Toward a Better Theology of Healing, Pt. 1

Labels can be useful, but they can often be misleading. So telling you that I am a Charismatic may not be helpful—to you or to me!—because the term can denote views that I don’t hold. When we talk about healing, labels can sound more like accusations than theological dispositions. So, in talking about healing, I’ll try to describe points of view rather than labels or denominations.

Let me say up front that I believe in the work of the Holy Spirit through the Church today. In certain streams of the Charismatic movement, the view of healing is as follows:

Because (a) God is a good God and, (b) healing is always His will, and (c) healing has been paid for in the cross, therefore, (d) our faith or sin is the only remaining barrier to having healing here and now.

We have enough decades behind us now to sensibly say that such teaching is problematic at best. What are we to make of the multitude of Christians—including popular faith preachers and pastors—who have died from illness and disease? Should we suggest they didn’t have enough faith? And if that is our conclusion, how much faith is enough? Didn’t Jesus say faith the size of a mustard seed is enough? But how do you measure faith anyway?

To be fair, when this teaching arose, there was a broad view of God as a cold, indifferent Being who sometimes sent sickness and suffering according to “His good pleasure”. The Christian was left no choice but to quietly acquiesce, and to view their condition as their divinely appointed lot in life. Such a view has more to do with the fatalism present in Buddhism than the teachings of Christ. Passive acceptance of suffering as the will of the supreme Force of the universe is not what Jesus ever told a sick person.

I suspect it was a reaction to this view of God as a distant, unsympathetic Being assigning diseases to people in His sovereign will that led many to revolt. Where some may have tried to simply teach that God is good and that sickness and disease is not His wish for any of us, others took it a step further by claiming that we should never pray “God, heal me if it’s your will” for it is always God’s will to heal. Working themselves into a logical loop knot, such healing preachers have had little choice but to claim that if any person remained un-healed, it was no fault of God’s; there must have been some sin or a lack of faith that prevented them from receiving what was rightfully theirs.

I suggest a view of God and healing that the Church has held for centuries prior, one that presents God neither as a cold school master who refuses questions nor a sugar daddy who is good only as we understand the word. Let’s begin.

1. Sickness was not God’s original design.
Adam and Eve’s bodies were not made to break down, grow weary and weak, or be susceptible to diseases and pain. Heck, they weren’t even supposed to sweat prior to the Fall. Adam and Eve were never made to grow old or bald or wrinkle or die.

2. Sickness is not God’s final outcome.
There would be not point in saying that in heaven every tear would be wiped away if there would only be more tears to come. No, when God bring the restoration of all things, there will be no more sickness, disease, injustice, or suffering of any kind. Such is the picture that John’s revelation and the heavenly and apocalyptic visions from Isaiah, Daniel and others provide (Rev. 21:1-5).

3. Jesus entered into our suffering, took it upon Himself, and, in His death and resurrection, made the way for the restoration—full healing—of all things.
Having set the original intent and the final outcome, we must ask how it is possible that will reverse the cures on the earth and humankind. How did God undo the suffering of humanity? In short, by entering it. By the incarnation, Jesus entered into our human suffering. He knows what it feels like to be abused, abandoned, beaten, bone-weary; He knows what it’s like to witness the death of a friend, or to watch a companion self-destruct in suicide. He knows what it’s like to ask the Father for a cup to pass and yet to surrender to the Father’s will above His own.

But because of His resurrection, He did more than enter it; He conquered it (Jn. 16:33). Jesus became the “firstborn from among the dead” (Col. 1: 18) so that now we have hope for the restoration of all things. As N.T. Wright, the preeminent New Testament scholar of our day, says, “God will do for the universe what He has done for Christ Jesus.”

When Isaiah wrote that the Messiah would suffer for our transgressions and that by His wounds we would be healed (Is. 53), we must see a wider picture than simply physical healing. Isaiah’s Messianic vision is of one who would end wars, bring healing to the division of God’s people, and, in short, right all that is wrong with the world. When Peter quotes Isaiah (1 Pet. 2:23-24), he is talking about right relationship with God, and then right relationships between one another. Right before quoting Isaiah, Peter describes the unjust suffering that slaves experience under the hand of the masters. He encourages their patience and forgiveness for Christ suffered unjustly too. Moreover, Christ’s suffering paid for our healing: of wounded relationships, of all injustice…and yes, of physical suffering too.

