Divine Healing: Keeping it in Biblical Balance

By Roger Marshall*

A lot of emphasis is being made in Charismatic and Evangelical Church circles on the fact that God is a healer, who can heal every disease, but very little is being said about the Sovereignty of God in this vital Christian doctrine. Instead of being told that God can heal us if it is according to His will, we are being told that God will heal us once we exercise our faith. Yet after being encouraged to exercise all the faith they can muster, and after the binding and loosing of various sicknesses, and decreeing and declaring people to be healed it appears that many Christians in our churches today are still going back into the prayer lines with the same ailments. Interestingly enough why is it that internal and for the most part unobservable diseases/ailments such as arthritis, cancer, tumours, headaches, backaches etc. are the majority of problems being prayed for these days? Why don’t the faith healers decree and declare healing over the more obvious and observable ailments with which some Christians and non-Christians are afflicted, such as multiple sclerosis, or more commonly impaired vision that results in people having to wear glasses etc. What is the reason for the avoidance of praying against these types of diseases? Surely in the early days of Jesus’ and the Apostles ministry people with these kinds of observable diseases would have been healed instantly.

I believe that God is a healer and that He can heal any and every disease, instantly or progressively, if He so wills. The Bible says: “This is the confidence we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5: 14-15; emphasis mine).

However, there are several verses of Scripture that are often quoted out of context to prove that physical healing is guaranteed to us here and now. A few of these verses in question are: Isaiah 53: 4-5; Matthew 8: 17; 1 Peter 2: 24 & 3 John 2.

In context the correct interpretation of Isaiah 53: 4-5 and the correlating verse 1 Peter 2: 24, refers to spiritual healing and not to physical healing. Let’s look at these two texts and see what I mean.

Isa. 53: 5 is structured according to what is known as “Hebrew parallelism”, where the same point is made using different words. For example:
1. “But he was wounded for our transgressions” (this has to do with sins, and is thus spiritual in nature relating to our souls).
2. “He was bruised for our iniquities” (this also has to do with sins, and is thus again spiritual).
3. “The chastisement of our peace was upon him” (this has to do with our peace with God through Jesus’ suffering for our sins. As Romans 5: 1 says: “Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Thus again Isaiah is making the same spiritual point in relation to our sins and our souls reconciliation to God).
4. “And with his stripes we are healed” (If in this last phrase Isaiah now switches from a spiritual theme to a physical theme in relation to healing of our bodies that would not be in keeping with the structure of Hebrew parallelism. The fact is that this phrase is also spiritual and has to do with healing of our souls and not our bodies).

This fact is further made very clear in 1 Peter 2: 24-25 which says: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” Thus the healing in view of these passages of Scripture is healing of the sin-sick soul, which is our reconciliation to God after having gone astray (see Isa. 53: 6).

With regard to Matt. 8: 14-17 the context of this passage has to do with the fact that Jesus fulfilled the first clause of Isa. 53: 4 during his healing ministry to the Jews (cf. Matt. 10: 5-8). It is not teaching that all believers are guaranteed physical healing today. It should be noted that Matthew did not quote the entire verse of Isa. 53: 4 due to the fact that the last clause was not fulfilled until Jesus went to the cross where he suffered and died for the healing of our souls which is the theme of verse 5 as I’ve already pointed out. In short the same one who bore the griefs and carried the sorrows of the Jews by healing them of their diseases during his earthly ministry, is the same one who was later “stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.” He is the same one who was wounded for their transgressions and bruised for their iniquities to secure the healing of their souls, a healing which was graciously extended to all people (cf. John 3: 16; 2 Cor. 5: 19). Therefore Matt. 8: 17 is actually about what Jesus did before the atonement which was actually only accomplished by his death on the cross (cf. Rom. 5: 6-11).

As for 3 John 2 this is not a guarantee/command for health or wealth but simply a wish in John’s course of greeting, much like what we do today when we wish other people well in our written correspondence to them.

