One of the big questions centred around the discussion on healing is whether or not healing is based in the atonement. Those who affirm that the atonement provides for our healing will usually refer to three passages of Scripture:
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed. (Isa 53:4-5)
14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” (Matt 8:14-17)
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Pet 2:24)
There are really two questions to answer here:
- Is Christ’s suffering on the cross the provision for physical healing, spiritual healing, or both?
- Is it the cross, and the cross alone, that provides this healing?
In regards to the first question, the Isaiah context looks as if it speaks of ‘spiritual’ healing, i.e., we read about transgressions and iniquities (vs5). It might also be argued that the passage in 1 Peter is probably more in reference to ‘spiritual’ healing, since it speaks of Christ bearing our sins in his body on the tree (cross).
Yet, when we turn to Matthew’s passage, which actually quotes Isaiah 53:4, we see that Matthew uses these words in reference to physical healing. But, interesting to consider is that Matthew quotes these words in regards to Jesus’ earthly ministry rather than in reference to the atonement. Still, before we conclude anything, let’s move on to the second question.
In regards to the second question proposed, Isaiah’s context seems to be referring to Christ’s suffering for us, in the sense of His suffering on the cross – ‘with his stripes we are healed’ (vs5). Peter is definitely referring to the cross as well.
But, when we turn to Matthew’s words, he quotes the words of Isaiah before the cross-event ever took place. Also, when we read the pages of the Old Testament, as well as the Gospels, there are no doubt many healings that take place prior to Christ’s atoning death on the cross.
Therefore, I believe a balanced conclusion would be this: The cross is not the sole provision of God’s healing. As mentioned, God had been healing people well before the cross. But, what I would suggest is that the cross-event (along with Christ’s resurrection, ascension and seating next to the Father) stands as the great and foundational redemptive act of God on behalf of humanity and the cosmos. Not only that, but, as the great provision of God’s redemption, the purpose of the cross-event was to make available in Christ the fullness of salvation. Though more dualistic thinking tends to separate the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘physical’, this is not truly grounded in biblical theology. So we must note that salvation is not solely about having our sins forgiven and going to heaven. God’s redemptive salvation is for the whole self, including the body.
Thus, I believe that this holistic salvation provided for and centred in the cross-event would definitely include not only our ‘spiritual’ healing and forgiveness, but also our physical healing. And, just as with our spiritual healing, it is in this age that we are able to receive tastes of physical healing. But it is in the age to come that we shall receive the full benefits of our salvation, both spiritual and physical.
The subject of healing is something that I have praying and studying on lately. I have issues with the ‘health and wealth’ gospel as well as the ‘faith healers’ like Benny Hinn, but I am trying not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
What do you make of James 5:15 where James apparently writes about healing being tied into forgiveness? This verse also seems to tie faith into healing. And what about verse 16? Is James saying that unconfessed sin will prevent healing? How do you extricate ‘works’ from healing in these verses. Isn’t healing a means of Grace, and if so why do works (faith, confession, fervent prayer) seem to be a prerequisite here?
I, too, am not a great fan of the more ‘health and wealth’ gospel, if it really is the gospel of the kingdom at all.
I think forgiveness and healing can be tied together. There are people who are sick and with infirmity because of deep-rooted sin. In Matt 9:1-8, one might argue that the paralytic was paralysed because of sin, for Jesus said , For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? (v5). Is it possible that Jesus was both healing and forgiving here? But the reason he spoke the healing is that is much easier to see than forgiving sin. And Jesus was making known who he was. So he chose the path of speaking forth healing, but that healing was connected to forgiveness of sin as well. And we see another example with the invalid at the pool of Bethesda in John 5:14 – Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well!(I) Sin no more,(J) that nothing worse may happen to you.”
Now, sickness is not always inherently connected to specific sin. But living in a fallen, sin-filled world, I do believe sickness is a result of such. But we cannot look at every sick person and say, ‘You must have done something specifically wrong and God is punishing you.’ That is dangerous. Yet, I do believe that 1) sickness is a result of a sin-filled, fallen world of which we are part and participate in personally and 2) sometimes sickness can be a specific result of specific sin in our lives. But we have to be wise and careful in claiming the second point for anyone. We need wisdom in general, as well as discerning of spirits and words of knowledge by God’s Spirit to help us understand situations. There is no formula, which challenges some ‘health and wealth’ teaching.