Thus far, it seems we have done little to offend. But, Part 2 is coming. 🙂 [HERE is PART 2]

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4 thoughts on “Toward a Better Theology of Healing, Pt. 1

  1. So many good point here, Glen. I am going to take a while and digest it. But I do have some initial thoughts that I’d like to run past you…
    Because, really and truly, is there any evidence of a healing that was attempted and not accomplished by Jesus? And are we not commanded to do even greater things than He did? Does there not seem to be a problem with our faith that we accept someone NOT being healed as the will of God? And, by the same token, if we attempt to cast out a demon (since we are commanded to heal, raise the dead and cast out demons in the same breath as preaching the gospel) and fail, could failing to free someone from darkness ever be the will of God?
    I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on these things…waiting for part 2:)

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  2. I wholeheartedly believe in the supernatural and that healing is still a part of the Christian experience and have seen with my own eyes numerous physical healings take place.
    In fact, I once saw the leg of a young woman who was a classmate of the Bible college I attended grow right before my eyes. The next day she had to go out and buy her self new shoes due to the specialized shoes she had to wear because of being born with one leg longer than the other.
    I have personally experienced healing on numerous occasions after being prayed for by others and once received overnight healing of a skin cyst after praying for myself.
    I have prayed for others on numerous occasions resulting in instantaneous healing. The most dramatic healing I have seen concerned my father. He had gone into a coma after complete liver failure. (My brother found in him on the kitchen floor and the doctors guessed he had been lying there for a few days before being found by my brother.) As soon as I heard my father was in the hospital I caught the first flight and when I arrived I met the doctor at the ICU and was told my father was in a level 1 coma and would not survive. The doctor was concerned about my relaxed demeanor (the Lord told me on the plane that my father would be fine) and bluntly told me my father would not be coming out of the coma and could die even as we spoke. I went into the room and laid hands on my father. He immediately opened his eyes and looked at me as a tear rolled from his eye. The doctor said, “Oh my God” and eleven days later my father left the hospital. I say this not to puff myself up but to assure anyone reading this that I wholeheartedly believe in the supernatural and that healing is still part of the Christian experience.
    However, I do not believe in the doctrine which states all believers have been set free from sickness and disease because of what Christ did on the Cross, or that we are already healed and just need to claim healing when healing is needed.
    The passage most often used to teach believers they are already healed because of what Christ did on the Cross or that we are already healed and just need to claim healing when healing is needed is 1 Peter 2:24-25: Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness–by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
    Peter, however, wasn’t writing about our being set free from sickness and disease but about our being set free from sin (inasmuch that sin no longer controls us) and in doing so referenced Isaiah 53:5-6: 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. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
    The stripes mentioned in Isaiah 53:5-6 were the result of Him being wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. Nothing is said in the passage, however, of Him being wounded or bruised for our sicknesses and/or diseases. In other words, we were once like sheep gone astray separated from God by our sin but Christ’s sacrifice made peace between us and God (Colossians 1:20) and as a result we have been returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. In short, His stripes were for our transgressions and iniquities.
    It is evident Peter wasn’t writing about our being set free from sickness and disease when we consider Peter was addressing the fact we have been called to follow the example Jesus left for us (1 Peter 2:1-23). In other words, 1 Peter 2:24-25 should be used to teach believers that Jesus has done everything necessary to enable us to live our lives commendably which is the context of 1 Peter 2:1-25.
    In order to have a better understanding of the context of 1 Peter 2:24-25 we need to first understand the context of Isaiah 53:5-6, including verse 4: Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 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. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
    Isaiah 53:4-6 reveals that Christ would fulfill two prophetic promises while on the earth.
    First, He would perform miracles as evidenced by Isaiah 53:4: Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
    Second, He would provide redemption as evidenced by Isaiah 53:5-6: 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. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
    The first one, the performing of miracles, was fulfilled during Christ’s earthly ministry prior to the Cross as evidenced by Matthew 8:16-17: When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “He Himself took our infirmities And bore our sicknesses.” In other words, Isaiah 53:4 was fulfilled prior to His going to the Cross.
    The second one, the providing of redemption, was fulfilled at the Cross as evidenced by 1 Peter 2:24-25: Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness–by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
    In 1 Peter 2:24 we read that He took our sins on his own body on the Cross. Paul wrote of this in 2 Corinthians 5:21: For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Peter, however, wrote nothing concerning Him taking our sicknesses and diseases on the cross. In fact, there is not one verse in all of Scripture which makes such a claim. Such a claim is purely based on extrapolations of passages but an honest, thorough and objective examination of the Scriptures will reveal that no such claim is ever made. In fact, the sacrifices made by the High Priests were for sin and were a picture of the redemptive work that Christ would one day complete on the Cross. A work that was for our sin not for our sicknesses and/or diseases, as evidenced by Hebrews 1:3 and Hebrews 10:12.
    Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
    But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.
    As a result of what took place at the Cross we have been set free from sin as evidenced by Romans 13:17-18: But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
    Believers need to know that as a result of what took place through Christ’s sacrifice they have been returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls and that by walking with Him they can live their lives commendably for the Kingdom. This is the context of 1 Peter 2:24-25.

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