Toward a Better Theology of Healing, Pt. 1
Labels can be useful, but they can often be misleading. So telling you that I am a Charismatic may not be helpful—to you or to me!—because the term can denote views that I don’t hold. When we talk about healing, labels can sound more like accusations than theological dispositions. So, in talking about healing, I’ll try to describe points of view rather than labels or denominations.
Let me say up front that I believe in the work of the Holy Spirit through the Church today. In certain streams of the Charismatic movement, the view of healing is as follows:
Because (a) God is a good God and, (b) healing is always His will, and (c) healing has been paid for in the cross, therefore, (d) our faith or sin is the only remaining barrier to having healing here and now.
We have enough decades behind us now to sensibly say that such teaching is problematic at best. What are we to make of the multitude of Christians—including popular faith preachers and pastors—who have died from illness and disease? Should we suggest they didn’t have enough faith? And if that is our conclusion, how much faith is enough? Didn’t Jesus say faith the size of a mustard seed is enough? But how do you measure faith anyway?
To be fair, when this teaching arose, there was a broad view of God as a cold, indifferent Being who sometimes sent sickness and suffering according to “His good pleasure”. The Christian was left no choice but to quietly acquiesce, and to view their condition as their divinely appointed lot in life. Such a view has more to do with the fatalism present in Buddhism than the teachings of Christ. Passive acceptance of suffering as the will of the supreme Force of the universe is not what Jesus ever told a sick person.
I suspect it was a reaction to this view of God as a distant, unsympathetic Being assigning diseases to people in His sovereign will that led many to revolt. Where some may have tried to simply teach that God is good and that sickness and disease is not His wish for any of us, others took it a step further by claiming that we should never pray “God, heal me if it’s your will” for it is always God’s will to heal. Working themselves into a logical loop knot, such healing preachers have had little choice but to claim that if any person remained un-healed, it was no fault of God’s; there must have been some sin or a lack of faith that prevented them from receiving what was rightfully theirs.
I suggest a view of God and healing that the Church has held for centuries prior, one that presents God neither as a cold school master who refuses questions nor a sugar daddy who is good only as we understand the word. Let’s begin.
1. Sickness was not God’s original design. Adam and Eve’s bodies were not made to break down, grow weary and weak, or be susceptible to diseases and pain. Heck, they weren’t even supposed to sweat prior to the Fall. Adam and Eve were never made to grow old or bald or wrinkle or die.
2. Sickness is not God’s final outcome. There would be not point in saying that in heaven every tear would be wiped away if there would only be more tears to come. No, when God bring the restoration of all things, there will be no more sickness, disease, injustice, or suffering of any kind. Such is the picture that John’s revelation and the heavenly and apocalyptic visions from Isaiah, Daniel and others provide (Rev. 21:1-5).
3. Jesus entered into our suffering, took it upon Himself, and, in His death and resurrection, made the way for the restoration—full healing—of all things. Having set the original intent and the final outcome, we must ask how it is possible that will reverse the cures on the earth and humankind. How did God undo the suffering of humanity? In short, by entering it. By the incarnation, Jesus entered into our human suffering. He knows what it feels like to be abused, abandoned, beaten, bone-weary; He knows what it’s like to witness the death of a friend, or to watch a companion self-destruct in suicide. He knows what it’s like to ask the Father for a cup to pass and yet to surrender to the Father’s will above His own.
But because of His resurrection, He did more than enter it; He conquered it (Jn. 16:33). Jesus became the “firstborn from among the dead” (Col. 1: 18) so that now we have hope for the restoration of all things. As N.T. Wright, the preeminent New Testament scholar of our day, says, “God will do for the universe what He has done for Christ Jesus.”
When Isaiah wrote that the Messiah would suffer for our transgressions and that by His wounds we would be healed (Is. 53), we must see a wider picture than simply physical healing. Isaiah’s Messianic vision is of one who would end wars, bring healing to the division of God’s people, and, in short, right all that is wrong with the world. When Peter quotes Isaiah (1 Pet. 2:23-24), he is talking about right relationship with God, and then right relationships between one another. Right before quoting Isaiah, Peter describes the unjust suffering that slaves experience under the hand of the masters. He encourages their patience and forgiveness for Christ suffered unjustly too. Moreover, Christ’s suffering paid for our healing: of wounded relationships, of all injustice…and yes, of physical suffering too.
Thus far, it seems we have done little to offend. But, Part 2 is coming. 🙂 [HERE is PART 2]