cause of sickness.
The Bible makes it clear however that sometimes sickness occurs for reasons other than chance. For example, sickness is sometimes the result of sin which we have committed, rather than the sin of Adam way back in the past. Read 1 Cor 11;27-30. This is not specifically judgement from God, but rather a supernatural example of cause and effect – if you sin then you distort who you are spiritually meant to be in God, and sometimes this creates other distortions in who you are physically meant to be in God.
Sometimes we suffer because of someone else’s sin – for example, if a pregnant mother drinks and smokes it is often not she who suffers for it, but her child instead. Again this is a case of cause and effect, although rather more obviously than in the previous case. It is not fair, but it is logical. In Jesus’ time there was a common belief that deformity and sickness in children was a judgement from God on the sins of the parent, but the Bible very clearly says that this is not true – read Ezek 18;1-20. You may have to suffer the results of someone else’s sin, as in the case of the baby whose mother does not take proper care of it, but you will never become sick as punishment from God for someone else’s sin – there is a difference.
As the Ezekiel passage indicates, sometimes sickness and death is a direct punishment from God for a specific sin, although this is perhaps rarer than the other causes already mentioned; as an example, see Num 12;1-13 and Acts 5;1-11. As a comfort, in every case where sickness and death comes as a punishment from God in the Bible, it is in response to someone who directly challenges God with their sin, as in the examples referenced. As I have already said, this would be a very rare occurrence in response to someone setting out to directly challenge God.
Sometimes sickness comes as an attack from the enemy. Although spiritual sickness and demonic activity are the most obvious examples of this in Scripture, physical sickness can also come as an attack from Satan. For example, read Job 2;1-10. Job also suffers black depression as a result of the enemy’s work – read Job 3;1-26 – emotional sickness and turmoil is also a tool of the enemy.
The final reason that sickness comes is the hardest to understand – sometimes sickness is ordained by God for our own good, or for the good of the Kingdom. ‘The LORD works in mysterious ways’ is not a cop out answer, but an acceptance that we can only see a limited part of the master plan, and we know that ‘all things work together for the good of those that love God’ – read John 9;1-41.
We have answered the questions ‘why sickness?’ and ‘what is sickness?’ and can now move on to the healing of those sicknesses. We have seen that sickness is the outworking of the Fall in various ways. Christ however ended the curse with his death on the cross – see Isai 53;4-5. This passage refers to both physical and spiritual healing – Peter quotes it to refer to spiritual healing and rightness with God in 1 Pet 2;24, but Matthew quotes the same passage to refer to Jesus’ miracles of physical healing in Matt 8;16-17.
When Jesus died on the cross he bought for us not only complete freedom and healing from sin, but also complete freedom from physical and mental weakness and infirmity. However, just as we will not be totally sinless until we join Christ at His Father’s side, so too will we not be totally free from sickness and death until we receive our perfect bodies at His coming. Those Christians who say ‘You’re not ill, you only think you are’ are misreading the promises of Scripture, and failing to understand the paradox of salvation and of the Kingdom of God which both ‘now is’ and ‘is not yet’.
The question that confronts us is whether god from time to time may grant us a foretaste of the healing (physical, spiritual or emotional) that He will give to us fully in the future. Jesus’ life proves that at times God is willing to do this, and the healing ministry seen in the lives of the apostles and the early church also indicate that this is something which we should expect to see in the life of the church – the entire life of the church is a foretaste of the various blessings of the Kingdom Which is Yet to Come, and healing is a sign and a foretaste of the life of the Kingdom in a very tangible way. The gift of healing from God, whether by natural or by spiritual means, is a sign that points to the life of the Kingdom Come. It also demonstrates the merciful nature at the heart of God, our God who is Jehovah Raphe, the God Who Heals, the Great Physician. It also provides opportunity for God to be glorified as people see physical evidence and feel physical evidence of God’s goodness, love, power, wisdom and presence.
