I believe God heals today.
I also believe there’s a jumble of interesting ideas about this topic floating around my town (and probably yours too!). Sometimes pastors find ourselves in the crossfire of those ideas, and as leaders, it can be tricky to navigate.
There's a reason for the contention around theories of healing; because unless I'm missing something, there’s some ambiguity in Scripture around healing. You'll find ironies and dichotomies that (in my opinion) make it hard to come up with definitive statements (ie. God always desires to heal, or healing is for eternity and not this lifetime). Did God leave it this way intentionally?
I think he did.
Nothing in the Christian life can be done without him (John 15), and it appears like he’s hard-wired the supernatural this way too. So, basically, no formulas.
Here are some things I've observed, both in Scripture and in my own experience.
1. God does heal people today.
He’s been doing so from time immemorial.
I’ve experienced this powerfully in my own life; in fact, just a couple weeks ago. I could hardly walk for pain in my foot, which had persisted for about four days. On day four, just before our Christmas Eve gathering, my son-in-law, Logan, asks if he can pray for me. Of course, I can't say "No!" He prays twice (we teach persevering in prayer, so more than once and up to three times if needed), and after the second prayer - the pain decreased dramatically! By that evening, I was walking comfortably. By Christmas Day, the pain (and thus limp) were completely gone.
As a sidetone: I’m convinced the primary reason we don’t see a buttload more miracles is that we simply don’t ask Jesus (Matthew 7:7 is better rendered "keep on asking, and you will receive" instead of "ask and you will receive").
2. Healing in this life doesn’t always happen as we hoped or expected.
Every honest Christian must admit this. We don’t have to know why. It’s beyond our pay-grade. Even when you do everything “right” (ie. confess sin, have faith, call the elders to pray, etc. etc.), miracles are sometimes hard to come by.
Speaking of faith - what will really cook your noodle is this: it takes a tremendous amount of confidence in Jesus to face a terminal diagnosis and declare, “I’m not afraid and trust Jesus through all things - even death.” I’ve watched dear friends battle through cancer, all the while believing God could heal them, yet trusting him no matter the outcome, and then passing away, sometimes in prolonged and painful ways.
There’s nothing artificial about that kind of faith. It’s the real deal.
3. God allows suffering (including sickness).
I don't even like saying it. It sucks.
But at the same time, how do you read the book of Job and come up with any other conclusion?! You'd have to do some fancy footwork with Scripture, that's for sure. And for a New Testament example of a very similar situation, see Luke 22:31, where Jesus tells Peter that Satan has requested to sift him like wheat. Same story as Job. And it’s implied (strongly, I might add) that God gives Satan the go-ahead.
Some people use Paul’s thorn in the flesh as an example of God allowing sickness, but I think it’s a poor example. For one, we don’t know for certain what this idiom referred to (it could have been his wife ;). And secondly, if you have a sliver and ask God to heal you, I’m pretty sure he’s going to expect you to pull it out yourself. I want to suggest there are two kinds of pain in the body: 1) the kind you can do nothing about and thus should rightly seek help through both medicine and prayer, and 2) the kind you CAN do something about and should just get better - pull the thorn out. Just a thought.
4. Never build your theology around your experience.
I know this isn’t the-bible-says, but most of us would agree that it's good advice. Yet when it comes to healing, many of us have done just that. I’m not sure if I haven’t, watching some pretty big prayer requests go unanswered.
I believe it’s a safe bet to hold the line on what Scripture teaches to the best of your ability, keeping in mind that you are interpreting Scripture. What this means is that ALL of us - including John MacArthur and Hank Hanegraaff- are going to get a few surprises when we see Jesus face to face and he straightens out our theology (we see in part, 1 Corinthians 13:12).
On this point, I appreciate the tenacity of churches like Bethel - in the face of much opposition, criticism, and disappointment around healing - who hold fast to what they see in Scripture (whether you agree with them or not). And interestingly, most rebuttals to their theology around healing (that I’ve seen) centre squarely on a person’s personal experience (often as not, they haven't received healing for an ailment) and I must add, pulling statements or sounds bites from Bethel's pastors out of context (otherwise known as "fake news").
5. Taste…and see.
This is a crazy invitation found in your Bible (Psalm 34:8) to try something on, and see what it’s like to be in those shoes. Why not the experience of healing?
Most critics of healing (and of movements like Bethel that strongly emphasize it) are of the variety called "non-tasters." They stick to the familiar. They live within their personal experiences. They don’t actually put themselves in an environment where healing is happening. They don't hang around healing evangelists. They know if they do, they might have to change their theology, and pride won't let them do that (ps. I've changed my theology multiple times - it's just par for the course because we humans see in part). I have been a critic of healing! I have been a critic (vocally) of movements like Bethel (Redding, CA). But to my credit, I’ve also always been willing to "taste and see" (of course, I would not do this if something clearly violated Scripture). And guess what? I usually find that thing is not so bad. Do I agree with everything? No! But do I sense God at work? Absolutely. ABSOLUTELY. And in beautiful ways that I can only dream about in my church (it’s coming in, Jesus' Name).
6. Go and learn.
This was Jesus' commandment to his disciples (Matthew 9:13), and it’s genius. Don’t sit back and just fill your head with facts and talk yourself out of all action. Get out there and give it a go. Learn on the fly.
That’s how it works with this whole healing-thing. So myself and a few other leaders in Evangel are going to Livingston, Zambia, this February to be apart of an outreach. We'll be partnering with a good friend of mine, Louw Ronquest, from Spirit Ablaze Ministries. If stories can be believed (and I know they can), we will experience and be apart of:
- seeing hundreds of people give their lives to Jesus
- witnessing hundreds of miracles of healing from blind eyes opened to the lame walking (often the catalyst for a person's decision to surrender their life to Jesus).
- seeing the dead raised to life. Louw (a fiery little South African, in case you were wondering) has seen everything as it pertains to healing, including resurrection.
I'm stoked and can't wait to do this.
Anyway, just a little processing. Not done yet. Haven’t arrived. Only a work in progress trying to figure out what it looks like when the Lord of All (Jesus) encounters my life in the here and now.
Enjoy the ride!