21 December 2015
The theology of healing
Our recent survey into health and wellbeing shows 98 per cent of evangelicals believe in miraculous healing. Andrew Wilson, elder at Kings Church Eastbourne, and Christianity Today columnist, explores the theology.
Sooner or later, every Christian is going to have to figure out what they think about physical healing. In my case, the question is especially pressing. I'm a pastor in a large, charismatic church that sees dozens of people physically healed each year, I speak at charismatic conferences regularly, and I've argued frequently that the gift of healing continues today, both in print and on air. Yet I also have two children with regressive autism. For me, the doctrine of healing is not theoretical.
The extreme positions are easy to see. In the red corner, we have loony, big-haired ranting preachers with their shallow messages of permanent health and wealth for everyone who follows Jesus. In the blue corner, we have the starchy conservative cynics who think everyone who claims to have experienced divine healing is either lying or delusional. Even when people agree that God heals sometimes but not always, there can still be confusion. Does God always heal us if we have enough certainty that He will? Should we assume sicknesses are a mysterious gift from God, designed to teach us things? Why doesn't God always heal? How can we see more healing?
Much confusion stems from a failure to recognise what healing is. As I've studied these themes, and worked through them in my family life, my church life and my prayer life, I've noticed that although we often talk as if there is only one type of divine healing, there are actually four.
First type: a virus enters my body, and my white blood cells are launched into action like a rabid dog, hunting down the perpetrator to kill it. Every second, as my heart beats, tiny bits of mineral and organic material are sent to parts of the body that need it, performing ongoing repairs that will
never finish, like painting the Forth Bridge, hour after hour, year after year. My body is being healed all the time, and it's a result of the grace of the God who created me, searches me, knows me and loves me that He has designed a body that functions that way.
Second type: a Jewish prophet lays his hands on blind eyes and deaf ears, and causes them instantly to see and hear. A young man attending a training event with me, who was born deaf, is immediately healed when someone prays for him in Jesus' name, and promptly calls his fiancée with his – until now deaf – ear to the phone, and has a very excitable conversation with her. A woman who has been wheelchairbound for years is prayed for in Jesus' name, is immediately healed and gets out of her wheelchair, and later phones the benefits office to stop her disability benefits.
Third type: I cycle into the middle of a main road aged 11. My tibia and fibula are smashed between my bike and a VW beetle, and a windscreen wiper makes a four inch deep stab wound in my side, between my liver and my spleen. An ambulance appears within minutes, and a splint is put on my leg. A surgeon removes the glass from inside my torso and then repairs it. My leg is reset under general anaesthetic, which kicks in within seconds of being injected into my arm, and after 16 weeks I'm running around again like a normal 11-year-old. The hospital, the ambulance, the paramedics, the skill of the surgeon, the discoveries that make operating theatres and anaesthesia possible – all gracious gifts of a loving God, whose mercy enables healings to take place across the world that would, in any other generation, be considered quite miraculous.
Fourth type: the trumpet sounds, and the dead are raised in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, never to perish again. Physical bodies become incorruptible; no sickness or affliction will ever befall them again. Cholera and cancer are consigned to the cosmic skip for all eternity. Operating theatres, doctors, ambulances and health secretaries become a thing of the past. Nobody cries, except with joy. Nobody grieves. The sterile smell of the A&E corridor is no more. The octogenarians who sit, walnut-faced, under blankets in wheelchairs in hospital reception areas are given a new life and a new youth that will never again be stolen by the long march of time. Every deaf ear is unblocked, every damaged limb is made whole, every blind eye sees. Autism and Down's syndrome and schizophrenia and Alzheimer's are wallowed up in victory. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).
Recognising those four types can help us with the questions we so often ask. Why doesn't God always heal? He does, eventually. Does God always heal us if we're certain that He will? Not necessarily. Why not? Because death hasn't been destroyed yet. Should we assume sicknesses are gifts from God? No – unless you're also prepared to stop taking medicine or visiting doctors. How can we see more healing? Pray, fast, believe, persevere. How should we pray? May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Ultimately, you see, God never says "no" to a request for healing. It's either "yes" - as it was for another two people in my church while I was writing this article, or it's "not yet" – as it has been, so far, for my children. One day, death will be swallowed up in victory. I can't wait.