Friday, January 4, 2008
What Does The Bible teach About Healing?
The New Testament and Healing
The Bible makes it clear that God has the power to heal any affliction. He sometimes exercises that prerogative in answer to prayer. But are the “healing services” so common today the proper method to obtain cures from God? Must one go to a “healer” in order for Christ to perform His power? Is healing found in the Atonement that Christ secured for the world? These are important questions this article attempts to answer.
All of us have experienced some form of sickness in our lives and many of us are presently in some kind of affliction. Illness is something that we see all around us, it seems to be universal, and it is responsible for a great deal of suffering and misery. None of us wants to experience sickness. We avoid it when possible, and when we become ill we often try to eliminate it at all costs. Vast sums of money are spent to maintain or to regain health.
Good health is one of the most precious assets any person or family can have. Christ said He came to give us life, and life more abundantly (John 10:10). A major factor in having that abundant life is good health. The apostle John told his friend Gaius: “I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health” (3 John 2). Most of us wish the same thing for ourselves, our families, our friends, and indeed, even for the whole world!
Right now sickness seems rampant! Medical science and good health practices are able to control it to a certain extent, but in the long run illness wins out because all of us eventually die (Hebrews 9:27), and this is a result of affliction. Some preachers, however, say that sickness and death are the result of people sinning. This may be true in some cases, but animals also get sick and die, and none of them “sin.”
Even Christians who have had all their sins forgiven (according to plain teaching of the New Testament) are often no better off health-wise, or sometimes are worse, than those who give no heed to God. This may be difficult for Christians to accept, but wise king Solomon noted this anomaly back in his time.
“There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happens according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happens according to the work of the righteous: I said that this is vanity.”
• Ecclesiastes 8:14
Solomon found it difficult to understand why sometimes the wicked prospered and were in health while the righteous were often poor and afflicted. Solomon’s appraisal was not only for the Old Testament period. Christ Himself, who informed His apostles that they could petition Him for whatever they wished and it would be bestowed — John 16:23–24, also said: “In the world you shall have tribulation” (John 16:33).
There was no ordinary human more righteous from God’s point of view than the apostle Paul, but even he suffered from “a thorn in the flesh” which caused him infirmities (2 Corinthians 12:7–10). There was one particular “infirmity of the flesh” which afflicted Paul and gave him a great deal of pain and embarrassment (Galatians 4:13–15). Not only that, Paul left one of his dearest friends and colleagues sick in the region of Miletum (2 Timothy 4:20). Paul was unable to see him healed and carry on with him to Rome.
More important to the issue than anything else, Christ Jesus Himself was “a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground” in body composition. In no way does the Bible show Christ as strong and robust in a physical way while on earth. He was “acquainted with grief [sickness]” and “we did esteem him stricken [plagued], smitten of God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3–4). Christ appeared sickly as Isaiah 53 plainly teaches.
Should anyone mistakenly think those sicknesses and afflictions of Isaiah 53 were experienced by Christ only while He was on the tree dying for our sins, remember that the New Testament said those illnesses were being borne by Christ throughout His ministry (Matthew 8:16–17). The fact is, when Christ appeared on earth He seemed to be in need of a physician Himself. He was one struggling to maintain health — “a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground.” No wonder that many of His critics cried out to Him, even though He was able to heal many people Himself: “Physician, heal yourself” (Luke 4:23).
Yes, Christ appeared sickly, yet He never sinned once in His life according to New Testament teaching (1 Peter 2:22). The sicknesses He carried in His body were on behalf of mankind (John 1:29). “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of [for] our peace was upon him” (Isaiah 53:5). 1
Does God Have the Power to Heal?
It is self evident that God can accomplish anything He sets out to do (1 Samuel 2:6–8). This, however, is not the point. What people need to know is the will of God in any matter. “Wherefore be you not unwise, but [be you] understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17). Sometimes He has willed not to heal people (2 Corinthians 12:7–9; 2 Samuel 12:15–23).
On the other hand, there are some all encompassing scriptures which seem to suggest that God heals all afflictions “[God] who forgives all your iniquities; and heals all your diseases” (Psalms 103:3). It is often said that if God forgives all of one’s sins in this life (which the Bible says is true), then it follows that He would have to heal all one’s diseases too! That is how Psalm 103 is sometimes interpreted.
Coupled with Psalm 103 is the commission given by Christ to His original apostles that those apostles (not later people) would have power to heal all afflictions (Mark 16:14–18). But even here it is recognized, even by those who proclaim a healing ministry that this apostolic commission does not give a carte blanche promise for healing of all Christians today. 2 Many people do not obtain healing by prayer or the “laying on of hands” (Hebrews 6:2). This is a simple truth that must be recognized.
