Trials: What and Why Healing

Sickness, disease and injuries are among mankind’s greatest foes.
Here is God’s message of hope for the sick and injured.



Imagine yourself sitting, with your spouse, in the office of your doctor (a specialist in internal medicine) awaiting your appointment. You are tired and frustrated. After all, today is the day. It is the day you find out the results of the tests run on that strange — and painful — lump in your lower left abdomen. You are worried, and even worse, you don’t feel well and you haven’t for about two months.

“Probably,” you say to yourself, “I should have come here sooner.” The doctor certainly thought so. He wondered why you waited so long to get some help after discovering the lump. He even lectured you a little on the merits of early detection. “Why did you wait?” he inquired.

But your thoughts are broken now, interrupted by the cheerful (almost too cheerful, you think to yourself) voice of the nurse calling your name. “Mr. Smith, the doctor will see you now,” she sings.

“Finally!” you think to yourself. You are slightly relieved, but only for a moment, for you have entered the doctor’s room now and you see him staring at your chart. You try to read his face. Is it good news or bad news he sees, you wonder? You are not left wondering for long.

The doctor looks up. “Mr. Smith,” he begins. Your heart begins to pound. “I am afraid the news is not as good as we would hope. The lump in your abdomen is a small cancer and it must come out. But with immediate surgery your chances for complete recovery are strong, so don’t be too worried. I will schedule the surgery for a week from tomorrow. Okay?”

You are back in your car now, on the way home. You are tired and want to lie down a while — and think! But you can’t think straight. Your mind is so jumbled up with thoughts, and fears, and…and… questions!

The thoughts are normal, of course. Normal, that is, for someone who has just received such news. And your fears are normal, too. But your questions are special.

They are special because you are somewhat special. And you are special because you are a Christian. As a Christian you want every decision, every action, indeed every instant of your life to be in accord with God, and his Bible, and his church. You want to understand, in the way a Christian is supposed to, the trial that has befallen you. And you want your actions to reflect your faith.

So you ask special questions — questions like: “What is illness? What causes it? Why does God allow illness? What does the Bible say about it, and about supernatural healing? Does God heal? Will he heal me? When? How? And what about this operation and these medicines my doctor has prescribed? Does the Bible — and the church — say anything about these things?”

The purpose of this series of articles is to answer these questions. It is to give the plain and simple truth about divine healing, and about the many other related subjects and issues that accompany divine healing. This takes substantial space to fulfill, for the subject is not a brief one.

The core and foundation of this subject is simple and easy to state. It is this: The living God is a God of love, mercy and kindness, who, in the person of his Son, gave his own life so you might have eternal life. Nothing — not height, nor depth, nor any other creature — and no, not even a serious illness — can keep you from that life. God is our healer. He can heal. He has healed. He will heal.

That is the resounding message of the entire Bible. Let’s look at the Bible and answer those questions.

Chapter One


Just what is illness? And why does God allow it?

Have you ever asked yourself these questions? Probably you have, even if you have never had a serious or life-threatening illness. And almost certainly you have if you have been dangerously sick, or nursed a sick relative.

Let’s look at the answers to those questions, because people cannot understand how and why God heals until they understand what illness is and why God allows it in the first place.

Why God allows illness

It is a fact of life that most people will be ill at least once in their lives. Our experience proves this. So does the Bible. Jacob was blind at the last of his life (Gen. 48:10). Elisha died of sickness (2 Kings 13:14). David was sick (Ps. 41:4-9), and so was Job (Job 2:1-8). The same is true of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:1-7), Timothy (1 Tim. 5:23) and others (Phil. 2:25-27; 2 Tim. 4:20). Thus, the sobering truth is that the number who live a perfectly healthy life without a single cold or flu and then die, say, at age 103 while asleep is very small.

But why? Could not God have designed the human body to remain healthy up till the last moment and then just quit without pain or warning? Certainly, he could have — but he didn’t!

He didn’t for a number of reasons. No doubt one reason is so we will see our mortality and be alarmed by it into spiritual action. For example, David was dismayed by the frailty of human life and was moved to seek God (Ps. 103:13-22). Solomon also saw life’s tenuous balance and therefore counseled the wise to seek God and eternal life (Eccl. 12:1).

