There are various reasons why God may withhold a healing from even His most dedicated and devoted of children no matter how fervent their prayers and mature their walk.
We have seen two situations in which God authorizes the judgment of illness for sin:
1. partaking of the Lord's supper in an unworthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:30-32); and
2. the delivery of impenitent and seriously sinning believers unto Satan for the destruction of their bodies (1 Corinthians 5:3-5; 1 Timothy 1:20).
Inasmuch as illness is the judgment of God in these cases, He will certainly not effect divine healing before repentance; and no amount of praying for, commanding, claiming or confessing a healing will suffice. Where physical malady is the direct, natural result of sin apart from the intervention of God, such as venereal disease contracted during fornication, or injury sustained as a result of picking a fight, it is unlikely that God will effect divine healing before repentance in such cases, as well.
In Job 1:8 and 2:3, God declared Job to be a righteous and upright man: Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil. And Job demanded of God: Have I sinned? What have I done to You, O watcher of men? (7:20). From Job's perspective, if he was taken in any sin, he did not know it. Nevertheless, despite God's and Job's assessments, God allowed Satan to afflict him with boils (2:7), and left him in that condition until he learned to trust Him (Job 38-42, esp. 42:1-6).
God deals with all of His children in a similar manner whether it be for sin known or unknown to them: 6. For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.... 10. but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
When God chastens for sanctification, whether it be by means of illness or otherwise, He will not relent until the job is done.
Paul prayed three times for the Lord to remove his thorn in the flesh; yet God refused to heal him in order to keep him humble - lest he be exalted above measure due to the abundance of the revelations - for the rest of his life (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives.... (James 4:3).
One may seek a healing in order to be in the limelight, or to write a book about it and get rich and famous, or some other impure motive. One may request a healing to make a fool of the healer or to prove that God does not heal. God will not prove Himself with a healing in the face of such attitudes (Mark 8:11-12; Luke 11:16), just as Jesus did not yield to the temptation to prove His power as the Son of God when Satan tempted Him (Matthew 4:3,6), for God cannot be tempted by evil (James 1:13). Whether the wrong motive is carried by the sick person or one praying for the healing of the sick person, God will not honor impure motives. If a healing does come, it will not be from God.
At times, God chooses not to heal so that he may forge character in the fire of adversity.
3. but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4. and perseverance, proven character; and proven character,
hope; 5. and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out
within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
~ Romans 5:3-5 ~
In 1967, Joni Eareckson-Tada broke her neck in a diving accident and became a quadriplegic. She pled for God to heal her, but He did not. Once she accepted her condition, God began to use her mightily to testify of His ability to bring great, overcoming spiritual victory irregardless of one's handicap or other debilitating situation. At the time of this writing, Joni has a many-faceted worldwide ministry to both saved and unsaved, to the glory of God.
In John 9:1-11, we read of a man who was born blind and remained blind until manhood so that the works of God might be displayed in him in the Lord's good and perfect time - and the Lord's good and perfect time was not until the man attained adulthood. Similarly, in John 11:4, Jesus said of Lazarus' sickness unto death, This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it; and He allowed Lazarus to remain dead four days (verse 39) before He resurrected him (vv. 43-44).
In each case, the Lord allowed sickness to remain until the preordained perfect moment for His glorification through healing had arrived. In the first case, the healing of the man born blind fulfilled a rabbinic sign of messiahship. In the second, it was to again demonstrate His messiahship through the stunning resurrection of Lazarus one day later than the rabbis thought it possible: They believed that the spirit of a deceased person hovers over his corpse for three days, and then departs; and after the departure, resurrection was no longer possible. In both instances, Jesus delayed healing until the perfect moment had arrived to demonstrate His messiahship.
In view of these things, if the Lord has chosen a future moment for healing unto His glorification, it is unthinkable that He would answer prayers for healing until that moment.
Barring instant death from a severe blow to the body from within or without, there is always a transitional stage of declining health before death. If the Lord chooses for someone to die by means of declining health, who can guarantee that He will stay His hand by means of divine healing? God added fifteen years to Hezekiah's life as a result of his prayer (Isaiah 38:1-5), but who can deny that this was an exceptional case? Furthermore, Hezekiah ended up dying after all. Who can claim that we have a right to be healed because we are God's children or for any other reason when God has ordained, it is appointed for men to die (Hebrew 9:27)? And who can claim healing because of some presumed right to longevity? God even chooses when babies die. 2 Samuel 12:15,18: Then the LORD struck the child that Uriah's widow bore to David, so that he was very sick.... 18. Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died.
