Whether someone suffering from leprosy approached Jesus (Mt. 8:3), friends brought a paralyzed man to him (Lk. 5:17-25), a mother-in-law lay sick with a fever (Mk. 1:31), or so much more, Jesus’ response always brought healing. Jesus told his disciples, “If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (Jn 14:7). When we meditate upon Jesus’ miracles, it’s more than a fireworks display to awe us. Jesus’ healings reveal the Heart of our Heavenly Father. And, the Heart of the Father remains the same today. God the Father desires to heal us through His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit in our day. But, there can be heartache, questions, and concerns surrounding these truths Jesus reveals. Below, I hope to address some common points of resistance to actively seeking healing through prayer with others in the Church today:
- Why are some healed, but not others? I prayed for my suffering family member, and they were not healed? Isn’t it cruel to get people’s hopes up?
These are the most difficult questions, ones borne from grief, disappointment and heartache. No easy answers exist, but beginnings for answers does exist.
We live in a moment of salvation history that awaits the final return of Jesus. When heaven erupts upon the scene in fullness, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). In heaven, everything God wills, is. No one has cancer in heaven, no one rolls around in wheelchairs in heaven, no families suffer divorce or separation in heaven. God wants this for us. But, we know from our experience that this divine will does not yet cover the earth in perfection. However, Jesus does teach us a special prayer to say to our Father in heaven: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth, as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). This reveals that Jesus does want us to ask for that perfection of heaven to enter our hearts and bodies now. Will all be healed when we pray? One day, I hope this will be the case. But, we cannot sacrifice the gift of Jesus’ healing upon the altar of disappointment. If we fear hope, we will never live in trustful surrender. If we never open ourselves up with expectation by faith today, we will miss out on greater opportunities to see Jesus alive and working through us, in us, and with us. I do not downplay the hurt of unanswered prayers. But, I also know that Jesus’ ultimately healing happens in heaven. We live in an “already-but-not-yet” time when God’s power seemingly breaks unevenly through the fissures faith creates in our world’s darkness. So, we come to a compelling question: will we allow disappointment to have the final say or will we look to Jesus, even through our tears, and ask him to reveal his heart of healing to us today. He wants to enter the ache and bring healing, even there. I pray that we can stand before the empty tomb of Jesus’ resurrection in the Spirit and allow the promise that his resurrection entails to shape the desires of our hearts.
Does this fully answer the above questions? Certainly not. But, I pray it is a start. We need to place our fears and worries before the light of the Gospel, and let Jesus reveal the Father’s love for us in those places of hurt.
- God has more important things to worry about? My illness or suffering isn’t as bad as so-and-so’s. I don’t want to bother God.
A recurring theme for our study of healing will be this: Are our thoughts shaped by the Word of God, especially the Word made Flesh (Jesus Christ), or have they been fashioned from other sources? In which Gospel passage did Jesus turn to the man with the withered hand and say, “You should’ve seen the leper colony I just passed. Count yourself lucky and ‘suck it up, Buttercup’.” Thank goodness neither those words or any sentiment remotely touching on them every fell from Jesus’ lips. Rather, Jesus showed a desire to heal the blind, deaf, leperous, dead, crippled, and every disease or illness he encountered (Mt. 4:23). He never compared people to one another to shame them into continuing to suffering. He never caused anyone to feel guilty for asking for healing. He just liked to heal, apparently. And, because he only did what he saw God the Father doing (Jn. 5:19), we know that God our Father desires our healing, too. Instead of worrying about bothering God, Jesus told a parable saying that even if God were a sleeping friend in the middle of the night, we should wake him up and ask for help (Lk. 11:1-13). Again, Jesus simply likes to heal. Our prayers never bother the Trinity. We were created to be with Him forever. So, why would prayers in this life upset him? Letting Jesus reveal himself through the Gospels will heal this wounded image of God so many of us carry around in life. Instead of worrying about asking for, well, anything, we will boldly run to our loving Father for even the littlest needs and even our unimportant desires. Jesus can heal both you and the other person with the more intense suffering. God’s healing is unlimited. He does not need to be “careful” about who he heals. He just wants to heal by his love. That’s the kind of God we worship and follow.
- I’m not holy enough to pray for healing or receive healing. I’m not worthy.
Jesus’ only interviews before healing involved the question: “What do you want me to do for you” (Mk. 10:51)? Sit with that for a moment. Don’t skip over that revelation.
Jesus’ only question when confronted by a need was: How can I help? He didn’t take out a clipboard with paper and pen and start drilling the sick person: “Remember that time in third grade when you poured milk on your classmate’s head? And, what about that pride you’ve never tempered? And, hey, wait a minute! What makes you think you’re so special, anyway?” Obviously, this never happened in the Scriptures. This never happened, because Jesus’ heart wants to fulfill the will of the Father with the Holy Spirit to heal, free, and save (Lk. 4:17-20). Jesus healed the sinner and the saint. Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and pouring out of the Spirit makes us worthy. He loves you. And, how will we ever be worthy of the healing we need when it’s healing we would need to become worthy?
