Part I – Traditions and Objections
Its pretty clear when you consider certain Scriptures that God wants us well. Healing is part of one of God’s own names (Exodus 15:26), and Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus consistently showed God’s mercy and compassion by healing all who came to Him with even a little faith, and the apostles and early church continued this ministry. The prophet Isaiah talked about Jesus bearing our sicknesses and carrying our diseases in his substitutionary atonement for us, and that with his stripes we are healed (see Isaiah 53:4,5). This makes healing part of our salvation purchased at the cross. It makes sense because the words for salvation and healing are the same in the New Testament. David said that the Lord “forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:3) while John wrote that “I wish above all things that you prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers” (3 John 2). James promised in the case of sick people “the prayer of faith will heal the sick” while Jesus promised that in His name, believers “shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover” (Mark 16:18). Jesus said that we could speak to any mountain (including sickness) and it will move if we don’t doubt. Peter identified sickness clearly as the work of the devil in Acts 10:38, while John said that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Taken together, these and other Scriptures make it pretty clear that God wants people well. We have already dealt with the objection that the fact that people don’t get healed after prayer proves that it is not God’s will to heal in every case. But if all this be so, why do so many still fail to receive healing, even amongst those who seek it through Jesus Christ. There are answers to this question. When we consider them all, it is remarkable that so many do receive healing at all!
It should be pointed out that God can and does act in spite of these barriers to healing. Some are healed without exercising faith themselves – others are healed through God’s mercy in spite of lots of factors being against it. God is both Sovereign and Almighty. This means He can and does heal even when people are not really expecting it, or at times when the sick person needs major change in their life or attitudes. We should just praise God and thank Him for the good things He does for us even when its clear we don’t deserve it, and we aren’t even meeting God’s conditions. Truly the Lord IS merciful, and delights in showing favors.
The First Major Reason why Some People Fail to Receive Healing
The Healing Part of the Gospel is hindered and even made void by the traditions of men
“making the Word of God of no effect through your traditions which you have handed down…” (Mark 7:13)
Those who find fault with the phrase “the healing part of the gospel” are amongst those ones who are making the word of God concerning divine healing of absolutely no effect.
God wants to “send his word and heal” people (Psalm 107:20) but instead, and it is very sad, many Bible teachers make void the Word of God through their traditions on the subject, and their skewed interpretations of a few isolated passages of Scripture. They use these interpretations to veto the plain declarations and promises of God concerning healing found in quite a number of passages throughout the Word of God. And as long as people are left with doubts in their minds concerning God’s attitude to their diseases, they cannot have steadfast faith to be divinely healed by the direct action of the Holy Spirit. While people “waver between two opinions” on this subject, let them not think that they will receive anything from the Lord, being “double-minded men, unstable in all their ways” (James 1:7,8).
The effect of these traditions is to destroy people’s confidence that the Lord will be gracious to them, and that it is really God’s desire for them to be healed. They may dare to hope that God will heal them, but if the doctor has said there is no hope, they generally believe what the doctor says. If the Bible said nothing at all about healing, it would not make a scrap of practical difference to such people. Some may hold out hope that somehow, God may sovereignly choose to do some unusual miracle, perhaps by someone with a special gift of healing. However, they have no assurance that God WILL do something, because their theology tells them that God has promised nothing concrete. They believe they will have to wait and see what happens before they know for sure what God’s will in their particular case was. This has come about because of the traditions of men which make the word of God of no effect. Here are some of these traditions:
Tradition Number One: The Age of Miracles is past
Conservative evangelicals disagree as to when the Holy Spirit stopped working miracles. Some say it was with the death of the apostles, while others say it was when the canon of Scripture was put together and people could get the entire Holy Bible. This is based on an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 which sees the Bible as “the perfect”. When “the perfect comes”, that which in part will be done away with. So tongues and prophecy will cease. But so will partial knowledge (vs 8). If any conservative evangelicals are willing to say their knowledge is not partial but is complete, I would be interested to ask them a few questions of my own! But if it is partial, then “the perfect” has still not come, despite the fact that we can now line our bookshelves with various different translations of the Word of God, with all their alternate readings.
