Faith and Healing

By: 

Joseph Tkach, Sr. & Bernard Schnippert

Many have asked, "If God has not bound himself to heal every sick Christian every time, then how can I have faith that he will heal me?" Others have wondered, over the centuries, why God would allow some to suffer so horribly from severe illness.

These questions deserve answers. And the answers to these and related questions revolve around the nature of faith and its relationship to healing.

The nature of faith

We should begin by reminding ourselves that sickness is a trial. It is a trial of our patience, of our endurance, of our understanding and perhaps even of our willpower. But more than all of these, sickness is a trial of our faith! Certainly anyone who has ever been seriously ill, or who has watched a sick friend or relative suffer, would agree.

But in spite of the general understanding that sickness is a trial of faith, the connection between faith and healing has been much misunderstood. One common belief is that if you "have faith" God will always heal you, and if you "don’t have faith" he will not. Therefore people conclude that if God does heal someone, that person must have had great faith. Some also conclude that if God does not heal a person, then that person didn’t have faith. Based on this reasoning, healing and nonhealing can become evidence of righteousness or sinfulness.

Those who believe that God will heal everyone who has faith and obeys him imply that those who are not healed are faithless and disobedient. But the Bible shows that everyone who has God’s Spirit has at least some faith. Faith is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). If a person has God’s Spirit, then he or she must be obeying God to some degree. Hence we cannot conclude that those Christians not healed are altogether faithless and disobedient.

It is also true that while all Christians share in faith and obedience, these attributes are possessed and exercised by Christians to differing extents or to different degrees. But even this does not necessarily mean that those who have faith and/or obedience in greater degree are always more likely to be healed than someone else. It may be in the best interest of even the most faithful to suffer with illness.

We have previously seen cases where God did not heal even faith-filled people like Elisha. We have also seen cases where God healed some with little or no faith. And it appears that God sometimes heals regardless of faith simply to extend his mercy to a suffering person. As we have seen from the previous chapters, God has not bound himself to heal every faithful and obedient Christian every time.

Neither does Matthew 9:29 ("According to your faith be it to you") prove that those with more faith are always more likely to be healed. The considerations just cited about God’s will are not contradicted by this verse, no matter how one reads it. The blind men received healing not in proportion to their faith, but rather as the goal of their faith. They had faith that Jesus could heal them, and he did. The Goodspeed translation says it this way: "Have what your faith expects."

The equation drawn by some that those who are healed always have greater faith than those who are not is false. The biblical facts, and common sense, tell us that faith and obedience are not the total explanation — rather, God’s will for the person takes precedence.

Another belief held by many people is that God will heal you if you believe he will. But this reasoning is often based on an assumed definition of faith — namely, that faith is the confidence that God will always heal you. But this is wrong! This is not the correct definition of faith! Faith is not the belief that God will heal you every time you are sick! And all who labor under this notion — as many do — will continue to be confused by the subject of faith and healing.

God decides what is best

Faith is utter trust in God. It is utter trust in God to do what God says he will do.

Here is a true definition of faith: Faith is utter trust in God. It is utter trust in God to do what God says he will do. He has promised to give salvation to those who turn to him in trust and love. He has promised not to let us suffer beyond what we can bear (1 Cor. 10:13). And he has promised he will be our protector and defender (Psalms 28:7; 115:9). We can trust God in faith for these and many other things. But he has not promised to heal everyone every time. So, faith cannot be the belief that God will heal you every time. That would mean faith in something false.

Even the question, "How can I have faith that God will heal me when he has not promised to heal everyone every time" shows the questioner doesn’t understand the connection between faith and healing.

The answer to the question is that you can have faith that "God will heal you if it is in your ultimate best interest." You can believe that we can utterly trust God to do what is best for us. You can also completely trust God not to let you suffer more than you can bear. And you can trust God to one day give you salvation and eternal life — but only after you have "suffered a while" (1 Pet. 5:10) and endured. Belief in these things — belief in these things that God has promised — is true faith!

