When Bev was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March, 2014, it broke our hearts. I researched every bit of information I could find and quickly realized that the prognosis was not good. Because of the advanced state of her cancer, I knew she would die unless there was a miracle of healing. We prayed earnestly for that, while engaging in the best medical practices available to us. She did recover her health for a time, but a year after her original diagnosis and treatment, the cancer recurred. Her life on this earth ended 8 months later. That experience made the debates about divine healing more than theory to me.
How do faith and prayer work together?
Why are some healed and some apparently do not recover?
My understanding of the Scripture and other experiences convinces me that part of the work that Jesus did for us in His incarnation, death, and resurrection involves healing. Christians believe that He died to restore us to our Father, to provide a final sacrifice for sins, once for all people and all time. That sacrifice is complete on our behalf, received by faith, and we have the assurance of eternal life because of Him. I also believe that He made healing possible through His atoning work.
Both Peter and James were inspired to tell us that healing is both for our spirit and our body. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:23-24, NIV) “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.” (James 5:14-15, NIV)
I have been healed by the Lord numerous times in my life and have witnessed indisputable miraculous healing in others. But, there are also many occasions on which prayers for healing have gone unanswered, if one understands an answer as being only the recovery of physical health, which I do not believe. Parallel to the promise of healing the Bible includes many passages about suffering, about trusting God in sickness, and allowing Him to do His work in our weakness.
We have much too limited view, in my opinion, of the healing work of the Church. We should not just pray for symptoms, we should always seek wholeness, leading others to live in ways that honor God with the body. God can heal people as we pray over them, following James’ instructions to anoint with oil. Our Lord will lead us to create 12 step groups to help people recover sobriety, to encourage godly discipline about diet and exercise so that chronic health issues do not develop. Christians will be encouraged to avoid addictions – a source of many illnesses.
The Church brings healing by teaching discipleship, helping people to avoid debilitating stress by developing comprehensive faith that builds strong loving families where emotional health is nurtured. As we lead people to forgiveness through Christ, finding that He loves them and thus frees them to radically love others, there is a kind of healing available to them that is truly miraculous!
Yes, I believe that Jesus’ work of salvation and healing should cause us to work at creating a culture for health and wholeness to be nurtured and fostered by positive, Christ-honoring choices about food, money, relationships; all of life! Healing is more than crisis intervention by a team of elders when sickness arises. Healing is at the very heart of God. “I am the Lord, who heals you” (Ex. 15:26). The healing theme is woven throughout the story of the Bible. I believe in the healing, restoration, reconciliation, and transformation of God’s people in spirit, soul (mind, will, emotion), and body through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The question remains about the timing and completion of healing. Bev died. Does this mean she was not healed? In one sense, the honest answer must be yes. Her life ended prematurely (by human estimation) because of disease. There is no way to avoid the fact. A monument in a cemetery is mute testimony to that. And yet … she did know a healing that is larger than this temporal life. She knew her Savior, trusted in His grace, and entered into eternal life. It is a glorious healing, though not the one I would have preferred.
I have many friends who are Christians of solid faith, who continue to wrestle with implications of chronic illness, with bodies that are imperfectly made, who suffer. Is their sickness indicative of a lack of faith in God? Not at all and anyone who says that is misreading the whole of the Bible. Our experience of the Kingdom of God is incomplete this side of Heaven and until Christ returns for the Second Time. So, until then, I will pray actively for healing – body and spirit; I will trust when I cannot understand. I will follow Him radically, and by His grace – healing will come, now or in Heaven.
Receive the word from the Word with faith and obedience. “Are you hurting? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven—healed inside and out. Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.” (James 5:13-16, The Message)