Recently a woman, struggling awkwardly with her aluminum crutches, came up to me. An unfortunate victim of multiple sclerosis, she had tear-filled eyes that mirrored the pain in her heart. She asked, "How can I explain to my Christian friends that I still love the Lord and am not hiding sin in my life though I'm crippled like this?" My heart ached for her as I realized that she was one of the thousands of victims of the latest wind of doctrine sweeping across the Church body today - the "Healing" doctrine.
Many evangelists and ministers have begun to proclaim a new doctrine that sounds more as though it came from the pen of Mary Baker Eddy than from the Bible. They're teaching that we must make only positive confessions of faith and should never confess to being sick or feeling ill, because our words are a powerful creative force and we become what we say. Thus, no matter what our sickness, if we make a confession of faith, we will become well. All illness, they assert, is a result of our negative confessions or lack of faith.
Comforters, Old and New.
As with all false teachings, much of what this healing doctrine says is true. Many Christians today are guilty of harboring negative attitudes and defeatist complexes. I cannot deny that many people have been helped and healed by making a positive confession of faith. Yet, to say that it is God's will that none of His children be sick is wrong. And to say that they're sick because of a lack of faith, sin in their lives, or something amiss in their relationship with God is also wrong. I've known too many carnal Christians with marvelous health and too many deeply spiritual Christians with poor health to ever subscribe to such a heresy.
When I see the bad fruit from this doctrine, I can judge it to be false. I feel sorry for the couple who, at the encouragement of a healing evangelist, took their diabetic child off insulin and by faith began claiming his healing. When their child died they were charged with manslaughter, but the evangelist went free.
This doctrine has also led some beautiful saints of God to doubt their salvation because of their cancer. I've seen arthritics lose the joy of Christ because they were told something was lacking in their lives or faith which kept them in that painful condition. Tragically, those who are sick and in need of the greatest encouragement suffer the most from these extremist teachings.
Although in some cases a lack of faith may result in poor health, some of the Christians with the greatest faith and most positive attitudes have suffered physical maladies with no relief. Unquestionably, God does heal people today. Yet not all are healed.
I know of sinners who have received marvelous healings and of true saints who have died of cancer. I don't believe that death from a disease is necessarily a defeat; nor do I believe that if someone had offered the prayer of faith or had held on in faith then death would have been averted. Being a Christian or serving the Lord doesn't provide us with an immunity from sickness, the natural aging process, or death.
Since the time of Job, and perhaps before, men have sought to understand the problem of suffering and sickness and how it relates to our relationship with God. Job's friends, who came to comfort him, may have been gifted in worldly wisdom and philosophy, but they were ignorant of the ways of God. In the end, God rebuked Job's comforters for their counsel without knowledge and declared His anger against them, because what they said about God wasn't true. They had been telling Job that his problems came upon him because of a wrong relationship with God. If Job got right with God then all would be well in his life. But they failed to recognize, as do these modern false comforters, that God often allows suffering to work His purposes in our lives. I agree with Job: "Miserable comforters are ye all!"
It is heartless, unscriptural, and cruel to tell a person with a chronic sickness that he's not right with God, his confession of sickness is wrong, or he lacks faith. A couple whose son died of leukemia was told that if they'd only held on in faith their child would have been healed. They were told that their surrender to God by praying, "Thy will be done" made them responsible for their son's death. Another couple whose child had leukemia was encouraged to make positive confessions. They claimed the healing and refused to acknowledge the child's illness. When their child died they were spiritually destroyed. Some sicknesses persist because of a lack of faith, but not all. Some situations are helped by positive confessions, but not all.
In seeking to discover the truth about a doctrine we must turn to the Bible. When attempting to use the Scriptures to prove that God wants all of us to be healed, these false comforters point to III John 1:2; "I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." In context this verse is not an expression of God's will for all His saints. Rather, it is John's personal wish for his friend, Gaius.
In Mark 11:22-23 we read,
And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, "Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea;" and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
This is the basis for teaching the importance of someone making the right confession, with the emphasis on having whatever "he saith."
These questions then arise in my mind: Where does God's will come into the matter? Can I command God to work contrary to His own will? Is the purpose of prayer ever to get my will done? What kind of God would acquiesce to my demands doing for me what is contrary to His own will and what He knows to be bad for me, simply because I'm persistent in my demands?
Still, these modern-day "prophets" would have us feel guilty and accuse us of a lack of faith when we pray, "Thy will be done." But this prayer of commitment - resting my case with God's will - takes much more faith than demanding my own will to be done. If we're wrong in praying "Thy will be done," we're in good company. Jesus prayed it!
When we consider the relationship of our health to our faith, it is enlightening to look at Elisha, that Old Testament prophet of great faith. I don't know any other Old Testament saint who had more miracles of faith surrounding his life. Yet, we read in II Kings 13:14, "Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died." Men of great faith also get sick. Paul wrote to Timothy not to drink water but to use a little wine for his stomach's problem and his constant weakness (I Timothy 5:23). Paul also spoke of Epaphroditus, his brother and companion in the Lord's work, who was so sick he was "nigh unto death" (Philippians 2:27).
Although some of the Gospels speak of occasions where Jesus healed all that were sick, Mark's Gospel speaks of occasions where "many" were healed (Mark 1:32-34; 3:10). The inference is that not all were healed.
Paul's Thorn in the Flesh.
