I suppose most people have believed God for something and nothing happened. What are your options, especially, if you believe in a God who is supposed to love and care and provide and protect, but does not come through as you hoped, thus leaving you with terrible pain and sorrow. One option is to begin to question and doubt and lose faith by thinking, “What good is it to believe in God.” Or, if your crisis has not yet ended, you might choose to keep believing that God will heal you; but if nothing happens, how long can you keep faith with no response? Or, you can give up on God and rely on yourself, other human abilities, on science’s promises, or on other religions. Or, if you do not find the help you long for, you can simply despair and let yourself feel dejected and hopeless. One other option; you can rethink your assumptions and beliefs about God and search for a different understanding of reality and what it is that God desires from you and for you. Is God supposed to give us what we want, even if we say to Him that we do not expect Him to give us everything? Or, does God reserve the right to give us the best possible good according to His wisdom and knowledge? Maybe God wants us to be healed, but even more, does He want us to see and understand life from His perspective; something we cannot, or are unwilling to do as long as we think the world revolves around us. Maybe a world we would design and plan for ourselves is not the best world that God intends for us. Maybe in His desires and plans He has something better for us. Maybe He does love and care about us far beyond what we know. I realize that to say God cares can seem trite and absurd in the face of great pain and suffering we may be experiencing, but has God promised to always, in this lifetime, give us what we perceive is best for us, or what we want?
I once posed a question to a group of fourth through sixth grade kids that my wife and I invite to meet in our home each week. I told them of two seemingly minor experiences I had with God. The first was the time, when as a young child, I folded a paper airplane that would not fly. Out of frustration, I finally prayed and asked God to help my airplane fly, and it glided beautifully across the room. I remember feeling awed and pleased by what God did. The other experience was when I was trying out for a college baseball team and I kept striking out. I prayed hard that God would let me hit the ball. I struck out every time and was cut from the team. I asked the kids, “Why do you think God answered my first prayer, but not the second?” Their answers were more mature than many adults. “Maybe God answered your first prayer to help you believe in Him”, they said, “and He did not answer your second prayer because He had a better plan for your life than your dream of playing baseball.”
Our subject is sickness and healing. Why is there disease? When sin and evil came, God’s good world was spoiled. (Romans 8:18-23) From a corrupted world, we now experience many causes of sickness. Natural causes happen due to viruses, bacteria, transmitted diseases, infections, defective genes, and so forth. Aside from natural causes, we can bring sickness on ourselves by lack of cleanliness, improper diet, or other physical and emotional failures to take proper care of ourselves. Psychosomatic diseases are bodily ailments caused by our own stressed emotional or mental state. Jesus also called sin itself a sickness that needs curing. (Luke 5:30-32) There are sometimes supernatural causes. (Mark 9:17-29; Deuteronomy 7:15; 28:58-60)
What attitudes do Christ-followers commonly have about illnesses and how to get well? Various acclaimed Biblical beliefs regarding sickness and healing may include the following: (1) Some have no doubt that if they have faith, or if others have faith on their behalf, and if they are seeking to obey God, God will heal them. This is based on certain Scriptures such as “whatever you ask in My name I will do” (John 14:13; 16:24), or “the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:15). This belief also points to the prayer in Scripture that says, “in all respects may you prosper and be in good health” (3 John 2). That God wants all Christ-followers to be healed is supported by Jesus’ healing ministry while on earth and the apostles’ continuation of healings after Jesus ascended to heaven. (Mark 6:56; Acts 8:6-8) It is also pointed out that Jesus died, not just for our sins, but also to carry away our diseases (Isaiah 53:4-5) – thus, His provision is for us to enjoy complete healing. (Matthew 8:16-17) (2) Others ask God to heal them, believing He can, but do not always know what God’s will is. Does He want us to be healed, or does He have a purpose for the sickness? God did not heal Paul after he prayed for healing three times because God had a purpose for not healing him. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) Therefore, persons with this belief will ask for healing, but leave it up to what God wants to do, and accept their condition, whichever way it goes. Their acceptance of “Thy will be done” is like what Jesus prayed when he asked God to take away his sufferings, but concluded, “nevertheless, not my will, but Thy will be done.” (Luke 22:42) (3) Some may think that God has brought illness on them to get their attention about something in their life that needs correction, and when they confess and change, God will take away their illness. Job’s friends thought this. (Job 4:7-9) Persons with this belief can also point to God’s dealings with Israel; if they do right God will not bring diseases upon them. (Exodus 15:26) This also appears to be true in the church when God causes sickness for believers who fail to properly examine themselves at the Lord’s Supper. (1 Corinthians 11:28-30) (4) Or, it may be that some take their illnesses as tests from God to see if their faith will hold and if they will continue to trust God’s goodness. (Job 2:3-7) (5) It is true that if God does not heal, sickness may be the way God chooses to take persons home to be with Him. (2 Kings 13:14) Some express this by saying, “It must be their time to go”. (6) Some believe that healings done by Jesus and the apostles are no longer to be expected to that same degree of frequency because they were signs confirming who Jesus was, or that their message was from God. (Hebrews 2:3-4) Now that we have Jesus’ identity and His gospel message confirmed in Scripture, these signs are no longer needed, although they may occasionally happen.
