Rebuilding the Foundations
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"By his stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53:5). Does this mean what the Word/Faith movement claims it means? Has God already healed all our physical ailments at the cross? Is the only reason we are ever sick because of our lack of faith?
We are going to address this two ways, experientially and scripturally. We are going to start with the experiential side because I think it is more important.
My books, and those I have published for others, consistently maintain 4-star and better ratings despite the occasional 1- and 2-star ratings from people angry about my kicking over sacred cows.
Does anyone experience divine healing in every case?
In the 1980's I attended charismatic and Word/Faith movement churches for around eight years. These churches taught that God always wanted to heal his children when they were sick or injured. All we had to do was believe.
We expended great efforts to believe. From prayer and fasting to reading the writings of prominent faith teachers, we devoted ourselves to increasing our faith and not only producing miracles of healing, but also living in ongoing divine health.
To this day, I would agree that good scriptural arguments could be made for this teaching.
The problem is, it doesn't work ... not for anyone.
Oh, divine healings happen. I have seen my fair share, both in and out of the charismatic movement. However, I have never seen divine healing occur the majority of the time nor on any regular basis. Neither has anyone else I've known.
April 17, 2020 edit: Francis Chan, whom I trust implicitly, recently released a video saying he saw every person healed in a meeting in Myanmar. I love this, as Jesus, with only one exception that I know of (Matt. 13:58), healed everyone who came to him. Nonetheless, I am not changing this article because this is the only trustworthy account of everyone being healed that I have heard. Don't bring up men like Benny Hinn. I have been to their meetings and met the people they prayed for. Only a couple I met were really healed.
When I was a young Christian, my best friend bought a motorcycle. He had never owned one before, so he was excited once he was able to get it on the road. It took him only two weeks to decide he could do a wheelie across an intersection.
He didn't make it, of course, and he busted up his knee on the side of the road.
For a couple weeks, he limped around with a brace on, while we prayed and tried to believe he was healed. After about a month, his knee was much better. At lunch one day, some church friends asked about his knee.
"It's healed," my friend answered.
They all praised the Lord, and then another young man leaned over and whispered, "Is that by faith or for real?"
My friend blew up. "I'm tired of all this. I'm tired of us lying about how we are doing. I don't want to tell people I'm 'healed by faith.' I tell people the truth. I want to say, 'My knee is doing this good or that good.'"
He was pretty serious about his frustration. That day both he and I decided we would never play that silly game again.
I mentioned on Facebook that I was going to write this article, and the responses told me the same stories I had experienced back in the 80's.
There is a ministry in India that I support. (Never support missions in India unless you have personally met and know the mission leaders.) It is a great ministry, and once when I was there in India, a man clamored to meet and talk to the head of that ministry. He ran up to us to tell us that he had asked the ministry leader to pray for his daughter, who had a tumor in her stomach, a month previously when he was in their village. He had his daughter with him to show my pastor friend that she had been completely healed.
That same pastor has a yearly outreach to lepers in his city. There are a lot of them, and they flock to his meetings. Many are saved each year. They come back each year because ... they are still lepers. I suspect there is the occasional healing, but for the most part, the lepers go home saved, but still lepers.
Another ministry I support distributes a book that teaches that God wants to heal everyone. He has gone so far to investigate and confirm miracles all the way to the raising of a dead man in Africa. He visited the resurrected man and talked to his wife, his friends, and the church. He is convinced their testimony is true, and so am I.
Nonetheless, his ministry makes regular pleas for contributions to medical care for "the least of these" because ... there are plenty of medical needs.
You will hear stories from big ministries holding large crusades in Africa and India about the blind being healed, the lame walking, and everyone being healed. Follow-ups on these reports universally produce poor results.
Those results, however, would not be poor if we claimed what we actually can claim. God heals! He has made the blind see and the lame walk. In poverty-stricken areas, where the need is greater and faith is often higher, breathtaking miracles occur more often. Still, most amazing healings are performed by doctors, nurses, and medicine. There is the occasional divine healing, and sometimes there are a lot of them. The divine healings, however, are never the majority.
I have friends locally who train pastors and teach a small Bible school. They are awesome people, and I have been on a month-long mission trip to India with them. They believe in universal divine healing, and they are the type to tell you "by his stripes you are healed" when you tell them you have health problems.
Part of what makes my friends so wonderful is the kind of heart that would adopt two extremely handicapped children and raise them as their own, even though they are both over 60. The husband has had heart surgery. The wife has numerous medical issues.
These are people who believe and teach that God always wants to heal everyone? I don't understand it, not even a little.
Before I was a year old in Jesus, I had the following experiences.
I came in for a midnight shift at my job. One of my co-workers had come in, but within fifteen minutes he was asking to go home because he was so sick. I barely knew him, but I asked him if I could pray for him before he left, along with a Christian co-worker that was with me. He was appalled, and he refused.