It has been taught that by healthy living, prayer and faith we can live as long as Moses and maintain the level of health that he had right up to his death: Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated (Deuteronomy 34:7). In the same vein it has been taught that if our health and longevity do not match that of Moses', we are being "ripped off." Well, that touches home, as I typed it with my glasses on, and I'm fifty-five years shy of one hundred and twenty!
What did Moses have to say about all of this - before he died, of course! As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years (Psalm 90:10). Who wrote Psalm 90? Moses!
So how did he remain so healthy until he died? It's possible that God actively sustained Moses' vitality to uphold His chosen senior citizen as he confronted Pharaoh, schlepped through deserts, dealt with rebellions, battled enemy nations and put up with millions of stiff-necked Israelites from age 80 to 120. Whatever the case, Moses said seventy years was the norm, and that's what we need to go with - though this Norm hopes to live well beyond seventy for maximum service to the Lord!
There is no justification for taking what God did for one person, whether it be Hezekiah or Moses or any other person, and then claim it as a standard for all - unless Scripture declares it as a standard; and in the cases of Hezekiah and Moses, it does not.
Deuteronomy 29:29: The secret things belong to the LORD our God...
If, after pondering God's word on divine healing, we are still puzzled as to why He will not bless us or another with a healing, we must simply be content to know that there are some things that God has chosen to not reveal to us.
God may choose to withhold a healing:
to bring about repentance unto sanctification from sin that is known or unknown to us;
for the prevention of sin;
because of wrong motivation;
to promote character and witness;
for His future glorification through healing;
because it is time for the sick person to die;
for reasons known only to Him.
It is important to remember that, with God, spiritual concerns always trump physical concerns. Indeed, as we have seen, God may even cause ill health for the accomplishment of spiritual purposes, and no amount of praying for divine healing will suffice until God has completed His work.
Having established the facts that God does heal today and that He also withholds healings for various reasons, we need not belabor the point. God does heal, but only if it's according to His will, which will always be in accordance with the outworking of His divine purposes.
This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us (1 John 5:14).
Note again the condition: according to His will. If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, 'atonement' refers to the covering of the sins of Old Testament saints pending removal by the vicarious sacrifice of the coming Messiah. Relative to the work of the cross, 'atonement' may be defined as the totality of what Jesus accomplished by means of His sacrifice.
The sacrificial work of Messiah on the cross laid the foundation for every redemptive objective: the reconciliation of the world to God, the forgiveness of sins, the glorification of the bodies of the saints in Christ at the Rapture, the salvation of all Israel (every living Israelite at a given point in the future, per Romans 11:26, etc.), the establishment of the Messianic (Millennial) Kingdom, the creation of the new heavens and earth, and more.
Three things should be noticed about such events:
1. Though the foundation for all of them was laid at Calvary, it is plain that not all of them are "facts on the ground" even today, two thousand years later. Some are clearly First Coming events, and the others, Second.
2. None of these events took place before the cross.
3. Each event takes place either instantly or in a very short period of time. The reconciliation of the world to God occurred when Jesus' sufferings were completed (2 Corinthians 5:19); the forgiveness of sins for the believing individual takes place in an instant (Ephesians 1:7); the salvation of all Israel will take place within a day (Zechariah 13:1); the establishment of the Kingdom will occur very shortly after the Lord returns; and so on.
The question at hand is: Did the atonement provide for the perfect healing of all physical ailments of God's children in this day and age between the two Comings, or must such healing await Second Coming fulfillment? Let us examine the matter according to the above three points.
1. Perfect health is not a "facts on the ground" condition of all of God's children today; and in light of all that can bring malady to one degree or another - from genetics to accident to infection to sanctification to judgment to senescence (the ageing process) - it is a virtual impossibility that even one individual can ever attain, much less sustain, perfect health in these mortal bodies. Even righteous, dedicated, filled-with-the-Spirit, filled-with-faith Paul needed to endure his thorn in the flesh until he died. And is it possible for anyone to avoid or pray his way out of the disease of senescence? Does not senescence bear all the symptoms of an incurable and progressively degenerative, debilitating and universally fatal disease?
