Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Thorny Issue in Healing

Continuing with the subject of Divine Healing, with a review of some pertinent scripture verses: Isaiah 53:3-51 Corinthians 13:9-10Romans 8:10-11Ephesians 1:13-14John 9:1-3Luke 10:1-12Mark 16:15-18I Corinthians 12Matthew 9:28-30Mark 9:23-24Mark 6:1-61 Corinthians 11:27-32James 5:14-20Revelation 22:1-3

And let's review the basics I've presented up to this point: a) humans experience sickness because they are born in bodies that were stricken with the curse of death due to Adam's sin; b) only by getting new bodies not stricken by that curse will Christians not be susceptible to illness; c) the Devil attempts to take advantage of that susceptibility to bring us to greater depths of misery than we otherwise would experience, but he is not the ultimate author of sickness and disease; d) in expunging the curse upon sinners through his own unmerited death, Christ undermined the foundation of illness; e) therefore, when Christians do experience illness, they can call upon God for healing in very much the same way they would call upon him for forgiveness if they had sinned.

This all sounds so simple and straightforward, but if I'm honest I'd have to admit that things don' t work that crisply and cleanly in the real world. God, apparently, juggles more variables in governing our lives than we can ever be aware of. Just when we think we have it figured out, and have identified all the relevant factors, the unexplainable (or maybe just the entirely too complex) comes upon us and we face that same awe striking reality Job did. Our understanding distills in those moments like Job's did in his--God is God and that has to be enough for us.

Some issues Christians face are just thorny. Like Job, the Apostle Paul had his moment of clarity (or resignation?) concerning such perplexities. Even though we anticipate God watching over our lives to bring blessing, there are times we are pummeled with everything but blessing. What can we learn from Paul's or Job's experience? Even though Paul did what any person of faith should do when faced with a physical attack (i.e. pain, disability, or sickness), whether directly attributable to the Devil or not, he got none of the relief the atonement of Christ would have been expected to deliver.

Let me sketch out the particulars of his circumstance in the hopes that we'll see this the same way: 1) Paul was afflicted by a singular source of irritation that "beat" his flesh (which I find hard not to see in physical terms as pain); 2) the Devil was the agent which visited this suffering upon Paul; 3) Paul prayed diligently in faith for "healing" (as I've posited should be our approach); 4) God had a spiritual agenda operating for Paul's benefit which acted synchronously, almost symbiotically, with the Devil's evil one; and 5) in the end, Paul celebrated his "beaten but unhealed", condition because in not succeeding in destroying him, it demonstrated God's miraculous power (perhaps as much as healing would have).

When physical suffering is clearly from the Devil, as in this case, the certainty that it is not ours to bear is that much more definite. We are the blood-bought, blood-washed children of God. The Devil has no business nor any right in afflicting us. Operating from that perspective, Paul asked once for it to be gone, nothing. Twice, nothing still. Thrice the charm? Not in this case.

Paul's faith in God's deliverance through Christ was sure, hence his importunity. Certainly, he understood the implications of Christ's atonement as well as anyone ever did. If ever there was a candidate for the healing ministrations of Christ, Paul was that one. And yet God did not heal Paul, he gave him a word instead. It was a promise of victory even though it wasn't a promise of healing.

Huh? God promised that even though the affliction remained, it would not get the best of him. Despite that thorn, Paul would go on and God's grace would be sufficient to carry him through whatever the Devil threw at him. I'm led to conclude that overcoming can look different from God's perspective than from ours.

I know dear brothers and sisters in the Lord who are full of faith and lead outstanding Spirit-filled lives of love and faithfulness, yet they are chronically sick and feeble or are lame. Diabetes, in particular, is a stubborn culprit for many dear brothers and sisters in God's kingdom. Did a lack of faith either create their conditions or does it keep them in them? No, I don't think so, but I do think we, like Paul, need to express the importunity of faith before we resign ourselves to those conditions.

Healing has already been won for us by Christ, provided in his atonement. Why should any of us accept a thorn, that by rights is not ours, without a word from the Lord that tells us to?


  1. Hey Pastor
    You know of my interest in this topic as it relates to my father. I have often prayed for healing in his case and have not seen any answer. It is an interesting concept that we do believe upon forgiveness from Jesus when we ask for it after confessing our sin. Can receiving healing really be as simple as that? I don't know, guess thats why you are the shepherd and I am sheep. I am looking forward to your continuing posts on this topic.

  2. Would you clarify this statement,

    "Why accept a thorn, that by rights is not yours, without a word from the Lord?"


  3. Heanous,
    I do believe it is that simple, as a general principle. Specifically, as in Paul's case, God may be doing something other than the general pattern, but by and large the general pattern is what holds. In otherwords, healing is the default position for believers, rather than the exception to the rule. There are a few more considerations which effect healing which I'll be posting about, but for now, suffice to say that healing is more readily available more broadly among believers than Christians often have the faith (or even teaching) to receive. In this area I think, truly, we have not because we ask not.