The next day I saw him at work, and he came running up to me. "You guys should go into the faith healing business. You could be rich!"
I asked him what happened, and he told me, "I wasn't ten minutes down the road, and that sickness completely left me. I was completely well!"
Not too long later, my best friend (mentioned earlier in the motorcycle story) and I went out with a couple friends for pizza. When the pizza arrived, my friend winced. Apparently he had a toothache he was hoping would be able to handle the pizza.
We stopped, laid our hands on him, and we prayed for him. He tried the pizza again. No problem. The pain was gone.
That glorious beginning did not need to further successes. My next assignment was a remote, one-year assignment on the Yukon, 250 miles from roads that went anywhere. The only way in or out of the air station and the local eskimo/indian village was by plane or the Yukon.
There I devoted myself to converting the other airmen and the eskimos (& indians). I convinced myself that any healings that had not happened after prayer were because healing required both faith and an evangelistic purpose. I made a couple pronouncements to lost people about how God was going to heal them, but he didn't.
I was puzzled, but I shouldn't have been. As we have seen above, and as you will see if you traverse the world of believers in universal divine healing, my experience was ordinary.
If God wants to heal everyone, then why does he never heal everyone? He does not heal everyone in healing crusades. In fact, he heals only a tiny portion of those who come for healing. He has healed people through me, but only a few people, nowhere near everyone.
I have heard only one claim of universal healing that even sounds possible. J. Lee Grady, a columnist for Charisma Magazine, claims that an evangelist he knows regularly holds meetings in which everyone or almost everyone is healed. That evangelist holds his meetings overseas, and he doesn't publicize himself in the US. He is not into self-aggrandizement, claims Mr. Grady.
I like J. Lee Grady's articles. He seems like a very committed, very honest disciple of the King. I hope his claim is true.
Even if it is, however, that would prove only that this foreign evangelist has the gift of healing, not that God wants to heal everyone without exception.
It is awful hard to prove "no one." It is possible that there is someone out there who heals everyone for whom they pray. I have never researched T.B. Joshua, the African faith healer. I have seen a couple videos of healings he has performed. (And believe me, "performed" is the right word.) A rugby player who played on the South African olympic team claims his knee was healed by Mr. Joshua.
Maybe he heals everyone. He doesn't seem particularly Christian, though, more like a shaman with Christian overtones.
Even if he does heal everyone, which I doubt, every faith healer that has ever been researched has come far short of Jesus' standards, or Peter's for that matter (Acts 5:15-16).
This post was prompted by a Facebook comment casually mentioning that "by his stripes we are healed" (Is. 53:5). So let's begin by addressing that sentence.
The Facebook comment conveyed far more than six words. The original post said, "We will only walk in divine health when Christ resurrects us."
As a comment on a post like that, those six words said, "No. We can walk in divine health right here on earth. We can be healed of every disease and every injury. We don't have to experience the sickness side of this fallen world. God said so through Isaiah (53:5), and through Peter who quoted Isaiah (1 Pet. 2:24)."
All those who quote this verse quote it as though this were the only possible interpretation of those six words. Not true. There are several other possible interpretations, such as:
Just as it is almost impossible to prove "no one," so it is nearly impossible to prove "everyone." Find just one place in Scripture where God allowed someone to remain ill or injured, and the "everyone" argument is out the door.
Here are several.
The most obvious exception to universal divine healing is Trophimus the Ephesian, whom Paul "left in Miletus sick" (2 Tim. 4:20). This is not just anyone. This is the apostle Paul leaving behind a traveling companion (Acts 20:4; 21:29). If anyone should have been able to successfully claim that "by his stripes we are healed," it would have been Trophimus while Paul was with him.
Was Trophimus only not healed because of a lack of faith? If so, then we can all be comforted that even an apostle and his companion did not have enough faith for universal healing.
Notice, too, that Paul did not try to hide or explain it. He tells Timothy about leaving Trophimus sick in Miletus. He doesn't blame it on lack of faith. He doesn't blame it on anything. Apparently, he didn't think Miletus' sickness needed an explanation.
Wouldn't you think that if the apostolic norm was for everyone to be healed, that Paul would have owed Timothy, who seems to be his closest disciple, an explanation so that Timothy wouldn't make the same mistake? Instead, he simply reports it as though a sick Christian were a perfectly normal thing.
This is probably because it was.
In Philippians 2:25-26 we read that Epaphroditus, an apostolic worker who had gone to see Paul in Rome, had become so sick that he was near death. Paul goes on to say that God had mercy on him, but the passage does not sound like divine healing. It sounds like Epaphroditus was very, very sick and then got well.
When I was in the charismatic movement, I was told that the reason Epaphroditus wasn't healed was because he had worked too hard (Php. 2:30). Apparently, this was enough of a sin that Ephaphroditus didn't deserve to be healed.
