As I sit at home recovering from a rather nasty bout of flu and Pneumonia, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what I believe about supernatural healing! It’s not a simple topic. In fact, beware of thin books called, “Everything you need to know about healing!” Over my years in pastoral ministry I’ve been asked many questions about healing and it’s those that I will seek to address over the next two or three weeks.
Question One: Does God really heal people?
The Bible is full of accounts of supernatural healing and anyone who reads the gospel accounts is quickly made aware that healing was at the heart of Jesus’ life and work. The church continued this work of healing throughout the first century as recorded in the Book of Acts.
The expectation of healing continued past the Biblical age of the First Century:
- Justin Martyr (165AD), “many of our Christians have healed and do heal.”
- Augustine (415AD) in his book, City of God, wrote an account of a healing that took place at his cathedral on an Easter Sunday morning. Though originally a skeptic, he said that he knew of at least 60 incidents of healing.
- Gregory, at about the same time as Augustine, wrote of his sister’s healing from serious injuries through the prayers of the congregation.
- Through the dark ages the ministry of laying on of hands, anointing with oil and prayer for healing gradually decreased, and so the accounts of healing during this period are few. Even the reformation, which brought many tremendous reforms to the church, did not restore the healing ministry to the church. Martin Luther and John Calvin taught that healing only happened in Biblical times to enhance the preaching of God’s Word. However, the ministry of healing never completely died out. John and Charles Wesley knew of it, as did George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends, or the Quakers.
- Not until the turn of the 20th century did we see the beginnings of a worldwide and lasting revival of the ministry of healing, when an Englishman by the name of James Moore Hickson founded The Society of Emanuel in 1905. He traveled the world to urge the restoration of the healing ministry. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, was so persuaded by Hickson that the worldwide meeting of Anglican bishops, in 1908, ordered a study of this ministry. In 1920 the study was accepted. The bishops urged that all future prayer books include liturgies for healing. Also at the turn of the century, a movement stirred in the mainline churches that focused more on the activity and gifts of the Holy Spirit, including healing. This was the birth of the Pentecostal movement. Since that time, every major Christian denomination has embraced the ministry of healing in some shape or form including the Roman Catholic Church that restored the ministry of healing at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
Over the years I have experienced God’s healing power personally. I have prayed for people who have been healed. I’ve met others who’ve been healed. The prophet Jeremiah declared, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (32:17). A God who has the power to create a Universe certainly has the power to heal human sickness.
Question Two: Why do Christians get sick?
So we’ve established that God heals but why do people – including Christians – actually get sick? Someone may ask, “Aren’t Christians exempt from sickness because of what Christ did on the cross?” While I certainly believe that Jesus healed – and heals – people, His work on the cross had more to do with healing the human spirit from the ravages of sin than healing the human body from the results of sickness. The verses most often quoted to defend Jesus’ death for our sicknesses are Isaiah 53:4 and 1 Peter 2:24. Isaiah says, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” The whole passage is usually considered as fulfilled by Jesus death and yet Matthew teaches that this verse was fulfilled by Jesus’ life: “When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him. When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:“He took up our infirmitiesand bore our diseases.”
1 Peter 2:24 is also often misquoted, “… by His wounds you were healed.” Special emphasis is made of the past tense “you WERE” and so if you WERE then you ARE. An entire teaching of divine healing and health has sprung from taking this verse out of context and the teaching often leads to unkind and condemning statements: “If Jesus has taken your sicknesses then why are you still carrying them? It must be because of your lack of faith or because you have sin in your life.” Really? How much faith do you need for healing? Faith the size of a mustard seed will move a mountain – how much faith for a lump of cancer? For those who would condemn others for being sick why don’t you pray for them to be healed? In fact James teaches that it is the faith of others than can heal us, “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven” (notice here that physical healing occurs before forgiveness of sin). Sin may be the cause of sickness (sexual immorality, gluttony, anxiety, overworking, and laziness) but it is not necessarily a barrier to healing.
The context of 1 Peter 2:24-25 is Jesus sin-bearing work on the cross, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” Peter is clearly speaking of healing, or being made whole, from the effects of sin; particularly the sin of continually straying from God.
Christians are not exempt from the sinless infirmities of life – we get tired, hungry and experience pain and sickness (see Romans 8:22-23). But all of these things will be abolished once and for all when Jesus returns, “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” (Revelation 21:4). In the meantime we can experience supernatural healing by Jesus’ life and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but healing is a benefit of salvation and not a guarantee.