  4. Larry,
    I'll do my best or even overdo it. ;-)

    Since Christ fully atoned for sin and became the curse for us, we have been freed from that curse. Although we only get the earnest of that now (i.e. we still age and die; we know in part and we prophesy in part), we have been encouraged scripturally to appropriate the benefits we can have now (i.e. confess and be forgiven; pray for the sick; experience the gifts). We are also told that the evil one cannot harm, or touch us, and that we can withstand and resist him successfully. So thorns, which are messengers of Satan sent to harm or touch us, to incapacitate and discourage us, are not ours to bear. The Devil has no right to stick us with them, and therefore, we can ask God to remove them, and know we are asking according to God's will (I John 5:14-5). Paul understood this and so pressed the issue in faith before God. In the specifics of his case, God had something else in mind, and so he told Paul to relax. I'm saying we should not bear those kind of thorns any more willingly than Paul did, and not at all without a word from the Lord like Paul got.

    Does that help or add to the fog?

  5. Thanks,your insight is really good. Although I struggle a bit with your view on who the author of sickness is. I'll keep reading and will no doubt write again.

  6. Pastor,
    I see what you are saying and I won't be surprised if you address these issues later posts. What I wonder about is the randomness of healing. Forgiveness of sin is easy. We confess, we ask for forgiveness, we are forgiven and expected to turn from that sin (Go and sin no more). Healing seems different. The examples in the Bible are not at all consistent. The woman with the issue of blood had to struggle and press through the crowd to receive. Does that mean at times we must struggle and press in to God to receive healing? The begger at the gate Beautiful wasn't even looking to be healed, he just wanted money yet he received healing without even asking when Peter spoke to him. The Centurion's servant wasn't even in the same area as the Lord yet received healing because his master asked for it on his behalf and he received. Yet still in Acts 9 Ananias is directed to go and pray for Paul so that Pauls eyes would be healed and his sight restored. These are but a few examples and yet the avenue through which healing came is different in all four cases. Some had to struggle to receive healing while others received it without asking. I have no doubt that God is able and desires to heal us but what do we do with these examples of how healing comes? Sorry to be a pain but this is a good topic and I'm taking the opportunity to ask!!!

  7. Larry,
    I don't know if I truly see an author for most sickness and disease, I see it more as a consequence. God cursed Adam and Eve with death, a consequence was that their bodies no longer were good, very good and as a result their reactions to some lifeforms were overwhelmed. Voila, sickness came into being. Transcription and replication were no longer perfectly accomplished within their cells and the result was genetic decay, mutations (and the disease they cause) and weaker offspring the consequence. They could eat any green thing for sustenance, we can't do that any longer. They were long-lived, we are not. All told, sickness and disease is not attributable to the direct, active work of the Devil as much as it is the outcome of the curse of death. The Devil was not the creator of the lifeforms that cause the bulk of sickness and disease, God was. Therefore, for the most part, what's more essential for healing: beating up the Devil or gaining the blessing of God upon our bodies?

    The Devil and his minions do make physical assaults on humans, the symptoms of such can only be described as sickness. In those cases, the repulsion of the enemy is exacltly what's called for.

    My reading of the scriptures says both of those realities concerning sickness is true. Sickness arising as a consequence of the fall, and sickness visited upon people through the attack of the enemy. I'm doing what I can to communicate both realities.

  8. Heanous,
    You're never a pain, but if you were, I wonder if it would follow that you could be cast out? ;-)

    Your comment speaks to something I mentioned in passing in the post, variables. No matter how we try to assemble them into one tidy equation, manageable and understood, God applies enough oil to the actual circumstances to keep things slippery in our grasp. Some of the variables we have either dealt with or will deal with in this series are faith, the earnest (or partial), the exceptional agenda of God, the evil agenda of the Devil, and sin. God governs juggling of all these considerations (and probably a quite a few more) in ways that are often not readily understood by us.

    In that kind of reality, the prime variable comes to light, which is faith. Faith operates in the realm of the not yet, the unseen, the hoped for, the slipperily misunderstood. From faith in those kind of places erupts the certainty that grasps fulfillment. We don't have to fully understand to be blessed, but it does help if we believe without doubting.

    I don't see inconstitency in the biblical examples you cited, but variety in purpose. Faith was the issue with the centurion (his not the sick one's), and the woman with the issue. Sometimes faith does distill in or through struggle. Signs were the issue at the Gate Beautiful and (I add here) the man born blind. In Paul's case, it was about a unique and supernatural call.

    What can we do in light of all this? Believe and never give up. Whether Joseph in jail, or David on the lam, or Paul asking thrice, it is always good to take God at his word and not be shaken.

  9. Your phrase "variety in purpose" is, I believe, right on. When something is happening that is painful, either physically or emotionally, we take it personally, i.e. what did I do to deserve this, or why does God not heal me? What we need to look at, maybe, is what is God's purpose in this? If one is healed the glory is God's. If one is not healed the glory is still God's because Christ is also seen in one who can still "count it all joy".

    Did that make sense??? :)

  10. Rita,
    Sorry it's taken so long to respond.

    I like the determination to live unto God's glory, and to do so with joy regardless of the circumstances expressed in your comment. That represents a faithful attitude, I would say, with one proviso: as long as it does not represent a resignation that God's promises are not really to be expected. I don't think that's what you're saying, but for the broader audience, perhaps a point worth making. Faith is able to hold in tension the difference between what is anticipated and what's in hand, without giving up in the interval between. In that space, we often don't understand God's purposes, but that is the time trust must arise and live unto the glory of God, as you've said.


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