Many years ago, I was part of a church where it was taught that it’s ALWAYS God’s will to heal –– and by that I mean miraculous physical healing, the kind that doesn’t necessarily involve doctors or medicine or surgery.
Now, the evidence is all around us that this isn’t what usually happens. I was a hospice chaplain for several years, and I know that people get sick and die, and there’s no physical healing for them. But there’s scripture where, if you take it out of context, it will support the idea that illness and disease only come because of a sinful nature and physical healing will result, if we only repent and have enough faith to receive it.
Where does this leave us? What happens to all the folks who don’t get a miraculous physical healing? It must be their own fault, somehow ...? There’s unconfessed sin in their lives, or their faith is weak, or something awful ...?
There was a woman in my old church who’d injured her back as a young girl. She went to doctors and chiropractors and, of course, people all around her were praying. But she ended up in a wheelchair. Sadly, this was a source of shame to her devout husband, and a source of grief for her. Where was the problem? Why couldn’t she receive healing? She confessed sins she hadn’t even committed, and mustered up as much faith as she could manage. And still … no healing.
Watching this woman, and loving her as she endured all this, was very painful for me. I think it’s one of the reasons I spent so many years in chaplaincy. When someone’s sick or dying, you don’t blame the victim. You love them and try to just help and bring comfort however you can.
There’s a wonderful passage in the first chapter of Mark, where a leper kneels before Jesus and says, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretches out his hand and touches him and says, “I do choose. Be made clean!!” And it’s just that wonderful and easy. We see stories like this many times in the gospels. We certainly know that God is more than capable of miraculous physical healing –– and in fact, we sometimes see it today, too. WHAT a celebration that is!
But more often than not, Jesus doesn’t choose to heal miraculously. And here we are.
Life is hard, and it’s a fallen world. Christians get sick like anyone else; Christian soldiers get killed just as non-Christian soldiers do; we deal with job problems and money problems and everything else that go along with living in this world. And very rarely does God intervene to make all the problems go away. There must be a reason for that.
If we know nothing else about God, we know that he’s completely good and wants only the best for us. And because of Jesus, the day will come that we’ll live forever with him in a place where sickness and hardship just don’t exist. And maybe the question is: WHAT lives forever? These bodies that give us so much trouble? The STUFF we value so much? Of course not. The only thing that lives eternally is our spirit, our soul –– our inner life, not these outer things.
Which means that more than anything else, God spends time dealing with our inner life, our spirit. And while we place enormous emphasis on the physical, God looks first for SPIRITUAL healing. And he uses all kinds of things to accomplish that in our lives.
The Spirit is constantly at work in us, helping us mature as people and as Christians, helping us learn to trust him, teaching us compassion for others, strengthening our character and, in short, transforming us into the image of Christ, as the scripture says. We learn not to judge each other by struggling with our own sin. We learn patience and compassion for others by our own experience with illness and weakness. We learn to trust God when nothing miraculous seems to be happening, and we must turn to him as our only source of help and provision.
Life on the OUTSIDE is difficult and challenging, and God will use every single thing that comes into our lives, in this fallen world, to strengthen us and transform us into kinder, more compassionate, more trusting people.
Should we continue to pray for miraculous physical healing? Absolutely! And sometimes, for reasons we’ll never know, Jesus will choose to reach out and touch someone, bringing physical healing, and we’ll all celebrate like mad. But we also know that God’s promise in Romans is to work ALL things together for good for those who love him –– even, or especially, the tough times that we run into which force us to turn to the Lord. All healing comes from God, and it comes in all kinds of ways.
We are safe in God’s hands. No matter what.
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.