2. Unlike the redemptive events for which the atonement laid the foundation, divine healings took place before the cross, even before Yeshua
was born (Judges 13:2-4; 1 Kings 13:4-6; 1 Kings 17:17-24, etc.). Therefore, divine healings that occur today provide no proof that all are entitled to divine healing today on the basis of the
3. Scripture does not promise perfect health for those in Christ (saints from Pentecost to the Rapture) before their resurrection or Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:42-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18); and for all other saints, before their resurrections, each in his own order (1 Corinthians 15:23); and the Rapture and all of these resurrections are yet future.
At our resurrection or Rapture, our healing will take place in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52). In the 1 Corinthians 15 passage, Paul considers it a given that our bodies are now perishable (subject to decay, destructable by bacterial infection), in a state of weakness (Strong's: feebleness [of body or mind]; by implication malady; moral frailty: - disease, infirmity, sickness, weakness) and mortal (subject to death). In the same passage, he tells us that, at the Rapture, that which is now perishable, weak and mortal will be transformed into that which is imperishable, powerful and immortal - and not before.
To sum up, we can neither attain perfect health in these mortal bodies nor pray down divine healing for every fly bite, nail fungus, broken bone, cold and cancer. Divine healing is simply not a First Coming "facts on the ground" Bible promise or atonement event. God heals according to His will, and only He knows all the factors involved in any given case.
God may choose to heal at any time on His own initiative (e.g., Job 2:7 with 42:10,12; Matthew 27:52-53); yet, in Scripture, faith is often mentioned as a factor in divine healing.
To review a key matter:
1. Jesus did not require faith as He healed to display His messianic credentials,
2. He did require faith after Israel rejected Him as Messiah, and
3. His policies regarding faith have no bearing on faith requirements today because a new age or dispensation was born with the advent of the Church Age on the day of Pentecost, and the new dispensation ushered in a new package of requirements and privileges.
We will first examine the nature of faith, and then bring out the key points of what Scripture has to say in the matter of faith in relation to healing in our Church Age.
1. True Faith
Hebrews 11:1 declares, Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Faith is an assurance, a conviction, not of things that are seen, but that are hoped for, not seen.
Verse 3 implies what faith must be based on: By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God.
How were they to understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God? Well, those Hebrews had the Bible, which informed them. Genesis 1:3. Then God said, "Let there be light".... 6. Then God said, "Let there be an expanse.... 9. Then God said, "Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear". The faith by which they understood that the worlds were prepared by the word of God was based on the written Word of God.
Let's consider a different case.
8. At Lystra a man was sitting who had no strength in
his feet, lame from his mother's womb, who had never walked. 9. This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith
to be made well, 10. said with a loud voice, "Stand upright on your feet." And he leaped up and began to walk.
~ Acts 14:8-10 ~
In this case there was no written word, and we don't even know if Paul mentioned divine healing; but we do know that the man almost certainly heard Paul preaching the Gospel (verses 6,7) and, as a result, had faith to be made well, and he was.
Here's the point: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). True faith is based on a word from God, whether written or heard or implanted in the heart some other way.
2. True Faith vs. Imagined Faith
True faith is never conjured faith. It is never a personal hope that is not based on a word from God. Nor is it ever faith in faith itself. Faith in faith is dream stuff. Faith in faith is not faith that is based on a word from God, but on faith itself, and is not true faith at all. Faith in faith is an exercise in circular reasoning that circumvents the necessity of a word from God. It is imagined faith; and imagined faith for divine healing has no more power to move God to heal than an imagined automobile has power to transport. Faith in God's ability to heal is always valid, but that is no guarantee that He will heal at any given moment. Faith in God's written promise to heal the one who, under the right circumstances and in the right spirit, is the subject of the prayer of faith, is valid faith because God promised the healing (James 5:16). Faith that God will heal where He has not promised it in His written Word or in the heart is invalid faith. If one has faith that God will heal, and He does not heal, then that faith was not faith at all, but imagined faith.
This writer vividly remembers a godly pastor whose body was riddled with cancer publicly, vigorously and repeatedly shaking his afflicted leg at the instruction of a visiting "healer" to exercise his faith to bring about his healing. He walked out of the room on crutches as painfully afflicted as when he entered, and died of cancer shortly after that. Sadly, the pastor did not possess true faith for the healing, nor did the healer have a gift of healing for the pastor.