The problem with this excuse is that many sicknesses that we have in America today, even among Christians, can be blamed on overeating, poor diet, and too much sugar and processed food. Shouldn't Epaphroditus have had more right to healing than a sick or injured US Christian?
Also, shouldn't we avoid telling sick US Christians they're healed by Jesus' stripes. They might not be because they're only sick because of poor diet, just as Epaphroditus was not healed because he overworked in ministry.
Of course, the simplest and most obvious solution is that Epaphroditus wasn't healed because God doesn't heal everyone. It has been granted to us on behalf of the King not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake (Php. 1:29), and apparently sickness is included in that suffering.
I put in a section above with my personal experiences praying for others. It is important here to discuss my personal experience with sickness. Obviously it affects my outlook on universal divine healing.
For the first 50 years of my life I was very healthy. I had my fair share of colds and flus as a child, and I had chicken pox as a baby. For most of my adult life, though, I was an icon of health.
In 2011, just before turning 50, I was diagnosed with leukemia. It was a particularly rare and aggressive form of leukemia, so by the time it was diagnosed my bone marrow was 70% cancer cells.
The story of my battle—sometimes I like to call it a dance—with leukemia is told at yippee-leukemia.blogspot.com. God spoke to me from day one, telling me that I was not going to die and that I was to go through this cancer with joy.
It was an amazing adventure. I like to call it my hospital ministry.
It was definitely a walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I was not afraid. God was with me, and his rod and his staff did indeed comfort me, as promised in Psalm 23. I can gladly say that he prepared a feast for me in the presence of my enemy (cancer), and that my cup always overflowed.
I had my share of problems and more. My doctors called me Troublemaker because my body was always throwing them curveballs. I had a heart attack from lack of blood without doing any damage to my heart. I had numerous infections and numerous life-threatening problems.
In the end, I had a bone marrow transplant and all the troubles that came with it. To this day, four years later, I still take medication to suppress my new immune system—a produce of the marrow transplant—so that it doesn't attack my body.
The result of those immunosuppressives was a second cancer, lymphoma, in November of 2014.
The lymphoma was quickly resolved, but as soon as the lymphoma went into remission, in January-February of 2015, my bone marrow stopped producing neutrophils, a primary component of our immune system.
It is July of 2015, and no one knows why I can't produce neutrophils. I get a shot three times a week to boost my immune system in hopes of preventing infections. Nonetheless, for the last few months I have been in the emergency room with fevers at least every few weeks.
Obviously, though God is the author of all healing, he did not miraculously heal me of leukemia nor lymphoma. I can say, however, that I have seen hundreds of small miracles as friends and family prayed with me for my blood pressure to rise, to come down, for medicines to work, for infections to be found, and for me to stay out of ICU.
In fact, during the six weeks I was in the hospital after my transplant my wife and I used to joke about "text-a-miracle." We had a group of prayer warrior friends that took texts from me and others in the church. It seemed like we sent them some request almost every day, and it seemed like every request was answered.
After everything that I have said, I still have to affirm that there is a strong relationship between faith and divine healing.
Jesus told many of the people he healed, though by no means a majority, that their faith was what healed them. It is worth reading through the Gospels to learn some of the more notable stories of healings that Jesus attributed to the faith of the person healed.
Faith can not only bring about healing, but it can prevent it as well. The unbelief in Jesus' hometown was so great that it even hindered him from performing miracles and healing everyone (Matt. 13:58).
I think it is undeniable that the stories in the Gospel show us that faith and healing are intrinsically related.
One of the more interesting stories concerning divine healing happened while Paul was preaching. In Acts 14 we read that he stopped the proclamation of the Gospel because he perceived that a lame man had faith to be healed.
This passage addresses the problem of faith and healing from several perspectives.
Paul did not heal anyone else during that sermon except the one lame man. Everyone else went home still sick. Apparently, this was because the rest did not have faith to be healed or, if they did, Paul could not "perceive" that they did.
It is not just healing that is a gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:9). In 1 Corinthians 13 we see that faith is a gift as well. There are some who may have such great faith that they can move mountains, but Paul says that their love is more important than that faith. In fact, he says that a person with that kind of faith but without love is nothing (1 Cor. 13:2).
The point here is that for many people the kind of faith that can move mountains and the kind that brings about healing is impossible. It is not their gift, and they should spend their time striving for love, not more faith.
Paul tells us that God has dealt to everyone a "measure" of faith (Rom. 12:3). The verse concludes by telling us not to think more highly of ourselves than we should. Then in verse 6, he tells us to prophesy according to our faith.
Paul knew that our levels of faith differed, and he didn't call us to change that. He called us to love more and to be more humble. He called to us to stay within our measure of faith.
The fullness of the King will always be displayed in his people, not in one person. That is why he does things the way he does.
This sums up my position on divine healing: