A while back someone asked me if I really believed God could heal people in answer to prayer. I said there is a short answer and a long answer to that question.
The short answer is yes, of course I believe God can heal someone in answer to prayer. If we believe in God at all, who created this whole universe and everything in it, who gave us a body and soul and spirit, who knit us together in our mother’s womb as the Psalmist said, who designed and created and sustains our incredible bodies with all their intricate complexity– if we believe at all in God, then of course we should be able to believe that God is able to shrink a tumor or heal a heart if he so chooses. If God can’t even do that, he wouldn’t be God. So the short answer is YES, God can heal whatever he wants, whenever he wants, in whoever he wants.
But that being said, one must go on to the long answer. And the long answer has to start out with the fact that even though I believe God can heal whatever he wants to heal, it is clear that there are many times that God chooses to not heal. Even when many fervent prayers are said, people often remain sick, people remain paralyzed, and people die. So more has to be said. One could list several points, but here are a few just to give an idea of how a Christian can think about this.
#1) Many people never do get better and many illnesses never go away. But most of the time we do get better! Think of the many times you have been sick, had a headache, had the flu, had an infection, was cut and bleeding, broke a bone, or whatever. 99% of the time, you got better!– right? The headache went away, you got over the cold or the flu, the bone healed, or the bleeding stopped. Well, you might say, most of the time the body is able to heal itself, and no miracle is needed. But who created your body? How about giving God a little credit for creating into your body such an incredible ability to heal itself. Consider just one example. A micro-liter is one millionth of a liter. In one micro-liter of your blood, there are 150,000 to 400,000 platelets, the tiny cells whose job it is to coagulate the blood in case of a cut, rushing in to a mesh around the open wound, thus stopping the bleeding. If for some reason your platelet count dips below 20,000 platelets per micro-liter, you would bleed to death from nothing more than a paper cut or a bloody nose. How about giving thanks to God for giving you enough platelets? This is just one of ten thousand healing mechanisms in your body. Every day your body is healing itself and fighting off infections you will never even know you had, because God made it with that ability. It is happening every day for every one of us without our even being aware of it.
#2) There are wonderful and unexpected healings that seem like miraculous answers to prayer. But how do we know when that happens? Maybe God has intervened in a special way, in a specific answer to your prayer, to heal you even faster than the body normally would have. But we can’t know for sure. The doctor gives someone a 20% chance of surviving their cancer, and they get better, and life goes on. What happened? Did they just beat the odds; or did God answer their prayers; or did the body heal itself in some unknown way? Who knows?
#3) Sometimes there is not even a one-percent chance, and someone gets better. Terminal cancer one day, and no cancer the next day. It has happened! Absolute, immediate, unexplainable, unmistakable miraculous healings do happen. But not very often. I don’t know why God chooses to heal some in that way and not others, and God isn’t giving us the reasons.
#4) One thing we do know. God has determined that as a punishment for our sin, every one of us will die. That is another story for another time, but that much is certain. We will die– not because God can’t heal us, but because God has decreed that we will all die. So if we are all going to one day die, then we cannot be healed of everything. All of life, every day, is a gift, and God has given you no guarantee as to how many years of life you have coming; so somewhere along the line, there will come a disease or an injury that will not be healed, and that will be the end of you. God in Christ offers eternal life to all who believe in him. But for now we can know that not everything can get healed because we will one day have to die of something.
Tony Campolo once said: “Jesus raised up Lazarus from the dead, and then what happened to Lazarus? He died again. So what did Lazarus get out of it? A few more years of paying taxes, and then, here we go again, get sick and die. But there is a healing that goes deeper than the healing of the body, is there not? I get asked all the time if I have seen actual physical healings? Yes, I have, but not very many. But far more important than any physical healing is the spiritual healing that leads to the faith that leads to eternal life. Now that is real healing!”
#5) The Bible tells us that there is much that we cannot learn or will not learn except through trouble, and so illness can be a great teacher. The Bible is filled with stories and verses about how we can grow in faith and hope by what we suffer. Sometimes it is only suffering and pain that is able to penetrate our sinful blindness, and open our eyes to God’s Word and his promise of eternal life.
#6) God tells us that we may pray for anything. We don’t have to check the doctors report to see how bad it is and adjust our prayer. We may feel free to pray for whatever we want– but then at the same time pray the prayer that Jesus himself prayed as he faced his death– “Not my will, but thine be done,” he said. Then, like a trusting child, and like Jesus himself,we leave it in our Father’s hand. God’s will for us is always life, either here for a little while longer, or in his heavenly home forever.
Psalm 139:14 — I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
Mark 1:30-34a… 35-38 — Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases… Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
Notice that in the above story, there is first of all, a willingness on Jesus’ part to heal; first Simon’s mother-in-law, and then many more from the whole town. But then, there is a reluctance on the part Jesus to healing. The very next day many more were looking for him, no doubt for more healings. But Jesus says, “Let’s go somewhere else,” and leaves the area. Sometimes Jesus healed, and sometimes he did not– then, and now.
Lord, look upon me with mercy. May your healing hand rest upon me, may your life giving power flow into every cell of my body and into the depths of my soul; cleansing, purifying, restoring me to wholeness and strength for your kingdom. Amen.