But perhaps the main reason God has made us subject to sickness is the reason he allows any trial. He has given us free will, to choose good or to choose evil — and when we or people around us choose evil, we may suffer some unpleasant consequences. The weaknesses we see in our bodies, and the weaknesses we see in all nature, are a result of sin. It will eventually be corrected by Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:20-21), but for now we suffer.

God values something more than perfect bodies. He values faith!

Although suffering is not what God wants for us, he is able to use it for our benefit. We may grow stronger in faith as we struggle against the frailty of the flesh (Rom. 8:18-23). God values something more than perfect bodies. He values faith!

What is illness and what causes it?

Illness is what it appears to be — a malfunction of one’s body and/or mind. It occurs when something, known to us or not, set into motion by some event, caused by us or not, interferes with the healthy functioning of our bodies.

This interruption of physical, emotional or mental balance, this illness, can be caused by different factors. At times it may be the result of ignoring one or more of the principles of good health. This is only common sense. At other times it may result from a sin. Venereal disease caused by promiscuity and liver damage caused by alcohol abuse are examples of illnesses resulting from sin.

Notice, however, that when sin causes illness, it often opens the door for illness from a physical cause. Sometimes there may also be nonphysical consequences in cases of mental illness or emotional illness.

Sin not only has spiritual penalties, but in the here and now it opens the doors to illnesses and suffering. Illness is not caused directly by sin or by spiritual things in the same way that a virus causes illness. Sin is not a virus or a germ. Physical illness is an indirect, although perhaps inevitable, result of the sin.

At other times, the illness or infirmity may be inherited (John 9:1-3) or the result of unintentional injury or accident (Luke 13:1-5). It is often not possible to tell exactly what caused some particular illness, whether sin or not. Nonetheless, the body is obviously subject to physical, mental and emotional malfunction. God does not hope our bodies will break down; he in fact desires the opposite. But he knows they can, and he has allowed for the probability that they will break down. He has subjected us to this reality in the hope that we will respond by trusting him.

God has made us subject to illnesses so that through sickness, should it occur, we might grow in faith (which, whether we like it or not, may come through suffering). Illness is a matter of cause and effect (although in a specific case the cause may be unknown to us).

“Physical sin” and “spiritual sin”?

Many illnesses (not all illnesses) result when various principles of good health are ignored or “broken” (or rather, contravened). But here we must ask an important question: Because sickness often results when one contravenes a God-made health principle or “law,” and because sin is the transgression of God’s law, does that mean that it is sin to break a law of health? This is not a mere academic question; the answer dramatically affects our understanding of healing.

One view concludes it is sin to break any health law. The term physical sin has been coined to differentiate such “sin” from sin against God’s spiritual law, which has been called spiritual sin. The concepts of “physical sin” and “spiritual sin” lead to various further conclusions. One is that illness is the penalty for “physical sin.” Hence healing must be the forgiveness of sin, which can come only through Christ’s sacrifice.

Dividing sin into two parts — physical and spiritual — affects the way we look at Christ’s sacrifice. Since Christ’s sacrifice paid for sin, if sin has two divisions (physical and spiritual), then his sacrifice must itself be divided into two parts. Some therefore draw the conclusion that Christ’s physical beating paid for our “physical sins” and Christ’s shed blood paid for our “spiritual sins.”

This breaking of sin into “physical sin” and “spiritual sin” (and the consequent dividing of Christ’s sacrifice into physical and spiritual components) is an explanation that plays on a Christian’s tendency to find parallels and analogies between the physical and spiritual worlds. However, the Bible does not support viewing sin and Christ’s sacrifice in such a dual and divided manner.

How some misunderstand

Mark 2:1-12 may at first sight appear to equate illness with physical sin, and healing with the forgiveness of such “sin.” It may look as if Christ were telling the Pharisees that to say “Your sins are forgiven” is the exact same thing as saying “You are healed.” If this were the meaning, then Christ may be equating sickness with (physical) sin. Matthew 9:1-8 and Luke 5:18-26 are parallel accounts.

