But on the other end of the spectrum, I've encountered some people who have actually claimed that God will always heal, if we have the faith. I've found that attitude rather sad. Allow me to steal this story from Pastor Jon's Blog. A lady called into a radio "ask the pastor" talk show.
The lady, who was obviously crying, said, "Pastor, I was born blind, and I've been blind all my life. I don't mind being blind but I have some well meaning friends who tell me that if I had more faith I could be healed."
The pastor asked her, "Tell me, do you carry one of those white canes?"
"Yes I do," she replied.
"Then the next time someone says that hit them over the head with the cane," He said. "Then tell them, 'If you had more faith that wouldn't hurt!'"
How insulted suffering folks have been from well-meaning, but ill-informed Christians like these. The arguments they give me are interesting but are drawn from an incomplete look at Scripture and the evidence surrounding us.
First, they say the Jesus didn't turn away anyone who needed healing. And to the best of my knowledge that is correct. In all the time Jesus walked the earth, I see no instance of Jesus turning down someone who asked for healing. The exception of course is that Jesus didn't do miracles where people had no faith in Him. Again, that point is granted. But to make a blanket statement from this argument ignores the times when the post-ascension Jesus did not heal. Paul's thorn in the flesh of 2 Corinthians is a prime example. So is Timothy and his stomach problems. And we could also go further and mention that within the time frame of the New Testament, John the Baptist and James, the son of Zebedee were each executed. Why didn't God intervene in any of these situations?
Paul tells us that he was given that thorn to keep him from getting a big head about all the special revelation he had been given. When he prayed (three times) for it to be taken away, he was told that God's grace was sufficient -- healing wasn't necessary. Now if God's grace is enough and thorns are given to teach in Paul's case, why would we think that we need more than God's grace? Do we not need to learn? Is the example of the refiner's fire, burning out impurities, irrelevent to our lives today? Of course not. Our suffering serves a purpose for our good. Our ultimate healing isn't the point. Our changed lives will bring glory to God.
Common sense tells us that we're all going to die. Many of us will die of a sickness or a disease. We are not plucked from the earth like Enoch or driven off in a fiery chariot like Elijah. Sometimes our sicknesses accomplish our exit from this world and entrance into the next. And thank God they do!
I have been told that healing is provided for in the atonement -- that is, that when Jesus died, He bore the punishment for our sins as well as our sickness on the cross. The proof text Isaiah 53:5 is often tossed at me, "By His stripes we are healed." But a closer look at the context shows that the prophet is speaking in parallel lines. The first two lines of verse 5 refer to Jesus' physical sufferings and our physical sins. These next two lines deal with Jesus' physical punishment and our spiritual state.
Unless we somehow believe that our life is all peace, we have to see this as a spiritual peace between perfect Judge God and dirty sinners Us. So the parallelism tells us that we are dealing with a physical punishment to bring about a spiritual peace and a spiritual healing. Nothing about this verse promises us a life free from sickness if we have the faith.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
Besides, if we were physically healed by Jesus' wounds, why would we ever get sick in the first place?
What about where James tells us:
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.It sounds pretty straightforward. However, so does this passage:
Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.
But if we look carefully at passages like John 14:12-14, we see that we are to be asking things "in my(Jesus') name" for our prayers to be answered as we wish. The phrase "in Jesus' name" is not a magic spell to be uttered for a prayer to work. It means that we pray in the authority of Jesus. So our prayer -- whether for a blessing, a gift or a healing -- must be in accordance with His will if God is going to answer it. The two or three of us on earth must agree with God's will in the situation. God will not grant our prayer if it contradicts His will.
If one takes the position that it is always God's will to heal, one must also fall back on the excuse that anyone not healed lacks sufficient faith. Yet at the same time, Jesus tells us that even faith the size of a mustard seed, which was the smallest seed known by that generation, is enough to move a mountain into the sea. So how small must a believer's faith be if he or she is not healed? It must not exist! Or if it does, it is small enough to be negligible. And realize that nobody is throwing mountains into the sea because it is obviouly not God's will.
Now, let's get back to the obviously-not-faith-decificent apostle Paul. Or maybe Timothy. Is anyone going to seriously float the idea that either of these two didn't have faith the size of a mustard seed? Alright, what about modern folks? Joni Erickson Tada was paralyzed in an accident as a teenager. She prayed in faith many, many times, and has written about those experiences. So why is she still in a wheelchair? Why does Billy Graham have Parkinson's? Why do men and women of God wear glasses or walk with canes? Why do some faith healers wear toupees (and bad ones at that!)? Without enough faith?
A few years ago, my aunt died after a five-year struggle with lymph cancer. During the struggle, this woman with faith larger than a mustard seed was anointed and prayed for by the elders of the church, as called for in James. Cancer still took her. A lady in my church is now fighting the same type of battle. So are another dozen acquaintances. My neighbor was called home on New Year's Eve. He was never healed of his cancer.
Most everyone reading this could start a list like this of people of faith who have not been healed or died of their sickness. Yet instead of learning from Scripture, a few would rather tell these people they are "lacking in faith" -- almost accusing them of not being saved at all. How very sad. It is always easier to see the faults of others than to rightly understand that God doesn't always heal. Hopefully it won't take a whack to the head with a blind lady's white cane for these to see how God is glorified through the healthy and the sick, the blind and the seeing, the deaf and the hearing. God is glorified by healing, sure, and I've seen it happen. But God is also glorified through a life well-lived in spite of debilitating injury or a damaging illness. I know that I am inspired by a Christian whose faith is not destroyed even if their normal "healthy" body is. Praise God that He is thus glorified!
UPDATE! See also The Faith of Abednego for more thoughts on this subject.