Many are the accounts of miraculous healing. They have filled innumerable pages of books encouraging others to seek after God for their own healing. Books like Craig Keener’s two volume work Miracles contain healings of every human ailment; mental and physical. From simple headaches, Downs-Syndrome, and to the very resurrection of the dead, God’s power to heal knows no boundaries. However, it seems that as many who are healed many more are not.
Believers are sometimes perplexed and confused when they recognize that God has the power to heal, and yet many go without receiving a miraculous healing. In the face of such seemingly contradicting realities, the church has divided itself into two camps. On one side, those who believe that divine healing is a first century phenomenon and thus today’s healings are fake. On the other side, those who believe divine healing is available today, but those who are not healed lack faith to receive it. One proposes that Christians do not need to accept either of these extremes. Truly, divine healing is available to all believers for God’s character has not changed. However, to say that the lack of faith is the only reason behind not being healed is naïve and discouraging to the body of believers.
It is one’s aim, in this short paper, to demonstrate alternative reasons behind why one might not be divinely healed. One divides this into three major categories, which are faith, relationship, and sovereignty. These major categories are not divided as such in scripture; they are simply tools that one is using to organize these Biblical truths. One hopes that this brings a balanced understanding of divine healing while preserving the integrity of God’s character and the testimony of modern day healings.
The doctrine of divine healing is properly established on the atoning work of Christ. The Apostle Matthew makes a strong connection between Christ’s ministry and Isaiah 53:4-5,
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
(cf. Matthew 8:17)
Because of the connection between healing and the atonement, many proponents of divine healing have come to the conclusion that divine healing is parallel to salvation. As such, it is always God’s will to heal all (more on the validity of this later) faithful believers. Moreover, they argue that as Christ healed all, he continues to heal all. Hence, they must conclude that a lack of healing is indicative of some lack in the believer’s part. Some even contemplate whether they ought to be called believers at all.
There are two errors in this assumption. First, one must not conclude that all benefits of the atonement stands in par to one another. In fact, sanctification is also processed through the atoning work of Christ, yet it is an ongoing process. If sanctification stood parallel to salvation, then it would take effect immediately. Unlike salvation, which is a once and for all occurrence, sanctification is ongoing until the parousia, and healing is available until death is finally defeated at the second advent. Note, three benefits are drawn from the atonement, but the application of these benefits is distinct; one is immediate, one is ongoing, and one is available and recurrent.
Second, there is an assumption that Christ and the disciples always healed, and yet there is Biblical evidence to the contrary. Case in point, at the pool of Bethesda the text states, “In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed” (John 5:3), but Christ healed only one. It seems that He was selective in his healing ministry. One can even use circumstantial evidence from Acts 3:2, which states that as Peter and John approached the temple “a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple.” Proponents of the “God is always willing” perspective may rejoice that this man receives a miraculous healing that day, but one also wonders why he had not been previously healed. Surely, being that he was laid there daily, he crossed paths with Jesus in one of his many visits to the temple complex. Therefore, the question remains to be answered; Why some are not healed?
Faith is the first major category in response to this important question. Faith is also the most misunderstood element in divine healing. Countless times, one has heard the well-meaning sister or brother faulting fellow believers for not having faith or even for lacking enough faith to be healed. Often this misguided attempts to comfort causes more damage, and pain to the one who suffers. Therefore, a Biblical understanding of faith is crucial in preventing these mishaps. One must withdraw from the wealth of scripture a proper understanding of the relationship between faith and miracles; how much is needed, its importance, and whether it is a necessary element.
How Much is Needed?
Kathryn Kuhlman expressed in her book Never Too Late, “We know from God’s word that a faith that weighs no more than a grain of mustard seed will do more than a ton of will or a mind of determination.”
Truly, the scripture is very clear on the amount of faith one needs to be healed. The text suggested is found in Luke 17:6, “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (cf. Matthew 17:20). The mustard seed was the smallest seed known to Jesus’ contemporaries, and the mountain was a symbol of stability; immovable (cf. Psalm 46:2; Isaiah 54:10).