A sick person can — indeed, should — pray and ask God for healing. He should implore God earnestly to intervene. And he should call the elders of the church for prayer according to James 5:14. God has commanded us to make our requests known to him by prayer and supplication (Phil. 4:6). And we should be persistent, as Christ instructed his disciples (Luke 11:5-13).

The reasons are that 1) it may often be God’s will to heal the person (although God expects us to implore him even then — many lessons are learned through persistent prayer in patience) and 2) God’s will is not always fixed or unchangeable, but sometimes subject to the prayers of the righteous.

Our prayers may at times affect or even alter God’s will within certain limits. But a sick person should not want his own will to override God’s better judgment. The sick person should pray for healing always subject to God’s ultimate will, as did Christ, who asked that his cup of suffering be removed (Matt. 26:36-45). Christ asked that the Father take the cup of suffering from him only if it were the Father’s will and if it were "possible." Obviously it was technically possible for God to remove Christ’s suffering. What Christ meant was that he wanted it removed only if it were possible to accomplish the same goal in some other way. The Father did not remove the suffering.

In like manner, although we implore God with tears, we must in the end defer to the Father’s will, letting God always use his best judgment whether to heal or not, and with the understanding that God has not failed us if we are not healed. Suffering is a necessary part of this human existence. In our suffering we often face ourselves and turn closer to God. We must remember that perpetual physical health is not the goal or purpose of life and it should not be more important to us than the real purpose of life — eternal life as God’s children in his family.

Total trust in God

When we understand faith, we see that faith in God for healing is bigger than mere faith that God will heal us every time. Faith in God for healing means that you believe God will heal you according to his will for you (which may or may not mean he will heal you this time). It is a more expansive and trusting faith than some realize. It is the faith to trust God even in an illness he doesn’t heal. True faith is willing to accept a "no" answer as well as a "yes" answer.

Further, if God healed every person every time, God would be in effect removing health problems from the list of trials that Christians suffer. This is something he has not promised nor chosen to do.

One of the most helpful illustrations about faith in the Bible is the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the fiery furnace (Daniel 3). In this story, King Nebuchadnezzar had built a huge golden statue and had commanded all his subjects to fall down and worship it. Three Jews — Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego — refused because they knew God did not allow idolatry.

In Daniel 3:16-18 they told the king: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case [that is, if it be God’s will], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not [if it is not his will to save us out of the furnace alive], let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods."

As we know, God delivered them alive from the fiery furnace. But notice: In their faith they told the king that they knew God would deliver them, but they understood the deliverance might be by death in the furnace! They had the faith to face death trusting in God.

So it is with faith and healing. One who trusts God — that is, one who has real faith — trusts that God will act in the sick person’s best interest, whether that be to heal immediately, heal later or not heal, even though death be the final result. He knows God will act in his best interest. His sentiments echo Job’s when Job said "Though He [God] slay me, yet will I trust Him" (Job 13:15). But the sick person does not — indeed, cannot — know whether God will heal this time. And the knowledge that God may or may not heal does not harm the person’s faith at all, for the uncertainty is the very reason the person needs faith!

Notice the example of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Here Paul records a trial in which he prayed for deliverance, which God refused. It is not clear here whether the trial included physical illness, but the point applies in any case. This section shows that Paul was willing to endure the trial unabated if God in his judgment deemed it in Paul’s best spiritual interests. Certainly, no one can accuse Paul of lack of faith! To the contrary, his willing and trusting attitude dominates the example. Yet, even in the face of all this faith, the answer to Paul’s prayer was, "No, it is not good for you that I deliver you." Paul, in faith, accepted God’s reply.

But why does God allow suffering?

But some will ask how God can be a loving and merciful God and still allow a Christian to suffer the sometimes excruciating torments of illness. This question is not a mere academic one. Anyone who has ever been very ill knows that the suffering of sickness can be one of the most extreme types of mental and physical suffering. And all who have ever watched a loved one waste away — perhaps over several or more agonizing years — have had to face this question.

The answer again touches on the matter of faith.

The Bible makes plain that God allows suffering in this life to build character (1 Pet. 1:7). All the righteous, including Abraham, Sarah, Moses, David and the apostles, all suffered to various degrees at one time or another. Hebrews 11 shows that this suffering included such things as extreme hardship and even torture! When we read these verses, and others like them, we sometimes shudder at the amount of suffering even righteous men and women have been allowed to bear.

