Thursday, January 6, 2011

More Thoughts on Healing

So... is it God's will to heal the sick, or not?

This question stirs up a lot of unnecessary controversy simply because people have different ideas of what the question actually means. [I'll leave that discussion for another post.] But for now, I think we can focus on another question in the neighborhood that has profound implications for our daily lives: Is it God's will for us (born-again followers of Jesus) to heal the sick?

Let's investigate this question by first observing how Jesus describes Himself and His earthly ministry to his disciples [Note my comments in brackets]:

John 14:5-14 (NIV)
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” [By looking at how Jesus lived his earthly life, we can see the Father's Will ideally displayed.]

8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. [Jesus uses his earthly works as evidence that the Father is in Him. How should this apply to us?] 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. [What sort of works is He talking about? The implication is works that Jesus carried out during his ministry (i.e., casting out demons, healing the sick, calming the wind and waves, speaking God's Word with authority, foretelling future events, etc.). Remember: These works were signs that Jesus was from the Father.] 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. [Not only did Jesus promise that his followers would do great works in Jesus's name, but He also promised that He will grant us any request we ask of Him to glorify the Father. (From Jesus's teachings throughout the Gospels, we can add the asterisk that in order to receive from Him, we need to have faith that we will receive what we asked for.)]

From the passage above (with supporting Scriptures), we can formulate the following argument:
1. Jesus perfectly manifested God's will on Earth.
2. Jesus healed (through the power of the Holy Spirit) sick people who came to Him.
3. Jesus passed on his earthly ministry to each of his followers. (See John 14:12)
--> Therefore, if each of Jesus's followers were to perfectly manifest God's Will (as Jesus did), then each of us would heal (through the power of the Holy Spirit) sick people who came to us.

From the argument above, it appears that each of Jesus' followers has a responsibility to dispense God's healing power to the sick. This may not seem so strange when we consider that the laying on of hands was considered an "elementary teaching" by the early church (Hebrews 6:1-3). But why do so many of Jesus's followers not recognize that healing (along with other signs that Jesus performed throughout His earthly ministry) is part of our commission to carry on Jesus's legacy by reaching the world for God's Kingdom?

I believe that Scriptural principles and truths can be misunderstood, neglected, or even strongly opposed by well-meaning people. Fear, ignorance, "group think," distorted teaching, or religious traditions of various sorts could contribute to the propagation of false (or unfounded) beliefs within certain Christian circles. However, I think that with respect to doctrine about physical healing, God's spiritual principles can be undermined by our misinterpretation of physical and/or spiritual defeat in our personal experience (and subsequent reinterpretation of Scripture!).

Consider a testimony like this: "I have an Aunt Sally (or a brother, or a friend, etc.)--one of the most righteous Christians I know--who died prematurely of cancer last spring. We prayed to God for her healing every day, but she didn't recover. So, it obviously wasn't God's will to heal her. Besides, God was probably allowing her to suffer to accomplish a greater good."

Sadly, this sort of reasoning is pervasive in the Body of Christ. Notice three assumptions behind the conclusions drawn from Aunt Sally's story: (1) A greater good is accomplished when God doesn't heal, (2) It is solely God's responsibility to heal, (3) We need to convince God (through prayer) to heal. Each of these assumptions is not based on Scripture (from what I can see), and so I am forced to doubt the conclusions drawn from Aunt Sally's story. Let's evaluate each assumption together:
  1. Assumption (1): A greater good is accomplished when God doesn't heal. -- Here's a question: is it better to obey God's commands or to disobey? If God always accomplishes "a greater good," then it shouldn't matter what we do--everything will always turn out great... in fact, better. But let's look carefully at what God's Word actually says:And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28, NIV). Notice that the word "greater" never appears! God will work with what we give Him. If we go astray but come back in repentance, then God will work things out for the general welfare of that person. But wouldn't it have been better for that person to have simply obeyed God in the first place? Yes, it would have been better. In the story above, would it have been better for Aunt Sally's cancer to be healed? Yes. God can use Aunt Sally's death for good, but that does not mean that God purposed for her to die from cancer in order to accomplish some "greater" good.
  2. Assumption (2): It is solely God's responsibility to heal. -- You may say, "Jesus was God in the flesh, so He had the authority to heal because He was God." First, remember that Jesus said, "whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing." Second, we see in the book of Hebrews that the laying on of hands is among the elementary teachings about Christ (Hebrews 6:1-3), and in James (ch.5, v.15) we see that it is the prayer of faith that heals the sick. [Note: The prayer heals through the Lord's power (it is the Lord who raises him up). We do not ourselves have the power to heal, but we have the privilege of speaking healing into reality by faith]. Third, consider that even though the disciples had authority to heal and cast out demons, they lacked the faith required to cast out a demon of epilepsy from a boy (Matt. 17:19-21)--So, it does not follow from our failure to impart healing that it is not our responsibility to heal! We need to believe that God uses us to heal, and that it is our responsibility to lay hands on the sick--even when we can't immediately see the results of our obedience.
  3. Assumption (3): We need to convince God to heal. -- Jesus is God's Son, so he would know best how to pray. Healing was a major component of Jesus's ministry, and yet we never read that Jesus prayed to the Father to heal a sick person (or raise the dead, for that matter). Jesus acted and spoke in faith, and the Father--who was living in Jesus--worked through Jesus directly by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was literally the Father's hands, feet, and voice to bring people into God's kingdom. Since we are to imitate Jesus, why would we not be the same? God wants to heal through us. (Of course, Jesus is divine and we aren't, but recall that Jesus passed on his ministry to his followers, and we have examples of his earliest followers imparting healing without asking the Father to heal. And Jesus followers are described as healing the sick--not as praying to God to heal the sick.)
In conclusion, I want to encourage you that we all--as followers of Jesus--can be direct conduits for God's healing power to sick and suffering people. There is a place for us to speak or act in faith and rely upon God to back us up (according to His promises). Why else would Jesus say things like, "...'Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, ... you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done'" (Matt. 21:21, NIV)? (The more we allow ourselves to become healing conduits, the more God's healing power may start emanating from us! For example, many people were healed just by Peter's shadow passing over them--see Acts 5:12-16.) However, we need to be wise as we seek after God's kingdom, and we have to humbly acknowledge that we are fallible: if we command healing and see no immediate results, we need to remember all the other resources that God has given us for healing our bodies and be good stewards of those resources! God is patient with us, and He will teach us His ways when we pursue Him. Try it and see. God is good!

Go -- Preach the good news of God's Kingdom to every creature. Declare freedom to the captives, and break chains of oppression. For God did not give us a Spirit of timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the Evil One. Advance God's Kingdom with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. We are more than conquerers through Him who loves us. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, nor any other thing in creation, can separate us from the love of God.

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