The point was clear “the reason why ‘mustard seed’ faith can be so effective has to do, not with the adequacy of faith, but with the adequacy of God and the reality of what he is now putting into effect with Jesus.”
In Luke 9, a father brings his demoniac son to Jesus’ disciples, and they were unable to help him. After all the commotion, Jesus gets involved and asks the father if he believed that his son could be healed. The father’s answer reveals to the reader the nature of faith: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (v. 24b). Whatever the father’s motivation at the beginning of this interchange—for some suggest he was actually plotting alongside the Pharisees to embarrass Jesus and his disciples—at this point he recognizes that Jesus can help him. He also recognizes that faith comes from God. Faith is not a condition of the mind; it is a divinely imparted grace through the Holy Spirit. It is not some special effort on our part, and thus even faith as powerful and small as a mustard seed comes from God. Hence why Paul, in the context of diversity in the body, could state “each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom 12:3).
Is it Important?
Regardless of how small the amount of faith, the Biblical text highlights the importance of faith to divine healing. Matthew 13:58 states that Christ was unable to perform miracles in Nazareth, because of their unbelief. This is a clear case where a community’s lack of faith hindered God’s work in their midst. Moreover, there are occasions where a lack of faith on the part of the miracle worker hinders the work of the Spirit and the life of the one who suffers. This was the case with the young demon-possessed man whom the disciples could not help. When they asked Jesus why they were unable to cast out the demon, He replied, “Because of your little faith” (Matt 17:20b); a statement that seems to contradict the words that follow it in regards to having faith as small as a mustard seed. Hendriksen and Kistemaker explain, “They had not sufficiently taken to heart the comfort they should have derived from the assurances which their Lord had given them (7:7–10; 10:8), and had not persisted in prayer. When the demon did not immediately leave they should not have stopped praying.”
It seems that Christ was making a distinction between having faith and exercising faith. The disciples did not need more faith, they simply needed to uses that which they had.
It is clear that faith is an important element in divine healing. Countless times Christ spoke the words, “your faith has made you well,” which are not to be taken as faith enacting healing, but enabling healing. Faith is important not only from the perspective of the one who suffers, but also from the perspective of the community and from the perspective of the servant of God. To a certain extent, those who adhere to the “God is always willing” perspective, are correct in that lack of faith is a hindrance to healing. However, the point of disagreement lies in that one believes that lack of faith is not the only hindrance to divine healing.
Is it Necessary?
At this juncture, the scripture throws in the proverbial, “monkey wrench” into the whole equation. There is evidence that even though faith is an important element to divine healing, it is not always necessary for the one who suffers to have faith. In fact, Jesus healed both people who expressed faith and some who did not express faith whatsoever. Case in point, one of the clearest example of an unbeliever being healed is found in the narrative of Jesus’ arrest. While getting preoccupied by the zealous actions of Peter, who severs a servant’s ear, it is easy to overlook the fact that immediately after Jesus heals this unbeliever.
Other healing narratives, such as the paralytic by the pool of Bethesda, the ten lepers, and the man born blind, lack any evidence that the sufferers made a confession of faith. One gathers that God sometimes heals to forward His purposes even when the one who suffers lacks faith. This is just another act of grace from God, for the benefit of divine healing is reserved for His children alone. Moreover, it begins to open the door to understanding the place of God’s sovereignty in relation to divine healing. This brings comfort to those interceding for loved ones who are not saved.
Based on what has been discussed so far, it should not be as surprising that a relationship with God is important to divine healing. Two points have been made clear, divine healing is provided through the atoning sacrifice through Christ, and this is made operative only on those who accept that sacrifice; His children. This is the foundation to a relationship with God. However, even His children hinder their own healing through unhealthy relationship with God.
One has found three detrimental attitudes toward God; namely, lack of submission, disregarding His Lordship, and an unyielding resolve. God the father is a loving father and does not want to humiliate His children, but He requires His children to humble themselves before Him. Peter reminds his readers, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet 5:6). Moreover, Proverbs 16:5 states, “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished” (cf. Proverbs 21:4). Clearly, a believer does well to practice humility; that is, to see himself or herself no more or less than how God sees him/her.