Another thing about when the perfect comes: We shall then see “face to face” (vs 12). We are not all seeing Jesus face to face now. We get glimpses of who He is – through the Word, by the Spirit, in fellow Christians – but we don’t generally see Him face to face. It is clear that “the perfect” in the context of 1 Corinthians 13 has nothing to do with the Canon of Scripture, but rather with the consummation of the Kingdom of God at the time of the Second Coming of Christ. Only then will we see “face to face”. Only then will we know fully, and only then will tongues and prophecy (and partial knowledge) cease. In the meantime, thank God for your Bibles and continue to eagerly desire spiritual gifts, as the Word of God commands you (1 Corinthians 14:1).
It was unbelief and sin in the ecclesiastical hierarchy that caused the gifts of the Spirit and the working of healings and miracles to be almost, but not entirely crushed. If they managed to totally obscure the doctrine of salvation by their traditions, it is no wonder if they obscured and confused the truth about divine healing and the use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Let the teachings and practices of the Reformers themselves also be judged by the Word of God! It is clear that they did not go all the way. It has been a long road back to the restoration of apostolic Christianity, and we are still not totally there.
Historically, God has continued to work miracles through people who believe that He will. The writings of the early church fathers confirm that many healings and exorcisms were taking place well into the 5th century and beyond. You can now search these writings by computer and quickly verify that this is the case, if you so desire. Other bright lights in church history, such as the Waldensians or even St. Francis of Assissi show that God was still willing to use consecrated people to show his mercy and power.
Any time God answered a prayer with a result that would not have happened otherwise, a miracle took place. The whole idea that the Age of Miracles has passed away is an insult to the Holy Spirit. It is to mock prayer today. This particular tradition of men, that the Age of Miracles has passed away, should be treated by all thinking people with the contempt it deserves. It is neither historically nor biblically accurate.
Tradition Number Two: Paul’s Thorn was a sickness, and proves God is sometimes unwilling to Heal
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast of my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Many have taught that Paul’s “thorn” was a sickness, which Paul wanted the LORD to take away – but the LORD was quite unwilling to take it away (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Thus many sick Christians today have been taught that since their prayer for healing has apparently been denied by God, they are in the same situation as Paul. They see that God has given them this sickness for the purpose of character development – that they might exhibit fortitude and patience in their suffering and thereby glorify God.
While patience in suffering is certainly commendable, this passage tells us what the “thorn in the flesh was”. Paul himself says that it was “a messager [Gk: angelos] of Satan to buffet him”. This means Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was really a person – most likely a fallen angel of Satan.
The use of the word “thorn” is obviously symbolic. We can see that also in the book of Joshua it referred to a harassing person or people. When Joshua told the Israelites that if they make peace with the Canaanites they would be “scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes” (Joshua 23:13) he meant that they would be harassed and attacked by them. We should not make too much of the fact that the thorn was “in the flesh”, just as we would not draw too many conclusions about the location of the problem if we heard someone being described as “a pain in the neck”, or, to use the Old Testament expression “a thorn in the eyes”.
Therefore the most likely conclusion is that Paul was at some time in his ministry under intense demonic attack. These attacks may at times have produced physical discomfort and weakness, since Paul mentions “infirmities” in 2 Cor. 12:10. But he also mentions “reproaches”, “needs”, “persecutions” and “distresses” – all of which were likely also to be the results of this demonic angel stirring up trouble for Paul.
This view is in line with the text itself. The thorn was given lest Paul be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations. God did not want Paul to become haughty, arrogant or puffed up by the great revelation knowledge he received. Therefore he permitted Paul to get into circumstances where he would need to continue to depend on God and His power, and not on what Paul already knew and understood. Our true wisdom is to humble ourselves before the Lord and receive His help against our spiritual enemies who can stir up much trouble for us at times.
One thing is clear. Paul’s “thorn”, however distressing it may have been at times, did not prevent him from engaging in “labours more abundant” (2 Cor. 11:23). Are some of those who are claiming to have a thorn like Paul’s using their thorn as an excuse for not being able to work hard for the Lord? Are the exhortations to “be prepared for every good work”, to “be careful to maintain good works” and to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord” only applicable to Christians without “thorns”?
Paul’s thorn did not cause those on the island of Malta to have doubts concerning divine healing (Acts 28:8,9). While teaching on Paul’s thorn by many modern preachers has destroyed the confidence and expectation of believers that God shall heal them by his power, it was not so in Paul’s day. The words and works of Paul were doubtless in line with the testimony of the whole of the Word of God, which we are told is “medicine for all our flesh” (Prov. 4:22).
If a Christian is convinced that God has given him a sickness, a “thorn” for character development or any other purpose, then surely it would be wrong for them to go to the doctors to seek to have the “thorn” removed!