Healing does not mean anyone is more special or more holy. Rather, every healing reveals this truth: Jesus is worthy of all praise, thanks, and adoration. Period. Alleluia. It’s not about us. Healing is all about him and his love building up the Kingdom of God.
- What about the “offering up” my suffering? Isn’t it holier to offer up my suffering? Doesn’t Jesus ask us to join our suffering to his on the Cross? If he was willing to endure the Cross, how can I, sinner that I am, ever think I can do anything less or more than offering my suffering up for my sins and others’ sins?
While imprisoned for preaching the Gospel, St. Paul the Apostle wrote this to the Colossian community: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24). The sufferings Paul mentions relate to those he endured while fulfilling the mission to evangelize that Jesus gave him. We see this gospel-mission suffering flowing from Jesus’ own words. After commissioning the twelve Apostles to go and preach and heal, Jesus said this: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me…Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory” (Lk. 9:23, 26). Here we see Jesus not talking about illnesses, but, rather, the persecutions that will happen when we simply speak about Jesus publicly, and desire to bring others to faith in him.
Within the tradition of the Church, we see saints offering up their suffering for the salvation of souls. Indeed, it is a great witness to Jesus mission of healing, the ultimate healing Jesus seeks is the salvation of everyone. And, he gives everyone a place in the body to build up the Church by the Holy Spirit. However, we must know this: God never gives suffering or causes evil. He doesn’t want evil in the world. And, when it happened, the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to destroy evil and save His children from every evil (Jn. 3:16; Jn. 10:10). Things happen in the world God doesn’t want to happen: think about anything from a bank robbery to an untimely death. God does not like these. One is a sin, and one is a tragedy brought on by the imperfection of the world. Jesus Christ is the revelation of the Father’s heart that shows us God’s deepest desire is to bring healing of body and soul into the world, and to completion in heaven. Does this mean we shouldn’t “offer up” our sufferings? No. But, think about it this way: “Offer it up unto healing.”
When someone is keels over in agony during a party, we don’t applaud them for lying on the bed suffering in agony and tell them, “You’re doing great! Keep it up!” Never! Rather, we rush them to the hospital. If God wanted suffering, taking people to the hospital would be sinful; we would be going against God’s will by taking someone to the hospital if illness is His “gift.” But, we know the real story: God loves hospitals! Christians invented hospitals that took care of those the rest of society deemed unworthy of love and useless. Christians knew Jesus desired to heal and that healing glorified God; and, so, they sought healing through prayer and medicine. Within this framework, think about our body’s immune system. We, in our bodiliness, are images of the Trinity. Healthy bodies employ all sorts of means to prevent and fight illness and bring about healing. Our bodies, therefore, speak to God’s beautiful desire for our healing. Our white blood cells do not treat the evil bacteria we touch in the Chinese buffet line as “gifts” from God; rather, they strike with a vengeance! Way to go, God!
Can we learn deep lessons about life in the midst of suffering or after passing through a time of suffering? Yes, of course. But, can we also start believing lies about God and ourselves in suffering? Yes, we most definitely can. God combats suffering by drawing forth good, including healing. That is God giving a good gift in place of the evil of suffering, not Him giving suffering. We can’t short-circuit the mystery of evil by claiming every horrific event is His will “somehow.” Such claims make God out to be someone who wants to give suffering. If any parent treated their children the way that claim presents God’s “love,” they would be arrested for abuse. God is a good Father. Our thoughts and beliefs about Him need to be shaped by His ultimate Word spoken through the life and person of Jesus Christ. Will we suffer following Jesus in trying to be a virtuous disciples? Yes. Can we make good from the sufferings we endure? Yes. Can we even join them to Jesus’ life? Yes. But, this all reveals God’s desire to bring about good, especially through healing. This doesn’t limit healing, but propels us forward to pray for healing that glorifies our loving God who responds to evil with powerful love. Asking for Jesus’ help is more humble and holier than trying to “do it alone” and calling that “offering it up.” Asking for healing and relying on the means Jesus reveals as avenues for healing (prayer and proper medicine), reveal faith in him and glorify his goodness. Reliance on him is at the heart of discipleship. Healing reveals him as savior. And, we should never be ashamed of seeking the healing his heart desires for us.
There are so many more questions we could have dealt with in this post. My hope is that these replies offer a way forward. Healing does bring up a lot of questions and concerns; and, the same happened in Jesus’ life and ministry. In a truly heartbreaking story in Scripture, people thought Jesus’ ministry of healing and deliverance was evil (Mt. 9:34). I pray we will never be so callous towards Jesus’ merciful heart. Throughout Church history, healing ministry ebbed and flowed. But, one truth remained: Jesus wants to heal. And, all our concerns find their fullest answer through God’s Word revealed through his words and deeds (Jn. 14:6).
If you are willing to continue this journey into healing, join us next week for Part Two, “Theology of Healing 101,” in which we will delve more deeply into the meaning of healing in relation to Jesus’ life and ministry.