My brother was forty-nine, a loving husband and father faithfully serving as a pastor for several years. While others who had graduated with him from seminary when to population centers where it would be possible to grow large churches, he had a burden for the people in his hometown in rural New York State. His desire was to see people won to Christ and established in Him. Then came a time when his personality seemed to change. He began to act in poor judgment with the result that people around him were becoming alienated. He gave up his position of pastor at his church. Then, the news came that he had a malignant brain tumor. Those of us who knew and loved him were stunned. Prayer was made from all quarters, but his illness continued to progress. Before the year went by from the time he was diagnosed, his worn out body gave out and he passed from this earth.
Some would question as to how and why this would happen to one of God’s servants. Why did God not choose to heal this one for whom so many were praying? Why did God not choose to hear my brother’s own prayers? Was it sin on his part? Was it, as some would suggest, that those of us that were praying were doing so ineffectively not expecting and demanding the healing to come? However, one day during the time of his illness my brother shared with me what he saw was going on in his life. He related that he felt one day God speaking to him in the stillness of his heart telling him, “I can heal you, by taking away this cancer, but you will still have the problems you were having, or I can take you home and be glorified in your passing.” I still remember my brother’s words, “I choose to let God be glorified.” He later passed and the church building where he had been serving was packed with those who came to honor this one who had served God so faithfully. And God was glorified.
I am sure there are those who would have definite disagreement with this story as I have related it. The basic facts, however, are undisputable, for I was there and can attest to them. The major disagreement would be over the implication that God would purposefully choose not to heal my brother and that His choice was not based on a lack of faith, or misguided prayers, but simply that His purpose and plan involves something greater than what we who were praying could imagine. For many who profess to know the Savior, it is difficult to accept the idea that God does not always choose to heal our physical bodies when illness comes and to accept the idea that God can receive glory even when His child is in the midst of illness.
I was given a book recently that presented the case for faith healing. The book is considered a classic and represents the thinking of those who stress faith healing. While it is not my purpose to answer the arguments presented in this book because of limited time and space, I do want to address three suppositions the author makes. He presumed it is never God’s plan for Christians to have illness. He also alleged that Christians will be healed if they have enough faith and that it is evidence of a defective or weak faith that prays, “God’s will be done”. Christians, according to this author, have the right to demand and expect healing in every case, with anything less being a denial of the Blood that bought them.
The arguments for faith healing can seem to be quite convincing until they are put under the scrutiny of Scripture. For example, the fact is, Scripture reveals that God does not always choose to heal. Consider the case of David’s son (2 Samuel 12). David prayed that God would deliver His sick child yet the child died. David did not turn on God nor did he blame a weak faith. Instead, he picked himself up and went about his business proclaiming with eyes fixed on eternity that he would someday be reunited with his child. Paul, addressed the issue of physical infirmities in 2 Corinthians 12 when he mentioned his “thorn in the flesh”. While the faith healers cannot conceive that this could be a physical condition Paul is referring to, Paul made it clear when he declared that God’s grace is sufficient and that he would glory in his infirmities. The word translated infirmities is virtually always taken to mean physical weaknesses elsewhere throughout the New Testament writings. Later, when writing to Timothy, Paul addresses Timothy’s stomach issues with, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities.” (1 Timothy 5:23). Paul acknowledged Timothy had reoccurring physical infirmities, but did not advise him to claim divine healing, but rather to learn how to deal with them through ordinary means available. Paul was aware that God does not always choose to heal.
Consider the following passage: For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. 20For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,21Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. 23And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. 24For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? 25But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it (Romans 8:18-25). In this passage, Paul describes the physical decay of this present time. All creation suffers. All creation is subject to pain and decay (corruption). Paul goes on to inform us that we have not yet received relief from this physical decay (as faith healers proclaim) as he states that we groan within ourselves waiting in hope for the redemption of our bodies.
The next two verses in Romans 8 make things even clearer. 26Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. In these verses Paul is still talking about physical infirmities (from the context of vv. 18-25) when he says we don’t even know what to pray for, but the Spirit of God searches our hearts and intercedes for us according to the will of God.
If then we are to pray according to God’s will what hope is there for people who have just received the diagnosis of a terminal disease or other severe illness. Their lives have been turned upside down and they look for something to hold onto. Their future that once appeared to be so secure has turned into a very uncertain one. And so they search for certainties in an uncertain world. Enter those who promise faith healing with the promise that God has given us the power to heal ourselves promising that those who are ill, have but to claim their healing. It doesn’t seem to make any difference to these advocates of faith healing that they are taking the matter out of God’s hands, consequently ignoring the sovereignty of God and in its place exalting the autonomy of man. This is not unlike what took place in the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis three. There we read the story of man’s fall from grace. Adam rejected the sovereignty of God, taking up the offer to “be as God” in His place. Indeed, that is what the fall from grace is all about. All of Adam’s race have sought to be our own god ever since. Jesus came so that we can receive God back into our lives and live according to His will, trusting Him for His goodness. However, faith healers in their assumptions claim unto themselves the authority that God has reserved for Himself. It is no accident that it is common for them to refer to themselves as “little gods”.
The fact is, we can expect to face all manner of circumstances that are unpleasant and undesired by us, which is why Paul next exhorts, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). In the Book of Ephesians, Paul prayed that God would strengthen his readers in the inner man (Ephesians 3:16) and proclaimed that God is able to do far above what we can ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). The problem with those that promote the idea of faith healing by demand is that they do not consider that can be glorified in any way that He chooses. Should we not then pray as did Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, “Thy will be done.” If these were the words of our Lord and Savior, why should they not be ours as well? True faith takes all our circumstances and places them into the hands of our gracious, living God, trusting His love for us, and expecting the outcome to be His best for us even when we may not understand until eternity comes.
Should we, then, not pray for God to heal our bodies? No. Not praying would contradict what we see in Scripture. We are to pray, but not demanding, but trusting God to give us His best. There is nothing more certain than God’s love for us. While we might not know what He will do, we do have His promise that He loves us with the certainty that He will work all things together for our good. In addition, He has promised to provide all our needs (Philippians 4:19) and to never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Even in illness we have the certainty of His provision for us. Whether this provision is healing or some other way, God will provide, for we are never out of His care. All He asks is that we trust Him. That is neither weak nor misguided faith.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. (Isaiah 55:8)