Finally, the fact that divine healing is not ultimately dependent on our faith but rather is dependent on the sovereign will of God is bourn out by a number of incidents in Scripture. In fact some of the people healed in Scripture did not exercise any faith at all! For example:
1. The lame man at the Temple gate was not expecting healing, he did not ask for healing, he was not earnestly seeking God for his healing, his faith was not involved yet he was miraculously healed (Acts 3: 1-8).
2. The widow of Nain was not expecting the miraculous resurrection of her dead son. Her faith was also not involved yet a mighty miracle occurred (Lk. 7:11-15).
3. Malcus, one of the men who arrested Jesus was healed after Peter cut off his ear. He too was not expecting healing (Lk. 22: 50-51; Jn 18: 10).
4. Lazarus was raised from the dead after four days even though his sisters (Martha in particular) were not exhibiting great faith for this miracle to occur on that day. Martha expected Lazarus’ resurrection to be at the “last day” (Jn. 11: 24), after all Lazarus was dead for four days so this fact alone would have dashed all hopes for an immediate resurrection as far as many Jews were concerned. You see in that time many Jews believed that the soul remained near the body only for three days after death in the hope of returning to it. So if this idea was in the minds of these people, they obviously thought all hope was gone-Lazarus was irrevocably dead (Jn.11:39).

5. This raises the question as to how much faith does it really take for God to act on our behalf. Faith healers often encourage believers to turn loose their faith, muster all the faith they have. However, the Bible says that it only takes a mustard seed amount of faith for God to honour it (Lk. 17: 5-6). The same simple faith that brings salvation also brings healing in accordance with the will of God. Mark 10: 51-52 and Luke 7: 48-50 bears out this fact, in both passages, one dealing with divine healing (Mk. 10) and the other with salvation (Lk. 7), the exact same Greek grammatical structure is used: “he pistis sou sesoken se.” Translated: “…thy faith hath made thee whole” (Mk. 10:52),“Thy faith hath saved thee…”(Lk.7:50).

While the Bible teaches that God honours faith in Him for our healing it also teaches that God is not always obligated to honour that faith for reasons best known to Him and it doesn’t mean that we lack faith or that we are living a life that displeases God.
A classic example of this is Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2Cor. 12; 7-10). While the Bible does not explicitly say what it was it was nevertheless an affliction of some kind yet Paul’s great faith in God could not get it removed.

Other Scriptures that clearly show that God is not obligated to always heal His people are as follows:
1. Out of a multitude of sick folk at the pool of Bethesda Jesus only healed one man (Jn. 5: 1-9).
2. Timothy had frequent stomach related illnesses for which Paul encouraged him to use wine as a medicine to help with his ongoing condition (1Tim.5: 23).
3. Paul left Trophimus, one of his close companions, sick in Miletus (2Tim 4: 20).
4. Epaphroditus another one of Paul’s close companions was sick and nearly died. Paul appeared helpless in the whole ordeal (not powerful like many faith healers today who arrogantly “decree”, “declare” and “speak things into being”) and explained that his companion’s life was only spared because God had mercy on both of them (Ph. 2:25-27).

Nevertheless, the Bible does teach that ultimately healing is guaranteed to our bodies and in fact to all creation because of the atoning work of Christ, but this is to come in the new heaven and earth when sickness and its inevitable end result, death, will be forever banished from existence. That’s when our bodies (and not just our souls as is now the case) will be redeemed (cf. Rom. 8: 18-23; Rev.20: 4).

Is God a healer? He sure is! Does God still miraculously heal today? He sure does! But in accordance with his Sovereign will just as He always has either in the presence of faith or in its absence. The buck does not end at our faith but at God’s sovereign will. God has and reserves the right to grant our earnest requests or refuse our requests for purposes best known to Him, yet always for our good even when we don’t understand (Rom. 8: 28).

In light of these facts lets keep the message of divine healing in Biblical balance.

*Roger Marshall is executive director of Project PROBE Ministries a Barbadian Christian apologetics organisation.