Part III of our series on Healing and Comforting
In our last post, we discussed how the primary category for healing is not miracle, but sign. Healing points toward something. Namely, hospitality set right. We were designed to host Christ in our hearts and lives, but instead we host illness and sin. Healing, then, is about the progressive reversal of that reality.
When hearing that, our mind jumps to the question:
Why isn’t everybody healed physically?
If illness mars the image of God in us, and if God desires us to bear his image, then why do some illnesses remain?
Some are quick to claim a “lack of faith.” And clearly the Bible talks about that. You can see that in Mark 6:1-6 where, because of the unbelief of many, Jesus was unable to perform a “mighty work” though he did still heal some. And you can see the effect of the presence of faith on healing, like in Mark 9:20-23, where Jesus heals a demon-possessed boy and proclaims that, “everything is possible for him who believes.”
But, just as discipleship involves submitting our whole selves to Jesus (and not just that which is “spiritual), so, too, does healing. It’s not just about submitting our illnesses to Jesus. What he starts in one part of us – whether body or spirit – he intends to bring to completion through our whole existence.
But the Bible also portrays Jesus as not healing when he could. Check out Mark 1:32-39. Here, after a full day of healing and ministry, Jesus leaves one town (where “everyone” was looking for him) and goes to another. You can picture the line of patients Jesus has waiting for him there! But Jesus leaves. He is not trying to heal everyone in town but rather to raise up a witness for himself in every town.
Surely today, after two thousand years of the Christian faith growing and penetrating the world’s cultures, he has enough ambassadors that he could heal everyone if he wanted to – or at least everyone who had faith – right?
The apostle Paul shows that even Jesus’ lack of healing is still about human beings bearing his image:
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, emphasis mine)
The Bible never says what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was. It may not have even been a bodily illness—we just don’t know. But the principle Paul lays out here applies to bodily illness, too: We humans have an amazing ability to take blessings of God—like health—and use them as means of sinful self-sufficiency and ignoring God.
So sometimes we bear the image of God by bearing illness, either for a time or permanently, so that we can show the world – and ourselves – that his grace is sufficient, his strength made perfect able to keep us from falling.
Paul calls this “sharing in the fellowship of his sufferings” in Philippians 3:10-11:
“…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (emphasis mine)
Healing will come, in this life or the next.
But we have to realize that healing is not the only way we are able to bear the image of God to the world. Our illness and death can do that as well.
In God’s Kingdom, healing, illness, and death are a lot more closely connected than we think. The healer heals at great personal cost and risk in each of the three dimensions: physical (body), social (soul), and religious (spirit).
It is not coincidental that in the parable Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan and the wounded man, the Good Samaritan says (and this is made emphatic in the Greek), “I, not the man, will pay.”
Biblically, the healer always suffers the most.
As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Christ bears the illness and sin in himself. Society, religion, and the power of sickness and death were arrayed against Jesus—all sought to cast him out; none would host him.
So hear the proclamation of Isaiah 53:5: Christ freed us from our involuntary hosting of sin and illness and death…by hosting these enemies of humanity in himself, on the Cross:
But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
How will you participate in this Work of Mercy differently, now?