I want to draw together some thoughts that I have shared in different teaching situations on the important subject of healing. It is not meant to be comprehensive but to give clear pointers in a particular direction that I believe can save us from unnecessary struggle and heartache. My aim is to set out a biblical position on the subject as well as some of my own personal thoughts.
Firstly, a few personal thoughts. I would love to be able to teach and maintain that if we have enough faith, Jesus will definitely heal us. I love that position because it seems to confirm that God is good, that God loves us, and that he always wants the very best for us. Surely, if someone is ill then the very best thing for them is to get better, isn’t it? It seems to be the option that would glorify God the most. I like it because it is very neat and tidy with no room for ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. It is very simple to back that position up by saying that everyone who came to Jesus for healing was healed and that the only ones who did not get healed were those who did not come. I also have a vested interest in wanting to be healed.
Let us look briefly at the fact that those who came to Jesus were healed. There were many reasons, but one of the central issues had to do with His identity. For example, when Jesus healed a paralysed man, he said that it was so people could know that He had the authority to forgive sins. Jesus not only made claims about himself, but He also backed them up with miraculous healings.
The Bible says that Jesus’ healings were a display of the works of God (e.g., John 5:36; 10:38; 14:10-11;). The God of the Bible can heal the sick. One of the main reasons that Jesus healed the sick was to authenticate himself as the genuine Messiah. It was to show that the claims he made about himself were valid. Nobody could do these sorts of miracles which Jesus continually did, unless He had come down from heaven above. The healing miracles testified that he was the One He claimed to be: God the Son.
Of course, those who Jesus healed experienced God’s compassion and felt His heart of love, but the main purpose was that the healings always furthered the message that Jesus was the promised Messiah. This explains why Jesus would not produce some healing miracle on the request or demand of others. The religious rulers demanded a sign from Jesus. When Jesus was brought before Herod, the evil king wanted to see Jesus perform some miracle. He would not do this.
We might have noticed, but none of us is the Messiah. He alone could usher in the life of the age to come. I am indebted to the thoughts of Gordon Fee and especially his phrase concerning God’s kingdom that we are living in the ‘already but not yet’. We follow the Messiah, but we follow him imperfectly and in a context where Satan’s ultimate banishment is in the future. Gordon Fee, in his excellent book ‘Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God’, asks that we live more in the life of the Spirit, expect more of that life to be evident in our meetings and lives in general, so he is very positive about the need for the Spirit’s activity amongst God’s people. He has been a lifelong Pentecostal theologian, but he recognises that we are in the ‘already but not yet.’
I believe that in the moment we receive Christ as Lord and Saviour, part of our birthright is total healing (Matthew 8:17). That is not in question. The real question is, when we enter into that birthright - which side of heaven? We are in the ‘already but not yet’ so for some, it will be this side of heaven, and for others, it will be when ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (21:4). When it is this side of heaven, it is glorious testimony of what is yet to come, just as Lazarus’ resurrection was literally a living testimony to Jesus being the resurrection and life - but he still died. Something greater was still to come. It is so important that we stay rooted in a biblical theology that encompasses all the sorrow, pain and troubles of this world. We must not get carried away by our understandable desires and needs. If we overemphasise either half of the phrase ‘already but not yet’ we are in difficulty. The good news is that the life of the age to come has already broken into the lives of those who trust in Jesus. The Spirit brings that life, and we must live in the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit and live the life of the Spirit. If our emphasis is on the ‘not yet’, we will have a sterile Christianity. If our emphasis swings to the ‘already’ at the expense of the ‘not yet’, we end up with an unrealistic triumphalism in the here and now that is neither realistic nor supported by the facts.