God wanted Paul here to humble himself and get more grace from God, so that he could overcome these demonic assaults. Indeed, the Christian life will have many battles with evil spirits. By humbling ourselves we receive grace from God to not only live patiently and righteously in these trials, but also to rebuke them and eventually clear the demonic opposition out of our path, no matter how strong and persistent it may seem to be.
In conclusion, Paul’s thorn was a fallen angel, not a sickness as such. And although there may be various demonic attacks on our bodies and our situation, this does not change the fact that God’s intention for us is to overcome these things through faith and patience and receive the fulfillment of the promises He has made to us concerning healing and every other problem. In the midst of these attacks we are supposed to gain spiritual strength. We are not supposed to just let the devil walk all over us.
Tradition Number Three: The will of God is shown by what happens, since nothing and no one can resist God’s will. But since many are not healed, it is obviously NOT God’s will to heal all.
I have dealt with this insidious tradition here in my article “How Can We Know the Will of God in Divine Healing”.
Tradition Number Four: The Promises of Healing were only for the Old Testament – We Cannot Claim them Today
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.” (2 Corinthians 1:20) very little of the New Testament had as yet been written. Paul could not have been referring strictly to the New Testament. The use of the Word ‘all’ is very inclusive – it has to include the Old Testament promises. The apostles frequently quoted the Old Testament in their councils and teachings. So all the promises in the Old Testament ARE for believers today. As long as you are “in Christ”, you qualify. Further, when you receive the fulfillment of these promises, it will be “to the glory of God”. People will glorify God when they see evidence of Him doing what His Word promises.
It is true that we are no longer under the Old Testament Law of Moses. But not one of God’s promises have been abrogated. So if God said, “If you diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord your God … I will not put on you … diseases … for I am the Lord who heals you” (Exodus 15:26) , then this verse is the voice of God to us today, if only we will believe it. Of course, if you don’t believe it, you can’t really expect it to work for you.
Tradition Number Five: God Sometimes Wants to Chasten His Obedient Children with Sickness and Disease
“For whom the Lord loves, he chasteneth, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6)
“… not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” (1 Corinthians 11:30-32)
An obedient Christian pays attention to the Word of God. God does not train his obedient children with sickness, but rather with His Word. He teaches by His Spirit and by His Word wherever possible. If a human parent administered a deadly infection to their child as a punishment for disobedience, they could be reported to the government and locked up for child abuse. God is not a child abuser.
Sometimes our ignorance of God’s Word can leave us especially exposed to negative things like sickness. God said that His “people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”. (Hosea 4:6).
When it comes to God’s scourging, God does not scourge us for our obedience, but for our disobedience. God promised healing to the Israelites if they would hearken to His Word and obey Him (Exodus 15:26). If Christians refuse to do that, if they refuse to listen to the Word of God, or if they dishonor the sacrifice of Jesus, as the Corinthians did in the way they abused the Lord’s Supper, then God may permit his own children to be exposed to the attacks of the devil, including sickness, as a kind of judgment. God himself does not directly afflict his children but may permit Satan to attack them, as happened in the case of Job.
But if a Christian is sincerely seeking God, he should not be tempted to see his sickness as God’s method of chastisement, but rather, as an unwelcome invasion of satanic power. The Christian should take hold of the Word of God and use faith to rebuke the devil, just as the Israelites, after turning to God, were able to drive out their enemies. Disobedience against God, however, shuts down real faith.
God will not permit sickness on a believer for just any reason. The Corinthians were guilty of not discerning the Lord’s body. Since it is “by his stripes we are healed” the Corinthians were undermining their own position to receive healing from God. Just as the blood of Jesus washes away our sin, the Body of Christ broken for us makes a provision of divine healing. Let us not ignore that fact.
If anyone prefers to hold onto their sin, including the sin of unbelief, it will be painful enough. In any case, its not God’s desire for people to be sick – but for them to turn and be healed.
Another tradition that is responsible for thousands dying a premature death after years of physical agony is
Tradition Number Six: We can glorify God more by remaining sick and exhibiting patience than we can by being divinely healed.
Without a doubt those who spread this idea are well-intentioned, seeking to find some sort of meaning in what would otherwise seem like the senseless suffering of God’s children. It follows on pretty naturally from the idea that since God is omnipotent, He must have a good reason for not stepping in and helping His own children who are lying there in agony. As long as we believe there is nothing we can do about it, and that “what is” is an expression of God’s will, this tradition seems to make sense. However, the idea that God planned these things for His own greater glory is not biblical. In the New Covenant, and under the ministry of Jesus, it was divine healing, not human patience in sickness that caused God the greatest glory.