One attitude God definitely wants us to have toward sickness and healing is to look to Him as our Healer. For most people, at least in more developed nations, the first thought when illness is detected is to take medication, or get to a doctor. In the Bible God disapproves of a man named Asa for going to physicians instead of coming to Him for healing. (2 Chronicles 16:7-12) Please understand; God is not against going to doctors, as Jesus affirmed the value of doctors in Luke 5:31. Rather, in Asa’s case, God is concerned about being completely left out. Asa is ignoring God and will not seek God’s help for the troubles in his life. He would much rather trust in sources of help that he can see. The reason God does not like this is because God cares about him and knows that He Himself is the true source of life and health, and when people reject Him they are actually harming themselves by missing what God offers. People will never experience what is truly good and ultimately rewarding and satisfying in their lives without God as their friend and helper. When God permits sickness in Asa’s life, perhaps to help him turn to God, Asa continues to show contempt for God by seeking human physicians and dismissing God as a healing source. Through fearful and agonizing times regarding my own health, by God’s grace, I have grown to the point that whenever I am concerned about a sickness, or some perceived concern in my body, I say to myself, “The Lord is my healer.” And this is true. In Exodus 15:26 God reveals Himself to those who are His people as “I, the Lord, Am your healer.” Whether or not God will heal me in my present situation, He is still my ultimate healer, as shall later be acknowledged in the Isaiah 53 passage.
My personal viewpoint about doctors is that, if and when I do consult a doctor, it is not without giving God the primary option to heal me. I am not one who believes that we ought never to consult a doctor, thinking that God will heal us. To me, it would be morally negligible to die, or let a loved one die, when a doctor could have prevented it. This is because I believe that God approves discovered means to bring healing, for God created this world with hidden resources, allowing humans to discover medicines. And, He gave us the capacity to learn how to develop skills, at whatever our tasks, including surgeries. But, even though God has ordained the scientific discovery of medicines and surgical procedures to be a valid source for healing, I must not neglect God as my true healer. Man cannot perform healing as completely and ultimately as God can.
I know some have come to God for help and feel that He failed them. They feel He did nothing to alleviate their suffering, or He allowed a loved one to die, and they become angry at God. I have discussed this in another letter, “Trusting a Hidden God”. I feel terrible for anyone who has this experience, and I sometimes wonder why God would allow Himself to be seen as non-caring, or lacking power to help, or even appearing to be non-existent. For their own well-being, I pray that those with such opinions of God might be able to come to a more realistic and beneficial conclusion, by taking an honest look at what God has revealed about Himself, us, and our world, rather than relying totally on superficial appearances and self-understanding.
Scripture says we are healed by Christ’s stripes. (Isaiah 53:5) This is reemphasized in the New Testament (Matthew 8:16-17), and with Peter’s words, “by His wounds you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24) These Scriptures refer to Jesus’ death on the cross and what it accomplishes. Certainly it accomplished the complete forgiveness of sins, and there can be no doubt that, by our faith in Christ Jesus, we can equally claim complete healing of our diseases. However, that total healing does not necessarily take place in this present lifetime. It can be argued from this passage that if we now have total forgiveness, why not also believe that we now have total healing of our bodily sicknesses? One reason is that even though we are forgiven, sin still exists in us and we still do wrong things. Our sinful nature is not totally removed until we are resurrected with new spiritual bodies. Likewise, with disease still present in our world, we should not expect the total healing of our bodies until the coming day of resurrection. Actually, to accept sufferings is in itself a pathway to healing, for God purifies our souls through our sufferings. Yes, by His stripes we are healed, and we can expect some physical healing benefits now, because Christ’s Kingdom is in some measure here now, but the future completion of God’s kingdom is where full healings will be realized, when Jesus physically returns to accomplish the restoration of all things. (Acts 3:21)
Based on the fact that we are God’s beloved children, we have a right to confidently ask for healing. If we have a gift of faith, or revealed knowledge from God, or we know He hears us because we have asked according to His will, which is quite possible, we can know that He will heal us when we ask. (1 John 5:14-15) Otherwise, we must take into account that It may be His will not to heal. We must accept His reasons if He does not. A leper in the Bible said, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Matthew 8:2-3) He did not use the word “if” in a doubting manner for he knew that God could heal him. He simply did not know if God was willing. In his case, God was. God may have other plans for our lives and, unfortunately, we are not always able to discern what whose plans might be. But overall, I believe the Bible tells us that we should engage in the practice of asking God for healing, for example, in James 5:14-16. I can testify that following this practice according to James has worked in my own life, and in the lives of others I know. We also need to consider our motives and our lifestyles. Our prayers can go unanswered if we ask with wrong motives, or if our lifestyle is not pleasing to God. (James 4:3) Why do we want to be healed? Is it to accomplish His will? The will of God is that we know and love Him above all else, and that we primarily want to glorify Him with how we live our lives each day. (Matthew 22:37-38; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20) Also, we can expect that He will answer any prayers asking Him to give us what we need to promote His kingdom on earth. Is that not the point of John 14:12-14?