We could ask about the men and women that God has raised up and blessed with gifts of healing, faith (1 Corinthians 12:9) and gifts of miraculous powers (12: 10). God has used these men and women to demonstrate vividly that the kingdom of God has come amongst us, but they still lived in the ‘not yet’. God blessed the work of Smith Wigglesworth, the great Pentecostal preacher with powerful acts of healing, but he was criticised for wearing spectacles, and he had painful struggles with kidney stones. The ‘not yet’ is always present. George Muller was a man with the gift of faith, and God used that to bless so many young people in his orphanages. He had been given that faith for specific purposes. In our generation, God has mightily used John Wimber to remind the church of the place of signs and wonders, but he was quick to acknowledge that not everyone was healed and in his own battle with an inoperable tumour recognised that God uses even the most challenging situations in life to purge and purify us. He wrote a very helpful article, ‘View from the Valley’, that is well worth reading.
Those giftings are expressions of God’s grace given to particular individuals who represent the body of Christ, but we all have our own gift, and when we use them fully, then God’s grace is seen clearly. It is wrong for us to say that everybody should be doing what we are doing. Of course, there are principles that we are all called to live to – e.g., kindness, love, generosity, faith and practical help - but we each have very specific gifts. We can learn from each other but not be condemned if God does not always use us in the same way to do exactly the same as others.
The key here is always going to be that any particular expression of grace involves hearing the word of the Lord. When Jesus walked on water, Peter said, ‘Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.’ Jesus only gave one word, ‘Come’. It was enough, and as long as Peter trusted that word, he was safe. Moving in the Spirit involves moving in God’s specific word to us and not being carried away by our desires or fears. So, the challenge for us is to be close to the Lord. We must be close to feel the impulses of His Spirit, to hear His ‘still, small voice’. That is what he wants, to be with us, to be close.
If we are not rooted in a biblical position on this subject, we are going to take a tumble – and someone else is going to get hurt. The problem is that if it is God’s intention to heal everybody and somebody does not get healed then someone must be at fault. It follows that if we cannot blame God (although unbelievers will be quick to do so), we have to hold someone else responsible. It has to be either the fault of the one being prayed for or the one doing the praying. I want to finish on a positive note. John Wimber tells this story: ‘I was speaking in South Africa at a large conference. A friend, John McClure, was with me, and we were asked to go to the home of a lady of the church. She was dressed beautifully but was very emaciated, weighing only 85 pounds. She had been sent home from the hospital to die. Her body was full of cancer. Her only hope of survival was divine intervention. We prayed for her, but not with great fervency. John had confidence that she would be healed. I felt nothing.
That night she woke up with a vibrant, tingling feeling throughout her body. For the next four hours her body was full of intense heat. She tried to call out to her husband in the next room but couldn’t raise her voice loud enough for him to hear.
Alone and frightened, she crawled into the bathroom, her body racked with pain. At the time, she thought, “O my God. My body is coming apart and I’m dying.” Without knowing it, she eliminated from her body a number of large tumours. Finally, exhausted from the night’s events, she fell back asleep. She didn’t know if she’d wake up.
But a half an hour later, she woke up incredibly refreshed. Later her husband woke up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. “What are you doing?” he asked, astonished to see his wife on her feet and preparing breakfast.
She replied with sudden understanding: “God has healed me.”
Two days later, she reported to her doctors, who gave her a clean bill of health. They couldn’t find a cancer in her body. God had completely delivered her of all of it.
Without much energy to pray on our part and without any desperation or faith on her part, the Lord chose to heal this woman’s cancer-infested body through divine means. That’s God, and that is sometimes how he does it.’ God is sovereign. As with the three men who stood up to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3, they would trust Him whether He delivered them from the fiery furnace – or not. They continued to believe in the power, love and goodness of God, whatever the circumstances before them. What did they discover? That God was with them in the trial, and that is what matters.
HCC Podcast: Healing
John and Shealan discuss the important subject of healing in their latest podcast. John shares his personal journey with cancer and offers a biblical perspective on healing. It is a very inspiring and helpful discussion and well worth listening to.
We held two Zoom Bible studies in May 2021 on the subject of suffering and asked questions such as 'What are your thoughts on why God heals some people and not others?' and 'What role does faith and prayer play in the issue of healing?'. Click here to go to details of the studies, to listen to the recordings and to read the ensuing discussion. Please feel free to add your thoughts and experiences to the discussion.