In the words of F.F. Bosworth:
“An honest but unenlightened minister will often kneel at the bedside of one suffering with arthritis or cancer or some other dangerous disease an pray, ‘Lord, since in Thy loving providence Thou hast seen fit to lay Thine afflicting hand upon our dear sister, give her fortitude and patience to bear this affliction.’ This he does instead of obeying the plain command to anoint ‘any sick’ in the church and to pray ‘the prayer of faith’ for their healing (James 5:14).”
“Now, if it is true, as many are taught, that one can glorify God more by remaining sick than by being healed, then Jesus did not hesitate to rob His Father of all the glory He possibly could by healing everyone that appealed to Him for help during His entire earthly ministry.”
And when you think about it, Paul must have robbed God of a lot of glory by healing all the sick on the island of Malta in Acts 28. Why did he do that, if he could have taught the people to remain sick for the greater glory of God? And why did God allow Peter to minister healing to the multitudes on the streets of Jerusalem (Acts 5:15,16) if people could glorify God better by remaining in their sickness. It just doesn’t make sense.
Another question to ask is this: if people really believe they can glorify God better by remaining sick, why do they go to the doctors to try to get well? They spend a lot of God’s money on medical treatments, when it could have been given to missions! Why do this, if God can be glorified more through our sickness than through our health? We should love and prefer the glory of God to our own comfort, should we not? You see that people are not really consistent in this matter – they accept this tradition to comfort themselves when they see no alternative to staying in their sick condition.
It is not sickness, but rather miraculous healing that causes people to glorify God, and the Scriptures make this clear in several places.
An example of this could be found in the story of the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12, where “all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”. Similarly in Acts 3, where Peter and John ministered healing to the man at the gate of the temple, not only he (vs 8) but also “all” glorified God for what was done (vs 21). There are plenty of examples to show that God gets lots of glory when people are healed. Sickness is a common to fallen man and you will find plenty of Hindus and Muslims who bear it pretty patiently, because really, they don’t have a lot of choice after a while. I don’t see anything amazing in a Christian doing the same thing – and it certainly won’t startle the world into considering the claims of Christ. Miraculous demonstrations of the power of God in healing, on the contrary, do cause people to consider Christ. And if they don’t there is something wrong with the way we are doing it.
Objections to the Doctrine of Divine Healing
Objection Number One: Paul and his team were sickly – so this is what God wants.
It is true that Paul at times was physically weak (Galatians 4:13; 2 Corinthians 12:10). Epaphroditus, a co-worker of Paul was sick at one stage, but God had mercy on him and healed him (Php 2:25-30). Timothy was instructed to “use a little wine for his stomach’s sake and his frequent infirmities” (1 Timothy 5:23) and Trophimus Paul left in Miletus sick (2 Tim. 4:20). What can we make of all this?
These passages were included in the word of God to guard us against extreme positions and harsh judgments against those who at some points in their lives may have battles with sickness. The fact is, we live in a fallen world and the Kingdom of God has not been fully manifested. At times Christians, especially front-line missionaries may have to battle with sickness brought on by such factors as overwork, poor quality nutrition or water supplies, or demonic attack. God never guarantees that our prayers for the healing of others will have immediate visible results. In the case of Trophimus, Paul could not wait until the manifestation of healing came, because he had kingdom work to do and it was time to move on. God healed Epaphroditus and none of these men died of sickness as far as we know.
We must look after our bodies in the natural sense and not abuse them even in times of revival. Otherwise they may wear out and we will die before the time. God expects us to use wisdom and not to work ourselves to death or eat poorly if we have the opportunity to protect our health by eating well in moderation.
There may still be times when Christians, even spiritually advanced Christians, will struggle with demonic attacks on their health. But God has given us His word and His promises concerning healing. So we have a “sword” to fight with and God expects us at times to fight. The reality is that battles are not always won instantaneously, but that is no reason to give up the fight, to give up hope or to cast away our confidence or the confession of our hope.
The truth is that Paul often exprerienced the supernatural strengthening of God in his body in order to complete his mission. How else could he have got up and preached in the city immediately after he had been left for dead by those who stoned him outside the city (Acts 14:19,20)? After so many beatings with rods in which the bones of his feet were likely broken in many places, how could he continue his travels? Paul also knew the supernatural intervention of God in divine healing – and we should expect it too if we are serving the Lord.