3. Confessing or Claiming a Healing
Akin to faith in faith or the drumming up of imagined faith is the matter of confessing or claiming one's healing. Often at healing meetings the one prayed for is told to confess or claim his healing even though none is apparent. There is no passage of Scripture that promotes this. If true faith is present, then any positive statement concerning the hoped for healing will be an overflow of what's already in the heart, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:24). If true faith is not present, then confessing or claiming one's healing is empty human effort, and will produce no result. Furthermore, claiming anything of God in a demanding way, as is often done, is the epitome of arrogance.
Confessing or claiming one's healing is often promoted on the basis of Romans 4:17: God... calls into being that which does not exist. Well, if we were God it would work; but for us mere mortals, our confession needs to be based on a truth or promise or assurance from God, just as Abraham's faith to be a father of many nations was based on a promise from God, as shown in the same passage. Here's the full verse: as it is written, "A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU" in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.
God made a promise to Abraham, and Abraham believed God who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. It was not Abraham who was to call into being that which does not exist, but God. Scriptures need to be read carefully and taught faithfully!
I am compelled to repeat: There is no promise or formula in the Scriptures that guarantees divine healing for church saints except in the case of the prayer of faith properly carried out under the right circumstances.
Two classes of cases will be examined here, and deductions will be made.
1. Acts 28:8: the father of Publius lay sick of fever and dysentery: unto whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laying his hands on him healed him.
There is no indication that Publius' father exercised faith. What is recorded is that Paul simply walked in and healed him. Similar examples may be found in Peter and John's healing of the lame man at the gate Beautiful (Acts 3:1-7); Peter's healing of bed-ridden Aeneas (Acts 9:32-34); Peter's resurrection of Tabitha (9:36-40); and Paul's resurrection of Eutychus (Acts 20:9-12). From these examples we see that if one with gifts of healings has a healing gift for someone at a particular time, then faith is not required of the sick person: the healer can heal at will.
2. In the case of the man at Lystra (Acts 14:8-10), Paul saw that he had faith to be made well, so he prayed for him, and he was healed. From this we can deduce that, if one has the faith to be healed, we should pray for him, but always deferring to one with the gift of healing if such a one is present.
There are passages of Scripture that are used erroneously or deceptively in the realm of divine healing whose claims we have not addressed. We will examine three of the most common.
1. Isaiah 53:5: But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. It is commonly said that we can claim our healing now on the basis of the phrase, with his stripes we are healed.
Without a doubt, the word for healed, rapha, is used of physical healing in Exodus 15:26, 21:19, Leviticus 13:18, and other places. Yet, as regards its use in Isaiah 53:5: In consideration of immediate and broad contexts, the use of parallelism in Hebrew poetry (the immediate repetition of a brief declaration in different ways), the fact that the overwhelming emphasis in Scripture in regards to the atonement is on spiritual healing, and the fact that rapha is used elsewhere metaphorically of spiritual healing (e.g., Ezekiel 34:4 and Zechariah 11:16), a powerful case stands for the metaphorical use of rapha in Isaiah 53:5 for spiritual healing. Yet, even if one holds that it is physical healing that it refers to, it still cannot be used to claim divine healing in this day and age for reasons already discussed.
2. Galatians 3:13: Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE."
Though the verse plainly speaks of the curse of the Law of Moses, which the Galatians were being wooed to come under, the curse in the passage is often taken to refer to every form of affliction from the time of the Fall, which includes illness. Well, if we are to use this verse for healing on demand, we may as well stand in our yards and command the weeds to leave, throw away our deodorants for we will sweat no longer, and make no preparation or adjustmentin our lives for death for we shall not die, for weeds, sweat and death are all part of the Adamic curse!
The fact is, the physical aspects of the curse are still in effect even for God's people, and there will still be elements of the curse in the Millennium, including the death of those believers who are in their natural bodies (Isaiah 65:20). It is only in the New Jerusalem in the Heavenly Ages that Scripture says there shall be no more curse (Revelation 22:3). But for now, in regards to perfect health or healing on demand, Paul describes the situation as it plainly is:
22. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains
of childbirth together until now. 23. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly
for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
~ Romans 8:22-23 ~
(The redemption of our body refers to the glorification of our bodies at the Rapture, for which we now groan.)
3. Mark 16:17-18. 17. These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; 18. they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.
The passage is often taken to mean that all believers should have the ability to lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.
