A thoughtful discussion
I have a good friend, Eva Boswell, with whom I have a running theological discussion about God’s will concerning healing. It is a good-natured discussion between friends and I think we both learn from each other’s perspectives. Both of us believe strongly that God does miraculously heal in answer to prayer and we both pray for ourselves, our families and others that God might bring physical healing as well as spiritual healing to them as needed and we both have received answers to such prayers. I have learned to have a great deal more faith through Eva’s example and positive expectation.
Eva takes a very positive position regarding God’s will for healing. In a recent Facebook post she begins with the following quote from Gloria Copeland, follows it with an example that she has discussed with me before and concludes with verses from my favorite Psalm. I include her post in its entirety and then my own perspective.
God is not schizophrenic. But the way some people talk about Him makes it sound like He is–especially when it comes to the area of divine healing.” Some people say things like, “God puts sickness on us to teach us something, a lesson. Then sometimes He heals us, if it’s His will. You just never know what He’s going to do.” Such statements, as well-intended as they might be, are wrong. God does not have a split personality or a divided will. He is not the source of disease AND its cure! He doesn’t will to make people sick one day….and then will to heal them the next. — Gloria Copeland
If you, as a parent were to “give your child a sickness” just to teach them a lesson, or if you were to place their hand on the hot stove and burn them to teach them not to touch the stove, or if you were to break their leg to teach them how dangerous a situation could be, you would be called a child abuser and your child would be taken from you. God is not a child abuser. — Eva Boswell
Psalm 103:1-2 Bless the LORD oh my soul and forget not all His benefits. He forgives ALL my sins and He heals ALL my diseases. AMEN
My meditations on God’s desire for our wholeness
I suggest that the healing theology of Mrs. Copeland and Mrs. Boswell needs a tweak to account for some of the data of Scripture and experience. Here is the kind of summary I would make.
God wills our wholeness always. However, God’s definition of wholeness is usually bigger than ours; it includes spiritual wholeness, emotional wholeness, mental wholeness, moral wholeness and physical wholeness. Not only does it include these different facets, but it includes appropriate maturity levels as well. His idea of wholeness also has eternity in view and because of that, He prioritizes spiritual wholeness which prepares us most for eternity. On the other hand, our idea of wholeness is centered mostly on our physical bodies now. This is partly because our physical bodies affect so much about our mental, emotional and spiritual lives, and partly because we just simply crave comfort. Paul compared the relative value of the two spheres in his writing to Timothy. “Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Ti 4:8 NIV).
There are repeated examples in Scripture of times when God allowed, at least, physical illness/infirmity to persist as a means of testing or discipline, each time for a higher spiritual purpose. One example is Job. While God was not the immediate author of his suffering, it is clear in the theology of the book that God allowed the suffering to happen. But it is equally clear that a key result of that suffering was the purifying of Job’s attitude, from arrogant self-righteousness to humble dependence on God. One of the key points of the book and the reason Job’s three comforters were rebuked is the idea that righteous people do suffer. A second example is in 1 Corinthians 11:30–32. The text clearly says that some in the church had become ill as a direct result and as a “judgment” from God because they had misused the Lord’s Table. The purpose was that they would “not be condemned with the world.” A third example is what Paul refers to as his “thorn in the flesh.” Most commentators believe it was some physical affliction, though we do not know exactly what it was. Paul believed it was allowed by God for the spiritual purpose of keeping him from becoming conceited because of the great revelations that had been given to him (v. 7). In each of these three cases, God, in allowing physical illness/infirmity to persist, had in mind the purpose of greater wholeness.
All this does not mean that we should hold back from praying for release from physical illness. We should pray as both Job and Paul did in the circumstances cited.
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven (Jas 5:14-15 NIV).
We should pray both that we might be healed and that we might be taught any lessons that God wishes us to learn as long as the physical infirmity persists. It is instructive that the promise given us with this exhortation to pray has both a physical and a spiritual result. God’s desire is that wholeness return quickly. It is also important to understand that the great majority of physical illnesses and infirmities are not for the purpose of discipline, but rather simply results of the fall, of the groaning of creation as Paul teaches (Romans 8:19-24). Thank God the creation is being liberated from this bondage to decay through Jesus Christ. That glorious fact also encourages us to pray with faith for healing.
But creation will not be completely liberated until Jesus makes all things new. Only then will the curse of death cease. Until then some disease/infirmities will happen as a part of aging and leading up to death. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Co 15:26 NIV). It’s important to think also that God’s plan is that any illness of ours be temporary in some sense. If it is not temporary from the perspective of this life, then He will heal it when we meet Jesus and so it will still be temporary. Praise be to God for the great healing of the resurrection. When we pray for healing of an illness, we are praying that God’s ultimate purpose for complete healing be made real—break into our lives— now as a present witness to the eternal purpose of God to renew his creation in wholeness.