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Praying for Miraculous Healing (Part 1)

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As Christians, we believe that God can perform miracles such as healing people, as the heart of the Christian faith is that God raised Jesus (who worked many miracles!) from the dead. Yet there seems to be various perspectives on what that means for us today. Some Christians think we should expect to see miracles happen as often as we read about in the Gospels and the Book of Acts. Others, however, point out that these occurred at special times and “clustered” in the time of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, and then during the life of Jesus and the early church. They would also note that, by definition, miracles are infrequent occurrences, so it would seem that they would not occur on a regular basis. 

Like most debates, there is danger found in the extremes of either position and wisdom in both perspectives that likely point to landing somewhere in the middle. Thus, in this post and following post, I hope to share some reflections from my study of the topic that hopefully offers a balanced perspective that leads to us trusting and glorifying God in all circumstances . In this post, I’ll focus on why miracles of healing do happen – but not always.

Why Miracles Happen

Since Christians believe that God created the world and thus the way it works, it only makes sense to believe that God can intervene and work through not only this, but also outside the normal processes of this world. In short, we believe in an all-powerful God who is not distant from the world, but still involved in the world. 

The basis for believing that God can bring miraculous healing is also rooted in the redemptive work of Jesus. The reason there is illness and suffering in this world is because of sin. It is important that we don’t move from that statement to a personal application that says all of the suffering we experience is because of our sin. There are examples of people in the Bible who suffered illness or ailments as a direct result of their sin (2 Kings 15:5; 1 Corinthians 11:30; potentially implied in John 5:14 and James 5:14-15). However, there are other times it is clear that suffering of illness  is not a result of sin (Job 1-2; John 9:3). There is a sense in which all illnesses are due to the work of the devil (Luke 13:16), as his rebellion that led to Adam and Eve sinning is the root cause of disease and death. Jesus came to destroy the work of the devil (1 John 3:8) which involves the defeat of death and sin. Thus, Jesus performed miracles of healing not just to be nice to people, but as a picture that God’s kingdom was coming in him and that he was undoing the effects of sin and defeating the forces of evil. His miracles show that the kingdom of God has come in his ministry (Mark 1:14-15). 

Therefore, Christians believe in miracles not only because all things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26; Luke 1:37), but because Jesus came to bring the kingdom of God to earth – and we live after the inauguration of his kingdom. 

Why Miracles Don’t Always Happen
The connection between the kingdom of God and miraculous healings is why we need to understand that not every disease will be healed on this side of heaven. Jesus came to bring the kingdom. It is here now in part, but its full arrival awaits in Christ’s return, at which point there will be no death or disease. In the meantime, diseases will remain, so we can’t presume that every illness and disease will be healed. To believe that every disease will be healed is to forget the future hope that awaits us!

The Bible recounts the healing miracles that Jesus and the apostles performed, but we have to remember that not every ill person in that time was healed; many could not gain access to Jesus or the apostles to ask for healing. God chose for some, but not all, to be healed. We don’t know if the “thorn in the flesh” the Apostle Paul labeled as a “messenger from Satan” in his discussion in 2 Corinthians 12 was a physical ailment, but it seems likely, and could be an example in which God chooses not to heal someone from their ailment. Why some are healed and others not is a mystery similar to the mystery of election, as God chooses to save some, but not all. When we recognize that no one deserved to be saved, we see this mystery not as injustice but rather as grace. In the same way, we can see the fact that some are healed as a grace gift and should celebrate and rejoice whenever we see or hear others experience that. 

Other Factors to Consider When Miracles Don’t Happen
While we need to remember that God does not promise all diseases will be healed before Christ’s return, there are some indications that there might be other factors that sometimes lead to a lack of healing. One factor could simply be a lack of asking. James 4:2 states that we have not because we ask not; a common theme in the healing accounts in the New Testament is that someone requests to be healed. If you don’t ask for a miracle, God is probably not going to act on it. 

Another factor could be a lack of faith, but I think what is meant by this could often be misunderstood. We read in the parallel accounts of Matthew 13:58 and Mark 6:5-6 that Jesus did not perform miracles in his hometown because of the people’s unbelief. This statement is not saying their faith was not strong enough, but that they did not have faith at all – they did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. Elsewhere, we see someone with weak faith and some doubts receive the miracle he requested (Mark 9:23-27; though this request involved the casting out of a demon that was bringing physical affliction rather than just a physical affliction as seen in other). Thus, it does not seem that “lack of faith” is having some doubts or a weak faith, but a lack of true trust in God. At the same time, we need to remember the call in James 1:6-8 to not be double-minded and to ask without doubting that God can do what we ask. However, the example of Mark 9 may point out that this does not mean one might not struggle. In fact, as we read later in James, that being double-minded may be more tied to seeking to both trust God and the world (James 4:4-10).

Perhaps an even more important reason for lack of healing that I think is often overlooked also comes from James 4, as James 4:3 says, “You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” These words indicate that a prayer request might not be granted because it is tied to the motivation behind it. In terms of healing, at times I wonder if the motivation for the request is truly for God’s kingdom to be made manifest to the world and His glory, or simply for one’s own comfort – and if God is not granting it because it is the latter rather than the former. As Craig Keener writes in Miracles Today,  “God doesn’t do miracles for our entertainment …. God usually performs dramatic signs either when people desperately need them or when he is getting people’s attention for the good news of Christ’s love in a special way.” These words are a good reminder that the purpose of miracles is to point to God and His glory. The miracles of Moses and Elijah/Elisha were to show that God was the only true God, stronger than Egypt’s gods (especially Pharoah) and the false gods that Israel was worshiping. The miracles of Jesus and the apostles showed that the kingdom had come in Jesus. 

It is also wise to remember that many people experienced, witnessed, or heard about these miracles and it did not lead them to believe in Jesus; miracles do not always evoke deeper faith or awe of God. While we may think that a miracle will lead to greater faith in us or others, at times it might be true that greater faith emerges in us when we don’t experience the healing. Thus, it might not only be our motivation for the request, but also what sort of impact the healing would have on us (and others) that is a factor in whether or not we see the healing occur.

Stay Tuned…
More could certainly be said on this topic (and I will in the next post), but I’ll end this post on that note as I think it is a helpful reminder about the big picture. While longing (and not being afraid of asking) for healing, we should trust and glorify God “in sickness and in health” by looking to His power and the promise found in Jesus and his already, but not yet fully here, kingdom. We know the day will come when all sickness will be gone and we pray for that aspect of the kingdom to come now as we trust in God in whatever lot we might be in as we wait.

Questions about the Bible or theology? Email them to Pastor Brian at Theology@WeAreFaith.org. You can also request to receive weekly emails with our blog posts by filling out the information on the right side.

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