What is the relationship between natural healing (medicine, doctors etc) and supernatural healing (prayer for healing and the spiritual gift of healing)? What should the balance be?
Certainly we should use medicine where it is available because God has created the substances and plants and chemicals to have the effects that our science has discovered – they are all part of the creation that God described as ‘very good’. We should use these natural gifts that God has given us with thanks, for ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it’. In fact, if medicine is available for use, and known to be effective, then to refuse it in cases where we put ourselves or others in danger would seem to me to be tempting God – read Luke 4;9-12 – there is a natural method for Jesus to get down (the Temple stairs!) and so to expect a supernatural method is to try and manipulate God, to force Him to act, and that is sin. To refuse medicine known to be effective in order to try and ‘force’ a miracle would seem to me to be equally manipulative.
Of course, it would be wrong for us to rely solely on science instead of on God. This often leads to tragic results – see 2 Chron 16;12-13. This would seem to be the case with some of today’s medical practices where doctors do things simply because they can rather than because they should… but if medicine is used in conjunction with prayer and thanksgiving to God then we should expect God to bless and even multiply the effectiveness of the medicine. Even when Isaiah had a guarantee of healing for Hezekiah from God, he still called for medicine for him – see 2 Kings 20;1-7.
Sometimes however there is no medicine available or existent, and we need to remember that God can heal even where doctors can not – read Luke 8;42-44 and Luke 4;40-41. There was no disease – physical, spiritual, or emotional – that Jesus was unable to heal.
Are there other commonalities between the stories of healing in the Bible, apart from medicine and asking God? The methods used by Jesus and others varied from case to case, from simply speaking, to making a poultice of mud, to bathing in the river seven times. However, most frequently the stories of healing in the Bible include the laying on of hands. In the Luke 4 story Jesus could have simply healed all of them with a single word, but instead he chose to touch every single one of them. The laying on of hands is a powerful symbol – it demonstrates the passing of the power of the Holy Spirit from one person to another, it shows the presence of God actively touching your life, and in the case of the man Jesus willing to touch even the lepers, it shows a love and compassion that transcends cultural mores, ignores personal danger, and that ignores the physical to reach the heart.
Another physical symbol of the healing power of the Holy Spirit is the anointing of oil – read Mark 6;6-13 and James 5;14-15. Although anointing with oil can quite properly be understood as a medicinal act using the knowledge available in Biblical times, it should not solely be read as a scientific act. Oil is not an appropriate medicine for all diseases, and if it is purely medicinal it is hard to see why it should be the elders of the church who are called upon to apply it – surely a physician would be a better choice? Oil is a symbol of the Spirit’s presence in the Old Testament – see 1 Sam 6;13 – and would seem to be used in the same context here – as a spiritual, sacramental symbol as well as a physical medicine.
How then should we pray for healing? Should we pray for healing? It is definitely right that we should pray for healing. Jesus tells us to pray ‘Deliver us from evil’, and this deliverance we expect should be physical and emotional, as well as spiritual deliverance – read Psalm 91 and see also 3 John 2. As we have already said, our God is Jehovah Raphe, the Healer, and thus it is in His very nature to heal. In addition to this, if we take medicine or go to the doctor, by our own actions we admit that we think that it is God’s will that we should be well. If we thought that God wanted us to be ill then we wouldn’t be trying to get better! When we pray therefore it should be our first assumption that God would be pleased to heal the person we are praying for, unless He specifically tells us otherwise. God’s revealed will in Scripture is to heal – read Matt 10;7-8 and Luke 10;1-9. If we want to understand God’s attitude to physical healing then we should look at Jesus. We don’t need to speculate or argue over what God’s will is in healing. Jesus healed people because he loved them. He had compassion for them. He was on their side. He wanted to help them. When we ask God to heal, we are simply asking Him to be Himself!
How then should we pray? It is certainly right to go to God with the simple request for healing when someone is in need. James warns us that simple unbelief can lead to failure to receive from God simply because we do not pray – ‘You do not have because you do not ask’. Jesus says ‘Ask and it will be given to you.’ When we pray however, we need to remember to pray that God will be glorified in the situation whether He chooses to heal or not. We also ought to pray with the same compassion Jesus felt when he healed – this is true intercession; to be willing to take the other person’s place before God, as Jesus did for us upon the cross. When we pray like this God will sometimes – or even often – grant answers to our prayers.
The New Testament often emphasises the role of faith in the healing process – sometimes the faith of the sick person – see Luke 8;42-48 and Luke 17;11-19. At other times it is the faith of the people who bring the sick person for healing – see Matt 15;21-28, Matt 8;5-13 and Mark 2;1-12. In James 5;15 it is the elders who pray, and James says that it is the ‘prayer of faith’ that saves the sick person – this must be the faith of the pray-ers, the elders, and not the person who is sick. However, there is never any grounds to say to someone that they were not healed because they lack faith – we have no knowledge of the reasons, and to claim that we have such knowledge and make such a judgement is to misuse God’s authority – it is not only cruel, it is blasphemy – see Matt 7;1-5 and Matt 5;22.
We may wonder why it is the elders who are called to pray for the sick in James 5. James gives no reason, but it may be that some compassion and wisdom is needed when praying for the sick – as we have seen, some illness may be the result of sin, which will need to be dealt with first – see James 5;16.
Some people will object that much harm is done if we encourage people to believe in supernatural healing, but then nothing happens. Possibly, but this is not the only mistake that we can make, and nor is it the worst. Not praying for healing at all is not the solution, because it contradicts and disobeys everything that we have read so far. Telling people that ‘God seldom heals today’ is also not the answer, for it does not build up faith, nor does it match any pattern found in Scripture. Conversely however, telling people that God will definitely heal them is also cruel, and not supported in the Bible. The correct answer would seem to be to tell people that God does heal today, and that it is possible that they will be healed, but unfortunately we are human and fallible and so can only ask without knowing what the answer will be, since the time has not yet come when the Kingdom healing will arrive in all its fullness. Therefore in this life we will experience healing and answers to prayer, but we will also experience continued illness and eventual death. In every case it is God’s sovereign will that decides the outcome, and our role is to ask and then wait for Him to answer – whether that answer is ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ‘Wait and continue to pray’.
In this context we can now take a look at the ‘gifts of healings’ in 1 Cor 12;9. This gift is apparent in those Christians who find that their prayers for healing are answered more often and more completely or spectacularly than those of others, due to a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit, although all have both the duty and the right to ask God for healing. It should be noted that ‘gifts of healings’ is a plural, and includes a ministry not only of physical healing, but also of emotional and spiritual healing as we have already seen.
Nonetheless, we have to realize that not all prayers for healing will be answered. Sometimes, for reasons of His own, God chooses not to heal. In such times we have to remember that Romans 8 is still true – even though we experience ‘the sufferings of this present time and groan inwardly as we wait for the redemption of our bodies, we know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him.’
When God chooses not to heal it does not necessarily mean that we are at fault, or that our faith is not strong enough – even St. Paul did not always receive what he asked for – see 2 Cor 12;7-10. Various other apostles have words of encouragement for those who suffer without miraculous relief – read 1 Peter 1;6-7 and James 1;2-4. It appears that even when we are not healed we should still ‘give thanks in all circumstances’, for God, although it may seem cold comfort at the time, can use sickness to draw us closer to Him and increase our obedience to His will. Thus the Psalmist can say ‘It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your ways’ (Psalm 119;71). God can increase our faith through illness and suffering, just as He can increase our faith through miraculous healing. That said, the emphasis in the New Testament, both in Jesus’ life and the early church ministry, encourages us to seek God for healing and then to continue to trust Him to bring good from the situation, whether He grants us healing or not. The point is that in all things God should receive glory and our trust in Him should increase. As Job said, ‘though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him’ (Job 13;15).
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