Incurable vs Medically Incurable
Twice a year the board of administration of the National Association of Evangelicals, on which I serve, meets to discuss issues relative to the organization. At the annual convention, we consider resolutions concerning issues important to evangelicals to day that have been formulated by committees. One recent resolution concerning AIDS defined the illness as "an incurable disease." Immediately a number of the board members objected, opting for the phrase "medically incurable disease." To leave it as simply "an incurable disease" denies both the power and willingness of God to heal a physical problem that to man is incurable.
Death - the Last Enemy
Recently our church has lost two members to medically incurable diseases. Death is always difficult to handle. The Bible calls it "the last enemy." Death severs relationships and forces us to realize that in spite of all our technological advances, we are still weak and vulnerable. Therefore, we do not usually talk about it because we don't want to face its reality.
Even more disconcerting is the death of someone for whom we have prayed for healing - we believe that God wants to heal, and yet we see people die. It may cause us to wonder whether God heals at all.
Jesus Came to Heal, to Make People Whole
I don't presume to be able to answer all the questions or issues related to healing. The subject is complex, containing an element of mystery. However, as I read God's Word and study the healing ministries of others, I see two important things.
- First, God consistently encourages us to trust Him for healing. I see nothing in His Word that would lead me to believe anything to the contrary.
- Second, God chooses not to tell us why everyone is not healed.
Trust Him for Healing
The first way God encourages us to trust Him for healing is by the ministry of Jesus. As we read the Gospels, we see that Jesus healed the sick. There is no question about His willingness or ability to heal.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight too the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19).
The year of God's unbounded favor began with the ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus was not speaking of something that was only pertinent to His own life and ministry. The year of the Lord was ushered in by Christ's advent and will not be completed until He returns.
Acts 10:38 speaks of "... how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him."
The Healings Jesus Performed
Some have suggested the healings He performed were simply signs of His divinity. That is not a New Testament picture. Jesus' ministry of healing was not simply a confirmation of His message; it was an integral part of that message. Others who healed in both the Old and New Testaments never claimed to be God; but in Jesus' case, the miracles were His message. He was saying, "I've come to undo the works of Satan, to undo the results of sin." His healings demonstrated not so much who He was, but why He came.
With the understanding that Jesus' healing was part of the message that He has entrusted to us, we begin to realize that we can expect to see the things Jesus saw as He carried out His ministry.
Gospel of God's Kingdom is Gospel of Healing
The gospel of God's kingdom was a gospel of healing, of deliverance. Wherever Jesus began to work, He stirred up tremendous demonic activity. Matthew writes, "That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, 'He took our infirmities and bore our diseases'" (Mark 8:16,17). This divine invasion shook Satan's kingdom at its very foundation.
The Responsibility of the Church
As Christians, we are not here merely to influence this country's political scene. Part of the church's responsibility today is to shake the foundations of Satan's dominion by a demonstration of the reality, presence, and power of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Let us not be so preoccupied with the second coming of the kingdom of Jesus Christ that we ignore the hundreds of millions who do not know Him. At His return, Jesus wants to find us actively engaged in the business of establishing His kingdom and destroying Satan's dominion.
How can we do that? By doing what Jesus did. Jesus' ministry demonstrated the reality of the kingdom. When John the Baptist sent some of his followers to ask Jesus if He was the Messiah, He showed them by healing many people and casting out evil spirits. Then He told them, "go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me" (Luke 7:20-23). They were to tell John that the kingdom has come because the King was present.
But Jesus did more than heal the sick; He revealed His Father's heart. Jesus' works were a revelation of what God is like. He said that the son could do nothing that His own Father did not do (John 5:19). He told Philip, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 5:19). He told Philip, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). If you want to know what God is like, what God would do, then look to the life of Jesus. Some of us have preserved a wrong picture of God: He is a stern, aloof Father-unconcerned, uninvolved-and Jesus stands between us and God, holding back the Father's wrath, pleading with Him to be loving and gracious to us. This is a pagan, unbiblical idea. God loved the world and sent His Son. It was His will that Jesus reconcile and heal. Jesus and the Father are one in their love, will, and purpose.
