Sometimes when we pray people are healed, and sometimes they aren’t. But why is that, why isn’t everyone healed?
I’m a charismatic, I believe that God heals today and that this happens frequently. I’ve watched someone’s leg grow while someone else prayed for them. I’ve felt the muscles in someone’s back untwist while I prayed for them. I’ve known a friend’s brain cancer to disappear. God heals. We can, in a general sense, suggest that God wills that everyone be healed, not least on the basis that sickness has no place in his inbreaking kingdom (Revelation 21).
I’ve also prayed for numerous people who have not been healed, including a dear friend who is going blind, I’ve known a friend die from a brain tumour despite our prayers.
Which at the very least raises a theological question for us. It raises a range of pastoral ones too. Why was it that these people aren’t healed? Is it their fault? Is it mine for not praying correctly?
Some of the big American charismatic churches that are popular in my circles would probably suggest that the problem was with our faith. One particular church suggests in their popular teaching that there is no ‘deficiency’ on God’s end (sure, no one disagrees), so when someone isn’t healed all the ‘lack’ is on our end.
Thankfully they don’t always blame the person being prayed for their lack of faith, though this sadly does happen, more often they would situate the lack of faith in those praying. Which raises some important pastoral questions. And it’s nonsense.
Let’s go back to the Bible. Sometimes, we’re told that Jesus ‘healed everyone he met’ so therefore we would too if we could, indicating that the problem is ‘on our end.’ Except clearly he doesn’t heal everyone he meets: think of Mark 6, which raises its own questions, or of characters healed by the apostles who Jesus presumably knew (e.g. Acts 3).
In the pages of the Scriptures, we find a God who heals, marvellously, time and time again. We also find a God who wounds (2 Corinthians 12). Our theology needs to be big enough for both. We know that the revealed will of God is to heal and to bless. And we know that God sends calamity (Isaiah 45).
We can blame the Enemy for sickness, and in a sense we should, but in the same way that the plague that David caused with his census was done by God in Samuel (2 Samuel 24) and by the Enemy in Chronicles (1 Chronicles 21). God is never the author of evil and nothing happens outside of his will. The answer to did God do this or did the Enemy do it is, simply, yes.
We know that sin has consequences, but Jesus is specific in telling us that a man born blind was not born blind because of either his sin or his parents (John 9). Our attempts at cause and effect are too simplistic because we don’t have all the data that we would need, or—I suspect—the capacity to parse the data if we had it.
We should value God’s wounds. There’s no such thing as a Christian leader who isn’t broken. If you’re looking at a leader who isn’t broken, even if you’re in a church, that’s not Christian leadership that they’re peddling. God strikes his people, because we are trained in suffering (1 Peter).
And at the same time, God opposes sickness. I want to say that sometimes God allows the powers to afflict us for his own greater glory, turning their weapons against them and beating their swords into ploughshares (Isaiah 2), but as we’ve seen the Bible is balder than that. God brings calamity. And he hates it and tells us to oppose it, he loves us and has promised to bring those who follow him into a renewed world where the heavens meet the earth and sickness is dealt its final end.
Sickness is the result of sin, though “whose” is the wrong question, it’s the capital S power of Sin, along with Death that we are facing here.
Which is to say we don’t know why someone wasn’t healed in a specific instance. And that’s OK.
Except it doesn’t feel OK when its you who isn’t healed. You desperately want a neat theological explanation that makes sense of it, but the Bible doesn’t contain any. The closest we come are the explorations in Lamentations of the fall of Jerusalem and Yahweh’s reply to Job (Job 38-42) where he tells him in beautiful prose that he simply does not have the perspective required to ask the right questions, let alone appreciate the answers.
Which is not intellectually satisfying. But can satisfy our souls, which are dearly in need of succour.
It is important to wrestle with these questions in an attempt for answers. Why is God’s will so, seemingly, horrible to some people who love him? Here’s my answer: I don’t know. But I continue to believe that he is the sovereign King of the Universe, that he is Goodness itself, and that he loves me more dearly than I can imagine.
It’s more important that we carefully pastor our people so that they know we know how hard it is to be prayed for and see nothing change. So that they know from our lips and our tears and our actions that God is for them even if the evidence of their lives might lead them to a different conclusion. And, so that they know that this is not their fault, and all sickness and all pain and all sorrow and all vile toothy-mawed Death will end when the Christ comes into his Kingdom.
To God our Father be glory forever and ever.
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