Another passage, Isaiah 53:4-6, may also appear to refer to our being “healed” by Christ’s “stripes” as if the broken body of Christ and divine healing are to be distinguished from the death of Christ and the forgiveness of sin (or the transgression of spiritual law).

If we read Isaiah 53 this way, Christ’s sacrifice of body and blood (symbolized by the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper) also seems to become separated into two parts: the bread to symbolize Christ’s body and the forgiveness of “physical sin,” and the wine to symbolize his blood and the forgiveness of “spiritual sin.” Other verses, such as 1 Peter 2:21-25 (which quotes Isaiah 53:5-6) and 1 Corinthians 11:29-30 are sometimes used to support this view.

With this concept already in mind, Matthew 8:17 can then be seen to state that Christ’s healings are evidence of forgiveness of “physical sin” through his stripes when it states he took upon himself our “infirmities” and our “sicknesses.”

The terms “physical sin” and “spiritual sin” are nowhere mentioned in the Bible. 

But the terms “physical sin” and “spiritual sin” are nowhere mentioned in the Bible. Further, the Bible nowhere breaks Christ’s sacrifice into two parts — a physical and a spiritual. It does the opposite. It speaks of his sacrifice as a unified whole (1 Cor. 10:16-17; John 6:56). Everything (even the physical creation) was reconciled through Jesus’ blood (Col. 1:19-20).

The concepts of “physical sin” and “spiritual sin” are based on the false idea that sin can be divided into the two neatly separate planes of physical and spiritual.

Let’s realize, however, that sin affects us on both the physical and spiritual planes. For example, it is certainly a spiritual matter to commit adultery, but no one would deny it is a highly physical act and often brings serious physical and psychological consequences. Likewise, drunkenness is a physical act. But it is also a sin that, unless repented of, earns the wages of sin — namely, eternal death. When we reflect further, we see that sin has physical, mental, emotional and spiritual components.

Sin defined

Sin is explained in 1 John 3:4 as “the transgression of the law” (King James Version) or “lawlessness” (many modern versions). The law is indeed spiritual (Rom. 7:14). It is spiritual because it governs in some way our relationship with God, not because it has no effect on the physical world. A spiritual law is any law the transgression of which earns the second, or eternal, death. Sin may involve transgressing a law regarding a physical matter.

However, it is not always sin to contravene laws regulating the physical plane. It is a sin to do those acts only when God forbids it in his Word. It is a matter of revelation — of God telling us what is sin.

Many physical acts are unwise, but that does not make them sinful. (Of course, if those principles are violated through lust [God instructs us to be moderate, not overindulging in any area of life], or through willful disregard for one’s body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, or through vanity,then it would be sin). To lose sleep may harm one’s health, and to do so often may be unwise, but even Jesus sometimes stayed up all night to pray (Luke 6:12).

The Bible is our standard for what God forbids, and thus for what sin is. It does not talk about “physical” sin.

The terms spiritual sin and physical sin lead to confusion. To be accurate, we should use the word sin by itself, without the modifiers physical orspiritual. And we should understand the word sin to mean disobedience to God’s biblically stated standard (his spiritual law), whether that standard regards physical or spiritual matters.

And when we understand this, verses that once seemed to support the concept of “physical sin” become clear in their true meaning.

Jesus came “healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people” (Matt. 4:23).

Verses made clear

Jesus came “healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people” (Matt. 4:23, New King James Version used unless noted). Healing was a fundamental part of Jesus’ ministry. It was one of the main ways in which the Father demonstrated that Jesus was the Messiah. “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves [the miracles, primarily healings]” (John 14:11). The many powerful supernatural miracles of healing gave witness that Jesus was backed by the power of God and was Master of all the creation and the laws governing it. As the Roman centurion pointed out, Jesus had authority over all things and only had to speak the word and his will would be done (Matt. 8:5-10).

But Jesus also healed as a powerful demonstration of his power to forgive sin. Jesus’ primary purpose in coming to earth as a human being was to pave the way for human salvation through forgiveness of sin. Mark 2:1-12 records a clear illustration of that purpose of Jesus’ healings. Four friends of a man stricken with palsy uncovered the roof of the house in which Jesus was preaching, and they lowered the man and his bed for Jesus to heal him.

As verse 5 shows, instead of healing the man, Jesus said to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus was demonstrating what is most important —even more important than physical healing — and what his primary purpose on earth was. He knew the man was there to be healed. But instead, in front of all present, including the scribes, he proclaimed what only the true Son of God — the Messiah himself — was able to authoritatively proclaim! “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Immediately the scribes began to accuse him of blasphemy. They knew that only God has the authority to forgive sin. Jesus perceived what they were discussing and posed the question to them: “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, `Arise, take up your bed and walk’?” (verse 9). (Remember, at this point the man was not yet healed.)

Jesus was showing them that he had the power and the authority to do both, and as he shows in verses 10-11, he performed the healing as a witness to them that he was the Son of God, the One who had the power to forgive sin. “But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” — He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go your way to your house'” (verses 10-11). Then the man arose and took up his bed.

Why did Jesus heal him? To show that he had the power to forgive spiritual sin.

Jesus also performed three resurrections, demonstrating his power over not only physical sickness, but over death itself! In this way he confirmed the ultimate resurrection of the dead and transformation of the living to spirit life at his return.

Jesus was deeply compassionate, empathizing with the suffering of humanity. He “was moved with compassion” toward the multitudes and healed their sick (Matt. 14:14). The healing that the Father did through Jesus (John 14:10) demonstrated his and Christ’s immeasurable love for humanity and pointed to the ultimate spiritual healing that would eliminate human suffering and misery forever.

Matthew 8:16-17 is also clear. Matthew is saying that Isaiah foretold Christ would heal the sick, and that he did so according to the prophecy about him. Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy about taking our infirmities and bearing our sicknesses by personally using his power to heal all who were sick, as proof of the cleansing power of his forthcoming sacrifice to forgive all sin, along with all its suffering and spiritual death!

Let’s read again what Matthew said in chapter 8:16-17: “When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.'” In other words, Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy by healing all who were sick, as an undeniable witness of his total spiritual sacrifice that was to come.

Now turn to Isaiah 53:4-6 (verse 4 was cited by Matthew, above). Verse 5 says “by His stripes we are healed.” But the healing spoken of here isspiritual and refers to our reconciliation to God! “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way” (verse 6). Clearly the metaphor of our being like sheep gone astray refers to the healing of our spiritual condition.

Isaiah’s intent is to poetically highlight the comprehensive sweep of Christ’s great sacrifice, not to divide it into parts!

Of course Matthew 8:16-17 (explained above) says that this section of Scripture predicts that Christ would heal the sick. But it makes no statement about “physical sin.” And the actual verse cited by Matthew is verse 4, not verses 5 or 6, and verse 4 does not mention Christ’s beating.

Further, as shown, the context in Isaiah makes clear that Christ’s sacrifice is so broad as to include reconciliation to God for all of humanity’s griefs and sorrows, including our physical ones. And certainly sin is the cause of the misery and suffering of mankind, much of which is in the form of disease and sickness. Sin produces every kind of suffering, sorrow, hurt, pain and anguish imaginable.

With Isaiah 53 thus understood, 1 Peter 2:24-25 virtually explains itself, for it is merely a citation of Isaiah. In fact, 1 Peter 2:25 is as plain as Isaiah, if not more so. The language here shows that the context is spiritual healing, of sheep gone astray.

Now let’s consider what 1 Corinthians 11:29-30 means when it says that many were sick or had died because they failed to discern the Lord’s body. Paul was correcting the Corinthians, explaining that they were missing the point of the Lord’s Supper. Their conduct showed Paul that they did not grasp the full implications of the Lord’s Supper in the Christian life — they lacked understanding of why Christ had to die, as well as forwhom he died.

They were divided (v. 18). They were despising the church of God by shaming those who were poor (v. 22). The actions and attitudes some of them had toward others demonstrated that they did not understand the connection between Jesus’ sacrifice and the church they were part of (v. 29).

In the previous chapter, Paul had reminded them that the bread and wine symbolize the body and blood of Christ that make possible the unity and oneness of the members of the Body of Christ — the church (1 Cor. 10:16-17).

Chapter 12 further illustrates the oneness to which God has called his people: “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free — and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many” (verses 12-14).

In verse 21 Paul admonishes, “And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.'” Yet this is an attitude that was being exhibited among some of the Corinthian believers.

Verses 25-27 of chapter 12 are paramount: “That there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.”

The indication is that the Corinthians were guilty of neglecting the needs of fellow members of the Body of Christ. As a result of such neglect of the Body of Christ, God had withdrawn his blessing of healing from them to help them come to repentance (1 Cor. 11:30-32).

Blind alleys of reasoning

The “physical sin” concept leads people to reason down a series of blind and spiritually incongruous alleys. Let us suppose you have a serious illness. Suppose you have also been anointed for healing according to the scripture (Jas. 5:14), but that you have not been healed, even after a long wait.

What happens? First, you may assume that because God always forgives sin that is repented of, and because healing (you think) is the forgiveness solely of “physical sin,” you must be forgiven and therefore ought to be healed. After all, hasn’t God promised to always forgive?

But suppose you are not healed. You begin to wonder why. Such wondering often leads to doubts — doubts about your faith, doubts about your righteousness, doubts about your understanding. You feel like a sinner. Not just a normal sinner, but a very bad and unforgiven one. After all, isn’t sickness the result of sin? Isn’t your sickness the evidence of an unforgiven sin?

Further, you may wonder whether you are somehow rejecting Christ’s sacrifice, even unconsciously. For if you have fully accepted Christ’s sacrifice, surely you would be healed, even as we are forgiven spiritually when we accept Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. But you are not healed, so, you may reason, you must be repudiating Christ. You may be tempted to get medical care, but this worries you, too. After all, you reason, if I go to a doctor I am telling Christ I don’t trust in his sacrifice for sin. In fact, you worry, getting medical help may actually be a sin itself. You are not sure. This is a blind and erroneous alley, produced by a wrong concept at the beginning.

Of course, everyone knows the body naturally will heal itself of many diseases if one’s diet and mental and emotional state are good, so you (quite logically, in fact) set out to help yourself with diet. This leads to a vigilant search for not just foods, but any and all means that might be considered natural as opposed to medicinal.

You begin to draw lines between what is “natural” and what is “unnatural” medicine. To use any medicine seems to repudiate Christ’s sacrifice for sin and therefore be unrighteous, and to use any nonmedicine seems to be natural and therefore righteous.

And you may worry what other people think. They may also believe in “physical sin.” And they may begin to wonder about your spiritual condition. If you are not healed, they may begin to think that this poor, suffering person (you) must be a pretty big sinner, or that he or she must lack faith, or somehow be rejecting Christ. If they see you go to a doctor and take medicine, you fear they may judge you for lack of faith!

Other misconceptions may also arise. If you are healed, you may erroneously conclude it was from your righteousness. This may lead to a self-righteous attitude toward others who are not healed. You may begin to think of your healing as a spiritual badge of superiority.

Sickness is a physical, mental or emotional malfunction caused by some natural circumstance.

The “physical sin” concept leads to worry, depression, self-righteousness, judging, confusion, guilt and inordinate fear of doctors. Its fruit is not good because it is not true.

The truth is that God made our bodies vulnerable to illness. He did so in the hope that we may grow in faith through suffering, including sickness, and patience.

Sickness is a physical, mental or emotional malfunction caused by some natural circumstance. Sometimes it is set in motion by (spiritual) sin, sometimes by breaking a principle of health, sometimes it is inherited or caused by injury and sometimes, but not always, it is within our knowledge and/or control. But breaking a health law (unless done through lust or reckless disregard for the care of one’s body) is not of itself sin.

Once we understand what sickness is, we ask: What, then, is divine healing? And when, how and why does it occur?

Author: Joseph W. Tkach & Bernard W. Schnippert

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