Jesus Revealed the Father's Heart
Jesus healed, acting consistently with the Father. Jesus healed, not to prove that He was God, but because He was God. A faulty view of God can hinder healing. God doesn't want people to suffer-it's not His way of teaching a lesson. It is difficult to trust God for healing if you believe He is the author of sickness, sending infirmity so that we might learn something. This is a Greek idea, not a biblical. God does not sanctify our hearts and lives by making us suffer. What kind of father would I be to throw my children down the stairs or break their legs with the goal of strengthening their character? We have some grave misconceptions: People are killed in tragic accidents, and we say, "The Lord took them." I pray that God in His mercy will not take me in such a way. If He wants to take me, He can do so at any moment, for He holds me in His being. God may use suffering to bring about changes in our lives, but He does not cause us to suffer. Sanctification comes not through suffering but through the Cross and the Spirit.
A False Idea
Another false idea from Greek philosophy is that God is unmoved by our suffering. The Greeks, believing in God's absolute perfection, felt any idea of change signified lack of perfection. Compassion by definition is "a consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it." God, in seeing the suffering in our lives, experiences a change of emotion; thus God would be imperfect to be affected by people's hardships.
A Faulty View of God Can Hinder Healing
The Bible presents a picture of a God who feels, who suffers, and who weeps. When a loved one dies, the God who comes alongside to comfort is one who feels the heartache and suffering of the world. When Jesus wept outside Lazarus would be raised to life-but for death that entered the world by sin. God entered into our suffering. Not only does He feel our suffering, in Christ He suffered for us.
I don't have all the answers to suffering, but I believe God suffers. He feels our heartache. He understands. He enters in. He can comfort. He is concerned. Don't be hindered by false ideas. Come to God in your suffering. "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose," not because He causes those things, but because He cares for us (Rom. 8:28). If we trust Him, He is willing-even in our suffering-to bring good of it.
Jesus reveals the Father's heart, coming with compassion to heal. His ministry encourages us to believe God wants to work healing into our lives.
The Gospel Message is a Message of Healing
God consistently encourages us to trust Him for healing, not only by the ministry of Jesus, but also by the message of the gospel. The gospel message is a message of salvation, of healing. "He went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people" (Matt. 4:23). "The Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two…Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you'" (Luke 10:1,8,9). Jesus was telling them "healing is a manifestation of the presence of the kingdom."
The gospel is a message of wholeness of which healing is a part. The gospel knows nothing of saving souls-it is designed to save people. Whole people. The words "salvation" and "wholeness" have the same root idea. To be saved is to be made whole. Salvation extends to every part affected by sin-spirit, soul and body.
The message of resurrection is critical to the gospel. Even in talking about the mystery of healing-why God chooses not to explain why everyone is not healed-we know He promises resurrection to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. Resurrection is our great hope. Every healing is temporary anyway.
There Will Be Casualties Like in Any War
We have talked about the gospel as a message of wholeness, but it is also a message of warfare. We have lost sight of the fact that the church of Jesus Christ is to be an instrument of warfare in the world. I believe one reason we do not see more expressions of healing and other deliverance is that we do not take seriously the fact that we are in warfare: We are faced with an enemy who seeks to resist the gospel, to undermine our faith. Yet we are reminded of our position in warfare throughout the New Testament. "If I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out?…But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt. 27,28).
Satan has established a pseudo-kingdom, which Jesus immediately challenges and ultimately overthrows. Jesus overcame when He was tempted in the wilderness. He overcame many attacks during the course of His ministry. On the cross He took the whole furor of the satanic kingdom upon himself, and He destroyed it. He destroyed the works of the devil, and He has given us the responsibility of extending His kingdom to the ends of the earth-the ministry of carrying on what He has begun. The responsibility of the church is not simply to know that people have come to salvation and have survival rations until Jesus comes again, but to see that people are equipped to do warfare until He returns. As we seek to establish the kingdom of Jesus Christ, there will be resistance.
As in any war, there will be casualties. There were casualties on the beaches of Normandy when the Allies landed in Europe. Just as that day guaranteed the Allied victory over the forces of Nazi Germany, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ guaranteed His ultimate victory, no matter how many casualties there may be.
It is our responsibility to extend God's kingdom, in its fullness, into the lives of others. He has given us the great opportunity to be agents of change wherever we live and work, through prayer bringing the kingdom of Jesus Christ focused into that situation, thus Jesus Christ into people's lives.