Let us note two things:
1. It is commonly agreed that the authenticity of verses 9-20 is in question as they are not found in the oldest and best manuscripts. What Dr. Charles Ryrie says is representative: "These verses do not appear in two of the most trustworthy manuscripts of the N.T. ... The doubtful genuineness of verses 9-20 makes it unwise to build a doctrine or base an experience on them (especially vv. 16-18)."9
2. No single spiritual gift is given to everyone (1 Corinthians 12:11-25), But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills (verse 11). Therefore, even if the passage does belong in Mark, it cannot mean that all will be given the ability to lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. It must mean that within the body there will be some who will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.
Length restrictions limit the types and numbers of scriptures that can be answered here, and there are many. Suffice it to say that, if they do not line up with clear teachings on divine healing in this day and age, they are misunderstood or misused in some way. They are used out of context, or misunderstood due to lack of understanding of the culture, or because of a logical fallacy, or for some other reason.
The passage may apply to an individual, and to no one else, as does the passage on Moses' health and longevity, yet is upheld as a standard for all. It may be addressed to Israel, and apply to no individual or other group, yet is applied to the church or everyone in the church. It may be used out of time and/or people context, or understood literally when it should be understood figuratively, all of which have been done with Jeremiah 30:17: I will restore health to you, which is in reference to Israel's national health on the basis of her future national salvation, and has absolutely no bearing on physical health for Christians. (The chapter speaks of restoring Israel to the Land, freedom from attack and captivity, and the rebuilding of the Land. If such a passage can be quoted for healing on demand, then one can with equal validity quote, Therefore the Lord will afflict the scalp of the daughters of Zion with scabs, And the LORD will lay bare their secret parts [Isaiah 3:17] to prove that God wants Christian women to have scabs on their heads and their private parts exposed.) It may be reading healing on demand into a statement when it is simply not there, as has been done with James 1:17: Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow, and with Hebrews 13:8: Jesus the Messiah is the same yesterday and today and forever. It may be the salutation of a letter, as 3 John 1:2: Beloved, I pray that in all respects you [Gaius] may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers, or a letter's complimentary closing, as 1 Thessalonians 5:23: may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus the Christ, which do not indicate God's will for the present, but are prayers for the readers' or hearers' well being cordially expressed in a letter.
I have seen these and dozens of misused scriptures like them listed online and in books thrown out at readers en
masse. No doubt, some compilers of such lists are well-intentioned, but are novices in biblical understanding; but in other cases, I cannot help but believe that passages are chosen despite
knowledge of their limited meanings, the philosophy being, "Anything that may give the impression of saying what I want it to say will do." This is willful deception, pulling the wool over the
readers' eyes, intentionally handling the word of God deceitfully (2 Corinthians 4:2). Let the reader beware and be discerning:
But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
There are more ways to misunderstand or deceive than have been noted; but just as one studies a genuine dollar bill in order to recognize the counterfeit, so let the reader learn what Scripture says on divine healing in order to recognize error. A good course in hermeneutics, the science of interpreting the Scriptures, would come in mighty handy in the matter of divine healing and in many other areas of biblical study. A free-of-charge online course by Dr. David Cooper is recommended below.
I introduced this study as an attempt to save the 'baby' of divine healing while throwing out the 'bathwater' of error and misuse that often accompanies it. The latter half of this study was
necessarily weighted toward the latter, and I do not want to leave the reader with a dirty bathwater taste in his mouth. I must therefore conclude with two notes of encouragement:
1. God does bring miraculous healing today, and many churches need to be far more aggressive in pursuing it than they are, especially since there may be some in their midst with gifts of healings; and
2. God, in His wisdom, heals, but only where and when He knows that it's best. That knowledge ought to bless us with the security of being in the arms of One much wiser than we: The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27). Therefore, whether the Lord responds to our supplications for healing or not, let us 16. Rejoice always; 17. pray without ceasing; 18. in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
1. Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Footsteps of the Messiah, pdf, p. 275.
2. Fruchtenbaum, mbs 019: The Darkness of Demonism, pdf, p. 21.
3. Fruchtenbaum, mbs 077: Satanology: The Doctrine of Satan, pdf, p. 31.
4. Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989), p. 271-272.
5. Fruchtenbaum, mbs 071: The Gifts of the Holy Spirit, pdf, p. 20.
6. Fruchtenbaum, mbs 128: The Book of James, pdf, p. 43.
7. Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible (download from www.e-sword.net).
8. John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible (download from www.e-sword.net).
9. Dr. Charles Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible (Moody Press, Chicago, 1978).
Cooper, Dr. David. Hermeneutical studies at http://www.biblicalresearch.info/page7.html. Simply go down the links in succession.