I remember once preaching a really good sermon on healing. It contained all the ring of truth and was received with enthusiasm and praise. I felt good about myself after that sermon because I had wonderfully exposited on a difficult issue. I would not be able to preach on healing with such confidence and polished skill if I were asked to do so now. I do not assert here that I no longer believe that God heals; on the contrary, I believe firmly that God is able to heal. I am simply and honestly uncertain why it so rarely happens. My belief seems to clash with what I observe. I have prayed for God to fully heal my wife who has suffered now for over eighteen years from the impact of a brain tumor, and later, when my son Travis was dying, we prayed fervently for his healing. For his own reasons, God chose to not heal my son, and for his own gracious reasons he’s provided Elaine the courage and joy to press on without the benefit of full healing.
My first real encounter with the struggle of healing occurred in the early months of my ministry when I was a youth pastor in North Carolina. Shortly after we arrived, Don, the pastor, took me aside one day and shared that his wife had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He was saddened, but confident that God was going to display His power in the church through her healing. I tried to affirm this hope, but deep inside I was attempting in vain to drown out the skeptical voice suggesting it wasn’t all that easy. I had seen many people pump themselves with faith, convinced that somehow enough scripture, and sufficient claims of healing would convince God to move on someone’s behalf. I was new to the ministry, and so I desired to join Don in prayer and believe with him that God would do this healing.
Some weeks later, we met with the pastor’s wife, the elders, and the deacons. I felt like a bystander, being called upon to join these spiritual giants in claiming a healing from God. Would my lack of faith or my skepticism put a damper on the Spirit’s power, I wondered nervously? The room grew quiet as attention was placed upon the fragile figure of the pastor’s wife, who struggled to keep herself propped up in her wheel chair. For a moment, the silence seemed sacred as she shared with deep conviction that God had told her she would be healed.
Wow! I thought. Something is going to happen here.
She quoted the famous words from Psalm 6:5: “‘Who praises you from the grave?’ I am no good in the grave,” she concluded. “God wants me well so my life can be a testimony for Him.”
The elders and the deacons closed in on that dying figure. They offered a prayer in faith and dabbed the oil on her forehead. I left that place with a deep certainty that God would heal her.
He did not.
She died a few months later.
Today, I am less confused about healing. What I mean is that I am more at peace with unanswered questions. I have also come to believe that God seems able to accomplish just as much – or more – through someone’s suffering than He does through a testimony of healing. Like Paul’s chains in Philippians 1:12 our chains actually serve to advance the gospel. I’ve only heard of people being healed; I’ve never been a first-hand witness to a genuine healing-miracle. When I say a genuine healing, I am referring to a serious/terminal ailment that is completely and visibly reversed with no possible human explanation. * Toward the end of my son’s life, the doctors admitted that nothing more could be done for him. Now, if he had been miraculously healed from this, the miracle would have shocked the medical world. No recovery has been recorded for the sort of cancer that he had.
I believe that God chooses in this dispensation to glorify Himself through the suffering of His servants more than He does through their healing. Western culture denies pain, so God uses it to confront us. We do what we can to run from suffering, so He crosses our paths with it. People identify with pain; therefore, the strength and the resolve that they observe in someone who suffers and remains true and faithful to Christ has a deep and penetrating effect on their lives. I will never stop praying for healing, and neither will I cease to believe in the power of God to heal. I base my confidence in God more on the evidence of Scripture than on the experiences and observations in my life. The testimony of God’s power over death and sickness is well documented and anchored in the Scriptures. My confidence that God is able to heal is well grounded, but so is my conviction that He can work just as powerfully when we suffer and are asked to continue suffering. The same God who gives grace to those who are hurting is the same God who heals sicknesses. In either case, God is the One at work doing what He wants and what seems best to Him. I can live with that assurance: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Phil 2:13).
In short, I do not need another miracle to believe in Him or to prove His love for me. The greatest miracle of all history is the miracle of the cross, where, interestingly, God did not intervene. He let Jesus die! However, three days later God’s power brought Jesus from the dead. Therein lies my hope. Not that God will, at my demand, intervene in my sickness, but that one day when I, too, will die I can die with the promise that death is not the end. God lets us die. Sickness must run its course and the effect of sin, death, itself, must transpire. Our hope rests not in the guarantee that God will run interference every time we ask it of him, but in his promise that, thankfully, we will not have to live in this “body of death,” but rather we groan, waiting for our redemption. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!.” (Romans 7:24-25)
* Of course, God uses modern medicine to bring about healing. I do not at all discount this as healing, but for the sake of this blog, I am comfortable defining and distinguishing a healing miracle from the cures that come through many wonderful means of intervention today. I choose here to lean on CS Lewis’ definition of a miracle/healing as, “an interference with Nature by supernatural power.” (CS Lewis, Miracles)
I believe God can heal, God can do anything He wants to do. I do not believe the gift of healing is for today because it was to authenticate the Biblical message and messenger. That is in place; it needs no more authentication then the authentication given to it by the Spirit of God to the heart of the reader, but I do believe that God may in His grace choose to heal, and we have every right to pray for that, at the same time seek the finest medical help that we can because the Lord desires us to do that as well. – John MacArthur (https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/90-60/does-god-still-heal)
Great article! I strongly disagree with MacArthur’s quote at the end, but he’s a cessationist who believes that tongues are demonic, so it’s hard to take him seriously whenever he comments on the spiritual gifts.
God had one priority for our lives—to make us more like Christ. Everything else is secondary. So while sickness and disease is never God’s will, He will often allow it in order to accomplish his greater purpose in our lives.
Hi Mark, I usually don’t check the comments on the blog page as most comments come by email. Sorry for the delay. Ah yes, John MacARthur. Got a back lash from that didn’t I lol. Just mention his name and wow! The quote actually backs up what I said, or so I thought, but it seems people associate his name with everything non charismatic. I should have quoted Benny Hinn, would have been safer. YOU know I am kidding. As for tongues, man I am still so confused on that one. Sorry it makes no sense to me, but that can be another conversation. I have read MacArthur on this subject and yes he is a cessationist which forces him to see tongues as demonic. He is strong on that isn’t he. Anyway, thanks for your comments to the article though. Really appreciate it and I got a lot of good feedback. Keep up the good work.