This shows that physical healing for all Christians while in the flesh is not guaranteed by the Atonement of Christ. Though all sins that separate man from God can, and are, presently forgiven — and a perfect spiritual relationship with God can be a living reality through the death of Christ on the tree of crucifixion, the result of sin often finds an expression in sickness, which is not a part of that Atonement redemption (at least, for this present life). If it were, then all would presently be healed — completely. But it is evident that even the most dedicated Christian is not exempt from sicknesses, be they major or minor. Recall that Paul said: “Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick” (2 Timothy 4:20). 3
Most preachers today who have a healing ministry as a mainstay of their activities are not insisting that every person who asks for anointing or the “laying on of hands” will be healed. They deny the “Atonement connection” when they do this, and properly! They often say healing depends on the faith of the individual. 4
God’s Choice in Healing
The truth is, sometimes it is God’s will to heal people, and sometimes it is not. At certain times in the past Christ told people that they would be healed “according to your faith” (Matthew 9:29); and when He told them that He certainly meant it! Though the application was by their own faith, it was Christ’s will that they were healed. Yet Christ healed many others without any faith on their part.
When Peter cut off the ear of one coming to arrest Him, Christ touched the man’s ear and healed him. This man was not converted. He expressed no faith in Christ to heal him, but he was nevertheless healed (Luke 22:51).
• A leper was healed without an acclamation of faith (Matthew 8:2–4).
• Peter’s mother-in-law was made well without any mention of faith (Matthew 8:14–15).
• The man with the withered hand (Mark 3:5) was healed without any mention of faith.
• The man with the dropsy (Luke 14:3–4) was healed without any mention of faith.
• The impotent man (John 5:13) was healed without any mention of faith.
• The lame man who sat at the Gate Beautiful (Acts 3:1–8) was healed without a mention of faith.
All these people were healed by miraculous acts of Christ without faith being acknowledged, nor was faith even implied as being necessary. The fact is, at times Christ told people that faith was required for their particular healing, but with others it was not at all necessary. 5
Not all Scriptures apply to all people at all times. A good example for applying this principle is found in Exodus 15:26; 23:25. In these verses God promised the children of Israel — those coming out of Egypt — that He would not afflict them with the diseases of Egypt if they would keep His commandments. Note that the promises covered them, but not everyone at all times. It was they who were to be healed, and God kept His promise to them.
Paul did say that what happened to ancient Israel were examples of warning to us (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11), but there are no factors embodied within Exodus 15:26 and 23:25 to suggest that these Scriptures were for universal application. Such a specific application for everyone is impossible because God later afflicted some of the greatest of His saints and did not heal them of their sicknesses.
“And not only they [those in the world], but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”
• Romans 8:23
We need to know what the will of God is in any specific case and whether His promises apply directly to us. We must constantly “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). God always means what He says, but we need to know what His will is for us at all times.
James said “the prayer of faith shall save the sick” (James 5:15). But the faith that one must have is the faith to believe that God is a merciful God, who can and often will respond to the pleas of His people. One must put the matter into God’s hands for Him to do as He pleases. No matter what happens, we can constantly glorify Him. If He does not heal us, no one should think Christ’s sacrifice is not efficacious.
Your Own Faith
Those who wish to heed the biblical revelation need to comprehend what the teaching of faith in healing really is. Faith is a powerful weapon to combat sicknesses that occur in all humans on earth today. If faith is exercised, some wonderful healings could result — even instantaneous ones! Unfortunately, many ministers today who tell people to put faith into action for their healing are not aware of the reasons why some people are healed. They simply put it down to a miracle directly from God without studying the matter carefully.
They often tell people that healing is in the Atonement of Christ and that each healing that occurs must be a direct supernatural wonder coming from God Himself! Individuals are being told their cures are miracles caused by the personal hand of God in the same way that the Red Sea opened up when Israel came out of Egypt. But in most cases, this is not the manner in which modern healings are being accomplished — even when the name of our Lord is being used in the anointing or the “laying on of hands.”
The only faith that can save any human to spiritual salvation is Christ’s faith — not ours (Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8). All the attributes of salvation which mankind must have for spiritual redemption are gifts associated with Him. They emanate from God Himself. 6 But, every person on earth today has some measure of faith resident within Himself that Christ called one’s own faith. This faith, though similar, is quite distinct from the kind of supernatural faith that only God can bestow for salvation.