Objection Number Two: But ‘so-and-so’ died believing that God would heal him.
This objection has power with people who base their theology more on what they observe than what they read in the Bible. We should not judge the Word of God by experiences of others. Better to judge the experiences by the Word of God.
Who is to say that a sincere and godly Christian person cannot have doubts in respect of some promise of God? Even John the Baptist doubted that Jesus was the Messiah, after being thrown into prison for some time. Bad circumstances can and often do quench the faith of even the strongest believers. Only God knows what is in the heart of any person. There can be real trust in God, combined with a hope for healing, but this does not imply a steadfast faith for healing based on a conviction of God’s promise. With all the good will in the world, there may be other factors at work that we do not understand. We cannot say for sure what was happening. The secret things belong to the Lord our God. What is revealed, the promises and declarations of God on the subject – these belong to us. (see Deuteronomy 29:29). We are supposed to act on our faith regardless of the disappointments some have had.
Objection Number Three: If Divine Healing were true, no Christian would ever die
There are plenty of ways to die besides sickness. Martyrdom is one. Sometimes accidents happen. A leading preacher here in India died of a motorcycle accident a few days before the time of writing of this article. God is well able to take someone’s spirit when their allotted days are over, without them first succumbing to the ravages of disease.
The ideal situation is that the Christian experiences total victory over sickness until death. The reality is, not many achieve it. But this is not the greatest tragedy. Neither is the battle for health the most important battle we could fight. Far better to aim our struggles against pride, unbelief and sin, than to aim simply to maintain our own health.
This objection is another one that is based on observations of common human experience. It isn’t based on the Word of God.
Objection Number Four: It is Offensive to Imply that People are Sick because of their Own Lack of Faith
It is important to note that very sincere and godly people sometimes succumb to extended periods of sickness, often chronic sickness they take with them to their graves.
It has been noted above that Christians are not immune to attacks on their health – even Paul’s team had them. But this does not abrograte the Scriptures indicating God wants people well.
There are many reasons why some fail to receive healing – some of which are covered in this article. It is not the purpose of God that anyone take the doctrine of divine healing and turn it into a kind of club with which to condemn people who are sick. It is regrettable where this is done. The sick are generally no more guilty of unbelief in this regard than those who are well. Furthermore, it is possible to have very strong faith in one area of God’s promises and to have little or no faith in another. This could be due to the kind of teaching a person has received over the years.
Let the issue about divine healing be decided on the basis of the Word of God first, not emotionally laden arguments. If ministers of the gospel had enough faith to raise even those with no faith at all to a state of perfect health, the objections would vanish. The objective of teaching divine healing is to lay a solid foundation for faith. Would those who take offense be happier if all the Scriptures indicating that healing is God’s will be taken out of the Bible, so they can feel better for those who are sick? Would such an attitude please the Holy Spirit?
Throughout the New Testament record, we see that Jesus Christ was not afraid to rebuke people for their lack of faith. In Matthew 17, the disciples failed to cast a demon out of a boy. Now if some conservative evangelicals of today were there, they probably would have said that this failure on the part of the disciples proves it was not God’s will for the boy to be healed. They would have taken sides with the Pharisees and teachers of the Law who were arguing there with the disciples. But when Jesus came down from the mountain and healed the boy, he proved that it was God’s will by getting the boy healed! Why not make theology out of this? The fact is, it is God’s will to heal even those whom we fail to effectively minister healing to.
In the case in point, Jesus first he had to challenge the father of the boy with respect to his own unbelief (see Luke 9:37-42, Mark 9:14-29). Wanting to believe and hoping for a good result are not enough. Jesus put some responsibility on the father of the boy to express faith for his own son. The same applies today where people bring people to the Lord for help, who are unable to help themselves.
Furthermore, in that particular incident, Jesus is on record as calling those present “an unbelieving and perverted generation” (Matthew 17:17). Jesus told the disciples the root cause of their failure was “unbelief” (vs 20). They did not pray and fast enough to have the faith to deal with that kind of demon (vs 21 – N.B. this verse was taken out of the NIV). So Jesus rebuked unbelief then. Now if Jesus Christ wanted to rebuke unbelief in his disciples today, would we all be justified in taking offense? The fact is, plenty of Christians ignore the whole example of Jesus Christ when it comes to healing, and prefer rather to believe the false traditions of the Church which make the Word of God on the subject of none effect. How all this must grieve the heart of God.