But when we are personally confronted by severe suffering, especially if it involves children, it can seem that God requires too much of humans sometimes. It is at these times that we must realize two things:

God allows humans to live in opposition to his laws because he requires them to make their own choices.

First, much of the suffering that now confronts humanity is the result of people living for thousands of years in disobedience to God. God has allowed people to live in opposition to him because he requires humans to make their own choices, even when their choices oppose his way. If we were not allowed this free choice, we would all be robots! This is something none of us want, even though the freedom God has allowed us means he has given us the freedom to hurt ourselves.

Second, whether or not the sins of humanity have caused the suffering at hand, the suffering — as severe as it might be — is nevertheless temporary ("for a moment" — 2 Cor. 4:17) and "not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18). When we — or a loved one — feel pain, it can seem that it will last forever and that nothing can be worth enduring it. But God says that this is not so — that eternal life in his kingdom is so much better than the suffering, that it’s no comparison!

As hard as it is to trust God and endure trials and sufferings — even the trials of illness for ourselves or our loved ones — it is worth it! No other goal could be worth it, but this goal — the true goal and purpose of life — is worth it all.

But how do we know the reward and goal are worth the suffering? The answer is that God says it is worth it. We must take him at his word. That is, we must have faith that he knows what is best for us in the long run, even if that means illness and suffering for the moment.

Again, the key is faith! This is not a faith that can be faked or "worked up." It is a calm and peaceful trust in God that comes from his Spirit dwelling in us. Such faith comes from growing close to God through prayer and Bible study, and from waiting in patience for God to deliver us from trials as he wills it.

God works with us individually

When we see that God’s purpose in our lives may demand that we face many trials, even trials of illness, and when we see that even those with much faith aren’t necessarily instantly healed, another thing becomes clear as well: We see the futility of trying to determine why God has or has not healed this or that person.

Certainly, every sick person — and every person in any kind of trial — should carefully examine his or her faith with an eye toward growing in that faith. Indeed, this is a major purpose for most trials. But it is not profitable or even possible to try to determine why God has or has not healed another person. Such judging is not constructive and has no place in the spiritual Christian family. A Christian must accept God’s purpose in his life and in the lives of others. The potter (God) has power over the clay (us humans). That is the lesson of numerous scriptures (Rom. 9:14-23; Ex. 33:19).

Each Christian must live his or her own life, not someone else’s. Christians cannot judge what will happen in their lives by what happens to another Christian (2 Cor. 10:12). Each Christian has a different cross to bear. Some Christians may never be healed. Others may be ill and be immediately healed. Others may recuperate through a combination of divine healing and their own efforts. Some may be healed at one time in their life and not at another — as in the case of Paul. Some may die suddenly of a heart attack; others may languish with cancer. Some die young, others die in middle age, some in their 90s. Some who are unconverted have been healed, while some who are converted have not. One reason why God may do such a thing is that God may have a greater purpose in the life of the believer than he does in the life of an unbeliever. To fulfill his will for the believer, God may decide to leave a person unhealed a short or long time, even to death.

It is both inaccurate and offensive to say that a person who is not healed or who seeks medical aid must be a weak Christian. Anyone who says this misunderstands the nature of faith and its relationship to divine healing. Such a comment seeks to apologize for God in not healing a person while it blames and judges the faith of the sick individual.

No two Christians are the same. Everyone is dealt a different hand. That is why we are commanded not to judge our brothers and sisters. Each of us stands as an individual before God. And, before God, each of us must have the faith to trust God’s will in our lives.

But since faith in the face of illness means we must trust God to do what is best for us (even if that means he does not intervene supernaturally to heal us), then does this in turn mean we should not interfere with God’s dealing with us by seeking the aid of usual diets, medical doctors or other health professionals? After all, wouldn’t that mean that we were interfering with God’s will? Further, some think the Bible condemns the use of doctors and medicines. Does it?

These and other questions must now be addressed.

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