That human faith can produce wondrous benefits for humans in the world if it is exercised. It can actually aid in the healing of the body in many instances — often instantaneously. Interestingly, this type of human faith has nothing to do with the Atonement of Christ. It is a natural power that God graciously gives to each human in the world. All that is needed is some kind of spark in the mind to bring that faith into operation.
Often it can be another person that engenders it. Faith can be stirred up by being in a particular inspiring area such as a mountain, a cave, a river, even an architectural masterpiece, or a million other areas. These “places” are catalysts that inspire and provoke personal faith in some people. At other times it can be a verse of scripture, the Bible itself, or an encouraging note or visit from someone “special” — someone that is trusted and believed in. In other cases faith can be energized by a “special” object, or confidence that a mixture of certain substances will have an effect on the body. 7
The point is, whatever could inspire human faith to be put into action can be beneficial to individuals. There are many people who go to well-known healers (be they Christian oriented or not) and if confidence is placed in the man or woman’s power to heal, it is often amazing what results can be obtained. 8
Even when a sick person sees a doctor (especially if the doctor is respected for his professionalism and concern), and the doctor says “You will pull through just fine” the faith and confidence that one places in that doctor and his positive opinion can have marvelous effects on the healing processes naturally found within the body. On the other hand, if the doctor says “You have little chance of survival,” such an appraisal can have devastating effects to one’s faith and very negative results can be the consequence.
The Benefits of Personal Faith
There are many healings taking place daily by the use of one’s own faith that God has allowed all humans on earth to have. This was occurring in the time of Christ. When a woman who had an issue of blood for twelve years touched the hem of Christ’s garment, she was made whole immediately. Jesus told her: “Your faith has made you whole” (Matthew 9:22). Note that in this particular instance it was not the faith of Christ that caused this woman to be healed. It was her own faith! “She said within herself, if I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole” (Matthew 9:21). It was her utter determination and confidence within her mind that she would be made well that caused her to be healed, as Christ said.
When two blind men wanted healing, they believed that Jesus was a special person who came from God. So convinced were they of His powers (and so strong was their faith) that it resulted in both men receiving their sight. But note again, Christ appraised their healings as stemming from their own faiths — not from the supernatural faith that He Himself had. Christ said to them: “According to your faith be it unto you” (Matthew 9:29). The miracle was in the use of their own faiths, which Christ honored with healing.
Christ could, and often did, cure people through the supernatural exercise of His faith, and these healings were outright miracles directly from the hand of God and His power. Two examples of such healings are the daughter of the centurion who was healed even at a distance by Christ (Matthew 8:5–13) and the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John chapter 11). Such occurrences must be reckoned as divine healings or restorations without the faith of the recipients being evoked at all. God shows mercy at His own discretion.
But the Bible reveals that Christ acknowledged the power of human faith, of personal faith, as well. Certainly, in the New Testament, the healings from individual faith were accomplished because the people recognized Christ as a mighty representative from God. This belief is what sparked their own faiths for healing (and this is still being done today), but Christ was quick to point out that in many cases it was their faiths that gave them their healings, not His divine faith.
Modern Scientific Research Is Proving It
It is now being recognized by medical scientists that faith for healing — any kind of fervent belief that one will get well — is capable of securing marvelous results in many people. The potential of the mind is incredible. In some cases healings are almost instantaneous. One of the finest books ever produced on the subject is called Anatomy of an Illness by Norman Cousins (New York: W.W. Norton). This book gives an abundance of evidence that people possessing a positive mental attitude towards an illness (that is, a strong and robust belief that one can and will be healed of the malady) has resulted in some spectacular healings.
Once such faith is put into action, it is often observed that the patient begins to improve, and in some situations the healings come at once! Amazingly, the exercise of such personal faith makes no difference if the person is a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, or expresses no religious convictions at all. The power of natural faith seems to be a phenomenon that God, in the abundant mercy of His love for all His creation, has given to each person on earth. “I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
Physicians are coming to realize that the brain has great capability of adjusting and correcting malfunctions that occur in the body if people will but place it into action. What needs to be triggered is the will of the person to put into gear the powers that God has bestowed within the mind of each human. If this can be accomplished, the brain seems able to “scan” the complete body system, record the problems affecting it, and then begin to adjust the body mechanism to battle and conquer the difficulties.
It seems that the agent placing the brain into such an action is faith! If a person actively expresses a positive attitude (a complete faith) that the body can and will be healed, there seems to be amazing defenses put into play by the brain that often cause the body almost immediately to respond into a healing cycle. The book by Cousins shows that the results are often impressive and powerful. Something is needed to cause the person to begin to express faith. It appears that the outer consciousness of a person can get the brain to start the healing process.