I believe healing does come through faith in the powerful activity of our God. That is very obvious in Scripture. Now, God can heal without faith, or even by the faith of others (I’m thinking possibly the paralytic and their faith that stirred the heart of Jesus for healing – Matt 9:2). But God activates healing through faith. I’d say that is normal. And I think this faith is not just ‘general’ faith in Christ, but the specific gift of faith mentioned in 1 Cor 12. This is a faith that activates healings and miracles.
Finally, I would say that, just because someone is not healed, this does not necessarily mean they did not have faith, in the negative sense of lacking faith. We have to allow for the wisdom and sovereignty of our all-good and all-knowing God. We know the condemning effects that this has had on plenty of people because they weren’t healed. It is possible that we don’t see God’s miraculous activity because of a lack of faith. Jesus did challenge the disciples with this with the storm (Matt 8:23-27). So it is probable that we lack faith at times. I believe I have been in the place at times before. I find myself crying with the centurion – I believe, but help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).
Healing is a means of God’s grace, no doubt. Only by God’s grace do we see such healing activity, or really any activity. But I think we have possibly misunderstood the word ‘works’ and how this all relates to our Father. What makes faith, confession and fervent prayer a ‘work’? Do these not also flow out of grace? Are we not in relationship with our Father with whom we trust, look to, confess our sin, and petition? I don’t think we have to be scared of our responsibility towards our good and gracious Father. It is all centred in grace, no doubt. These are our loving responses to our gracious Father.
Now, there will be times when our faith fails, we withhold confession of sin, and we do not engage in fervent prayer. And it is possible we will receive discipline from our Father, for what father does not discipline his children? (Heb 12:7) But grace is still ever-present and real, and I would say even in discipline as we learn.
I give a personal story: God made very real to me Ps 23:2 a few years back – He makes me lie down in green pastures. I woke up one morning with a bad back and it ended up being so bad that I had to go to the hospital due to a muscle being so knotted up and I could not move at all without writhing pain. God spoke to me that He made me lie down in green pastures through this pain and infirmity. It might challenge our views of God, but I really learned a lot in that time of pain. God used it, and I am ok to even recognise He brought it about sovereignly to teach me something.
Ok, that should be enough for now. I hope those were some helpful thoughts.
“What makes faith, confession and fervent prayer a ‘work’? Do these not also flow out of grace?”
That is a good way of putting it and was kind of what I have been thinking as well. I pray the “I believe, help my unbelief” prayer quite a bit. If saving faith is through grace, why then should we consider the faith of healing as different?
I am beginning to consider whether or not ‘faith healing’ as well as charismatic gifts may not fall into that category of “you do not have because you do not ask”. If you are programmed by the doctrines of a particular church not to believe in healing, or at least to consider that it is very unlikely (God doesn’t spontaneously heal anymore), then why would you believe in or ask for healing? I think that attitude can affect many other areas as well, not the least being charismatica.
Having spent the last decade in a denomination (the United Methodist) that downplays healing, but having many charismatic friends who attend other non-Methodist churches that will pray for healing at the drop of a hat (and pray fervently!), I regularly witness a very large difference in attitudes toward healing.
Thank you for your response. It was very helpful.
I am beginning to consider whether or not ‘faith healing’ as well as charismatic gifts may not fall into that category of “you do not have because you do not ask”. If you are programmed by the doctrines of a particular church not to believe in healing, or at least to consider that it is very unlikely (God doesn’t spontaneously heal anymore), then why would you believe in or ask for healing? I think that attitude can affect many other areas as well, not the least being charismata.
This is true. And not only denominational background, but also societal norms of the west. I don’t want to get down on living in the west, for this is where God has placed us (Acts 17:26-27). But our society, even Christians, can easily look elsewhere than in the specific provision of God. Let us be challenged to pursue Him and earnestly desire His gifts.
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