Disregarding His Lordship is another attitude detrimental to one’s relationship with the creator. Not giving God a rightful place in ones life, or neglecting Him by attempting to live without Him. Perhaps, this is the most common form of hindrance in this category found in American culture. Far too many Christians attempt to live life independent of God, and treat God as a cosmic “sugar-daddy” which can be accessed only when needed. If a believer wants to receive divine healing, he must allow God to be Lord of his or her life not just of his or her health. Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthian church, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5), and then reminds them of Christ’s Lordship, “And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Finally, an unyielding resolve is a toxic attitude in relating to God. Reminiscent of the account of Naaman coming to the prophet of God seeking to be healed, many desire healing on their own terms, and with their own purposes in mind. God is a loving father, but He should not be expected to serve man. Again, He is God, and not man that He should serve according to mankind’s whims.
Not only is a toxic relationship posture with God a hindrance to healing, but also ones relationship with the community. The Bible constantly exhorts the faithful to be reconciled to those they have offended; even at the risk of not receiving forgiveness from God: “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25) One has always maintained that Christ—when establishing His church—created a community, and not a group of individuals. As such there are certain responsibilities to one another. John goes as far as to remind his reader that it is God’s commandment, and that it has an effect on the reader’s relationship with God: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21)
The final subcategory on this larger grouping of “relationship” is toxic relationship with self. God designed our bodies, and gave us a stewardship over it. The Bible even calls it the temple of the Holy Spirit, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple”(1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Believers should not expect God to intervene on their behalf, when they are actively destroying their own bodies. It is absurd to ask God to heal one’s emphysema while smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Actions have consequences, and one should be aware of them. Truly God can heal these self-inflicted diseases, and he has, but He is not under any obligation to do so.
According to Cooper and Palmer Stress elicits “physical (e.g., headache, sleeplessness, breathlessness), physiological (e.g., increased heart rate, blood pressure, respiration), or psychosocial (e.g., mood swings, anxiety, depression) reactions.”
Is it any wonder, that Christ exhorts us, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). God has provided the means to live a healthy life. Sabotaging ones body is against His will, and it creates health issues. Believers undergoing self-inflicted suffering should repent, change their lifestyle, and then pray for healing.
The final reason in answering the question of why some are not healed is that God as sovereign has chosen not to heal. Those who propose that God is always willing to heal, fail to recognize His sovereignty. No amount of faith, prayer, and good deeds can coerce God into action. One proposes that the many Biblical passages that indicate that it is God’s will to heal are being misunderstood, and interpreted as if it is God’s will to heal all today. The scripture also indicates that it is God’s will that all would be saved, but it is also clear that not all are going to be saved. It is important to recognize that at times, the scripture simply describes the motivation and desire of God’s heart. Ideally, God desires for all His people to be healed, realistically this is not the case today.
Furthermore, it should be noted that God’s ultimate purpose for His children is complete physical and spiritual healing. At the parousia believers will receive a new body incorruptible, and sickness and disease will become lost in the past. Nonetheless, God’s promise for today is that He will be present in one’s suffering. In fact, Paul glorified God in his suffering. This is not to say that God caused suffering, but simply that He is capable of using it for His purpose and the sufferer’s benefit. Therefore, when a believer is not healed one must resist the temptation of always placing fault at the feet of the victim. Moreover, never forget that God has seen fit that some of His children can be trusted with suffering like Job.
It is one’s hope that a cogent case has been made. Indeed, some are not miraculously healed not only because of a lack of faith, but because of toxic relationships and God’s sovereignty. The Biblical evidence compels the reader to hold all these truths in balance. This is not to say that God is fickle or arbitrary, but that one must resist the tendency to place God into a neatly packaged box. No one answer can serve as the universal response, for God relates to His children personally and differently. In fact, one would not dare to claim that all the reasons for a lack of healing have been exhausted in this short treatise. This is simply a human attempt to understand an infinite God. Nonetheless, the scriptures are clear, His thoughts are higher than ours, and his way higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). At the end of the day, perhaps the best answer is simply, “I don’t know.” Ultimately all believers will receive their healing when they’re clothed in white garments with a glorified body. This is not pie in the sky, but an affirmation of God’s ultimate purpose for His bride.