In the history of the Church one of the greatest leaders and men of faith was Paul the apostle. Yet, he testified of his own infirmity, his "thorn in the flesh" (II Corinthians 12:7-10). During his ministry Paul had undergone a "life-after-death" experience. Paul himself says that he wasn't sure if he'd had a vision or if he'd really died. But Paul did know that he was caught up into heaven where he heard things so marvelous that it was unlawful for him to try to relate them in human language. (II Corinthians 12:1-4). As a result of the abundance of revelations, Paul also received a thorn in the flesh to keep him from being exalted above measure.
There is a constant danger for the man who is being used by God to begin to look to himself for the cause of God's blessings in his life. God is the source of every blessing that we receive - not because we're worthy or deserving, or because God can trust us. God bestows upon us such abundant mercy, grace and power only because He is gracious and merciful.
Paul warns everyone, "...not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly" (Romans 12:3). Whenever God begins to use us there's always that tendency to say, "I finally discovered the secret of faith!" (or the secret of commitment, or the secret of positive confession). We're always trying to point back to ourselves rather than to God's abundant overflowing grace.
Pride is a very dangerous trap. In fact, it tops the list of things that God hates (Proverbs 6:16-17). It's also the sin that caused Satan's downfall. Proverbs warns, "Pride goeth before destruction" (Proverbs 16:18a). Spiritual pride is the most damnable of all. "I'm holier than you. That's why God is able to use me. That's why God has touched me and has blessed me. I've done things right. You've done things wrong. That's why you're in the bad shape you're in." That concept is horrible and ugly!
If you receive any blessings from God - good health or a healing - don't look to yourself as the cause. The grace of God is the only cause of blessing. It's not because you believed or trusted. It's because God is gracious. Remember that.
Because of the abundance of revelations in Paul's life God put a thorn in his flesh to keep him from being puffed up. What was Paul's thorn in the flesh? The word "thorn" in the Greek actually means "a stake," a reference to a big tent stake. Don't think of Paul as having a little pesky thorn in his side. He had a tent stake driven in! It wasn't a minor irritation - it was a major disability!
Paul refers to his thorn as a "...messenger of Satan to buffet me." The word "messenger" in Greek is aggelos, which literally means "an angel." Paul had an angel of Satan to buffet him. His thorn in the flesh may have been a very painful eye disease causing his eyes to run continually. There are several allusions to this in the Scriptures (Galatians 4:15; 6:11). But whatever Paul's thorn was, it was an emissary of Satan who was continually buffeting him. And Paul prayed for deliverance.
When Paul's thorn in the flesh originally came, he probably didn't think too much about it. "After all, I can always pray and trust God to heal me." But after he prayed and the problem still hung on, he began to think twice. "Lord. I asked You to heal me. Maybe You didn't understand, Lord. Get rid of this messenger from Satan! Stop him, Lord!" Paul prayed three times. But the weakness continued to persist. After the third prayer Paul received his answer. Was it deliverance from the thorn? No! He got something better. He received God's all-sufficient grace, power, and strength in his life!
God doesn't always give us what we ask. He oftentimes gives us more than what we ask. Many times the things we ask God to remove are the very instruments He uses to accomplish His purposes in our lives. God gave Paul an understanding of the thorn. "Paul, I'm going to allow you to be weak that you might constantly rely upon My strength. I'm going to allow this messenger of Satan to buffet you so that I might bestow upon you My all sufficient grace" (II Corinthians 12:8-9).
As we look at Paul we think, "What a shame. That's tragic. I don't know how you endured that, Paul." We offer our sympathies to Paul for this ugly thorn in the flesh. But Paul answers, "Don't feel sorry for me. I take pleasure and glory in this weakness!"
Sometimes, you feel you've entered into real victory because you've learned to tolerate a condition in your body or in your own life. But God has something better for you. Don't just learn to live with it. Let it become the instrument of God's grace and power in your life. "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities for when I am weak, then am I strong" (II Corinthians 12:10).
Maybe today you're plagued by some thorn in your flesh. Maybe today you have comforters, as did Job, who are telling you to stop making negative confessions and to start making positive ones, "then things will be okay."
They say, "If you'll just believe and have enough faith, you'd be healed! Surely there's something wrong with you to be afflicted like this. Confess it to God and forsake your sin!" So you've confessed everything you can think of and you've made your positive confessions of faith - yet the thorn is still there.
Now Satan comes in and says, "God doesn't love you If God loved you, surely you'd be well. If you were in the will of God this wouldn't be happening to you." So you begin to feel guilty, unloved, discouraged, and defeated because you don't know what's wrong. You don't know why the weakness persists.
Listen, God is saying, "Just trust in Me. My grace is sufficient for you, and My strength is made perfect in your weakness. I've got more for you than healing.Receive today My abundant all-sufficient grace."
A Gift Better Than Healing
God's ways are beyond our finding out. We'll never understand why some people are healed and others are not, why some notorious sinners enjoy marvelous health while some sincere Christians suffer from chronic illnesses.
To try to understand these things with our human reasoning places us in dangerous position, as the psalmist discovered in Psalm 73. He speaks about his feet almost slipping because he was tripped up by the health and prosperity of the wicked.
But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious of the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
He began to draw the wrong conclusion: it doesn't pay to serve God.
It wasn't until he began to view these afflictions in the light of eternity that he was once again established. "Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end." He received the assurance that God was indeed holding him, that God would guide him and afterward receive him into glory.
May we, with the psalmist, learn to commit our ways fully to God and stay close to Him. For, if He doesn't heal us, then He'll surely give us His all-sufficient grace to sustain us.
Nevertheless, I am continually with thee; thou hast hold of me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel and afterward receive me to glory (Psalm 73:23-24).