There are deeper kinds of healings that God desires for us than just physical. Most often, it is the physical healings we are quick to focus on rather than other needed healings. Jesus at times focused on the healing of sins. (Mark 2:3-5) He came to die primarily for that purpose. (Luke 24:46-47) If He came to only heal our bodies, such healing would serve no grander purpose. God’s grander purpose is having our bodies become vehicles through which He can bring healing to others, which is most effective if we let God heal our inner self, our guilt, our fears, our attitudes, our faulty thinking, our self-centeredness, our detrimental behaviors, and our broken relationships. God wants people to become whole persons fit to dwell in a world, not of our making, but of His making. What good is a healed body if it cannot perform his will to bear fruit for a renewed world? (John 15:8) I know God heals some simply out of His compassion, and for the joy of helping them, and He desires to give us an abundant life. (John 10:10) But, He is also interested in us serving Him for the good of others. (Titus 3:14)
A healing everyone needs is the healing of our anxieties and fears. When life-threatening bodily illnesses appear, that is a time most of us earnestly seek healing, and it is a time we probably have some degree of fear or anxiety. At those times we need to experience peace and comfort and hope. From where do peace and comfort and hope come? They come from believing and trusting a good and encouraging word from God. (Proverbs 16:20) His word tells us that anxiety weighs down our hearts, but a good word makes it glad. (Proverbs 12:25; Psalm 56:3-4; 94:19) God is a God of comfort in the midst of afflictions. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5) He tells us that we all have the sentence of death in us so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God. When our burden is beyond our strength, and we are despairing, God’s promises of deliverance bring a welcome peace. (2 Corinthians 1:8-10) We must accept the fact that although our outward man is dying, yet our inward self is being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16) Knowing that Jesus is in us, and that He guarantees our life is preserved forever, enables us not to lose heart. His promises strengthen and renew our spirits in the midst of afflictions. (2 Corinthians 4:7-18) Our focus needs to be on pleasing God, knowing that His Spirit is with us. (2 Corinthians 5:1-9) There is another source of peace and comfort that God gives us – His Holy Spirit. He is our comforter and source of peacefulness. (John 14:16-18, 26-27) During upsetting or panic-stricken sicknesses, I have prayed many times that He would remove my anxieties and give me peace. (Philippians 4:6-7) And many times I have been overwhelmed by immediate and complete peace as a gift from God’s Spirit. My anxiety and fears were suddenly gone and I experienced complete rest. (John 14:27) That is a healing I sometimes feel desperate for in the midst of my anxiety. Such peace sustains me and helps me accept my condition as being okay if that is what God wants for me. God grows my faith, not always through removing my bodily ailments, but through accepting them. Can God physically heal me? Yes, I always claim Him as my Healer and many times my bodily illnesses have gone away; I know that He has healed me physically. But, more importantly, I know that my ultimate healing is in His Kingdom in the day He comes to destroy all evil and raise His people to life.
Why love and trust a God who we feel ignores our pleas for healing? That is a good question. I know a person who served God by his music ministry to others. One time something bad happened to him and he said, “What good does it do to serve God; He still lets bad things happen to me.” I interpreted his comment to mean that his reason for serving God was so that God would protect him from all evils. His reason for serving God was actually self-serving; for self-protection. His motivation was errant. We love God, in spite of His allowing evil to continue in this world. We love Him because He is good, and worth loving, for He is our only hope for the ultimate cure of our whole person, and for making a new world. Victory is already ours because His future plans are certain.
Whatever you find to be your Biblical view of sickness and healing, practice it with the faith you have from God, accept His answers, grow to faithfully trust and love God, and work to love others as He has loved you.