Anyone who has ever read the Bible could hardly deny that God is presented as a healer. And if you have even glanced at the gospels, you could hardly deny that Jesus healed people, many people. Turn over a few pages to Acts and the story is similar. Healings, exorcisms, the dead being raised, extraordinary miracles – they are all there.
And throughout the world today we have similar stories of God’s healing power at work.
But the nagging question for many is why, given that God is able and willing to heal, are so many unhealed?
I realise that any attempt to tackle this question is like walking into a theological and pastoral minefield. Upsetting just about everyone who reads the article is a real possibility. People get upset if they think the stress on faith and God’s willingness to always heal is not strong enough. People can get upset if you suggest that there are reasons why some are not healed other than the theological reason that God has not chosen to heal because He is sovereign.
You might be thinking “Why bother?”
And the answer is that what we believe about healing ultimately affects people and affects the way we see God. The intent of this post is to help us find a way to enable people to receive healing that is faithful to God’s word and treats people with respect. Unfortunately, many have sought healing only to find themselves on the receiving end of condemnation and criticism for a perceived lack of faith or been told that they must have unconfessed sin in their lives.
Below I set out what I have called “seven roadblocks to healing”. You might be able to add to the list. Or you might disagree with what is on the list.
Let me say by way of qualification that this isn’t a checklist to use when praying for the sick! It is simply an attempt to provide some perspective on a sometimes complicated subject. And hopefully that perspective will build faith and release compassion.
So what are the roadblocks?
Sometimes healing hasn’t happened yet. Paul explained to Timothy about Trophimus’ illness:
“Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus ill in Miletus.” 2 Timothy 4.20
Epaphroditus was ill and almost died. But, says Paul, God had mercy on him (Philippians 2.25-27)
Sometimes healing doesn’t take place immediately. But because it has not happened yet, doesn’t mean it is not going to happen. Sometimes we give up too easily.
It is unfair to people to say that because they are sick must mean that they have unconfessed sin in their lives. That kind of pronouncement is so damaging. Especially when the person is already weak. Jesus never required anyone to repent of their confessed sin before He healed them. He did however talk about sin in the context of healing. On one occasion He instructed a man He had healed not to continue sinning (John 5.14). On another occasion He rejected a link between a man’s blindness and sin (John 9.1-5).
However, there are some sins that are a major blockage to healing.
Sins that would be described today as negative emotions – like unforgiveness, anger or bitterness – have the power to make us ill.
In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus links our experience of God’s forgiveness to our willingness to forgive others. And in Matthew 18 he tells a story about someone who would not forgive, implying that those who do not forgive open up their lives to pain.
And it’s not just Jesus that makes the link. A Johns Hopkins report makes a similar connection.
Bitterness not only blocks healing, it causes illness. And I am sure you can add to the list of sinful attitudes that are a block to healing.
Why is that? I think it is partly (i) because it is hard to have faith and hear God when you harbour anger or unforgiveness or bitterness; (ii) the negative emotions that result affect not only your emotional wellbeing, but can potentially impact on your body as well. The links between negative emotions and physical disease are well established. Just google unforgiveness / bitterness / anger and physical illness.
Depending on grace
Sometimes an unhealed area of our lives can cause us to rely on grace.
When you read Paul’s testimony in 2 Corinthians 12 you find that his pain caused him to rely on God’s grace:
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12.7-10
Notice a number of things:
- Paul was in pain
- The pain came from Satan
- He expected God to remove his pain
- But God gave him grace instead
This may or may not refer to physical need. The point is that one area of Paul’s life was unhealed and it made him depend on God’s grace.
Those areas of our lives where healing has not yet come are opportunities for us to lean into grace.
Deficit of love
Loneliness is a major problem in our society. “Skin hunger” as some psychologists call it, has consequences for our emotional health.
Two major studies on loneliness and isolation revealed that there was around a 30% higher risk of stroke and heart disease for those isolated or lonely. And isolation and loneliness often contribute to early death.
I have no doubt that it is one of the reasons the Bible emphasises fellowship again and again. A spiritually and emotionally healthy Christian is strongly connected in fellowship. A spiritually and emotionally healthy church is hot on fellowship.
Here’s what Paul says in Ephesians 4.15:
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Being in a small group might do far more for you than seeing a counsellor!
If you want to be healthy and set yourself up for healing, watch your diet!
I suppose I don’t need to talk about junk food, but here’s a reminder:
(i) It damages your physical health
For example, junk food can cause heart disease, diabetes and arthritis, amongst other conditions.
One study of health in the UK has indicated that 10.8% of poor health is caused by diet – that’s more than smoking!
(ii) It damages your mental health
World Health reported that “Changes in diet over the past 50 years appear to be an important factor behind a significant rise in mental ill health in the UK, say two reports published today.
The Mental Health Foundation says scientific studies have clearly linked attention deficit disorder, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia to junk food and the absence of essential fats, vitamins and minerals in industrialised diets.”
Give your body the respect it deserves:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6.19-20)
Your body is a temple, so treat it with respect!
Although perhaps not often the case, but certainly sometimes the case, healing does not happen because there is a lack of sincere desire to get well.
Both Tony Robbins and Henry Cloud have been credited with the quote, “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”
I wonder if Jesus was looking for a statement of desire when He asked Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10.51)
There is no single explanation for a lack of desire for healing. Research indicates that there are numerous reasons why people sometimes want to stick with their illness rather than get well.
Some people, for all sorts of reasons, just don’t want to get well. Sad but true.
I hope this article has provided some fresh perspective on why healing is either slow to come or doesn’t appear to arrive at all. It is not intended as a diagnostic tool for ministry! Healing ministry should be fuelled by compassion, not a desire for explanation!
Nor is it proposed as a way to explain why your friend has not got well. It is simply intended to expand our thinking on what is often a very sensitive and complicated subject.