Many churches promise healing for all kinds of ailments, but is physical healing something which God promises unconditionally? Is there a formula for getting God to do what you want? Why does sickness exist in the first place? What sort of healing does God promise to those who have faith in Him?
Many of the snake-oil preachers who teach word-of-faith theology tell their congregation that healing comes down to that person’s faith in God and if they don’t experience healing from the grifters demanding money in exchange for prayers, then it’s because the person being scammed didn’t have enough faith. It’s the perfect con because it places all of the blame on the victim and the perpetrator takes no responsibility.
They will quote passages like Hebrews 11 as proof of what they’re selling, but God isn’t some kind of genie or performing monkey. The reality of how God heals and if God heals is much more complex than some magic incantation or “Christian witchcraft” these false prophets claim to have the power to wield.
Nobody tells God what to do, nor does God share His glory with created beings (Isaiah 42:8). Many of the faith-healing preachers seek their own glory rather than God’s glory. They seek to enrich themselves from the pain, misery and desperation of others.
The reason why they’re so successful is because people seek signs and wonders as proof of God, and fail to see God at work within their afflictions and weakness.
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. – 1st Corinthians 1:22-29 (NIV)
God’s methods for revealing Himself to humanity often run contrary to our expectations because we put faith in shows of strength. We judge by the standards of this world, not by God’s standards. When it comes to healing, especially physically, God often asks us to put our faith in His love and plan for our redemption rather than looking to obtain health and wellbeing in this temporary life and temporary world.
Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 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. – 2nd Corinthians 12:6-10 (NIV)
God will not glorify people, or encourage us to place faith in the strength of our flesh. The people who seem to prosper in this life will not necessarily fare so well in the next life.
Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?” This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments…
When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. – Psalm 73:1-14 & 21-26 (NIV)
The often choose to do compromising things in order to obtain fleeting gratification and amass wealth which eventually loses its value or is spent up through living.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)
Who has your heart?
God knows that if we love this temporary life more than we love Him, we will be tempted into compromising situations. Greedy people tend to lie, cheat and steal in order to obtain wealth. They don’t consider the harm they do to others in the process and often claim that the end justifies the means of getting there. Envious people sabotage others and cut them down in order to feel better about themselves. Lust de-humanises other people and turns them into objects of self-gratification, often resulting in exploitation of another person’s body in degrading ways as we frequently see in porn. Laziness says that you’re entitled to be served by others and contribute nothing in return. Pride causes a person to never admit when they’re wrong. Emotional instability, especially a volatile temper, will intimidate and cause distress to everyone around them or perhaps end in violence and death.
The notion of a victimless crime is a total fallacy. We may not witness another person’s suffering firsthand, but that doesn’t absolve us of responsibility for our part in creating and perpetuating pain.
The problem of human evil stems from our hearts.
This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord… But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him… The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:5-10 (NIV)
God knows that if He can solve the problem of our hearts, then everything else will follow.
But God also knows that some people have become so hardened against Him and enamoured by the dark desires they harbour in secret, that they are beyond reasoning with.
[Jesus says] “This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ “ – Matthew 13:13-15 (NIV)
Jesus was not offering healing to people who willfully resisted His teachings. Repentance and humbling themselves in order to be teachable were conditions for receiving spiritual healing. God calls everyone to a drastic change of heart which rips off the callouses we build up from toxic relationships with one another, and calls us to feel even though it is painful to feel.
“Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. – Joel 2:12-13 (NKJV)
The healing Jesus was offering came in the form of being reborn of the Spirit and receiving life more abundantly, but it cannot take place until someone softens their heart towards God’s voice and becomes receptive to His will over their own will.
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” – Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NIV)
This radical change of heart and change of spirit is the most essential form of healing God wants to bless humanity with. If He cannot change our hearts and minds, then we will remain lost in the errors of our own ways, permanently estranged from God and cut off from eternal life.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any [chaos]. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” – Revelation 21:1-8 (NIV)
We should be less concerned with physical healing and more concerned with mental and emotional healing, because this life is temporary and destined to be replaced at the end of the age when God burns up all of the corruption and corrupt people. Is hell an eternal destination? According to the scripture there is no coming back from the second death, but perpetual torment is reserved for the devil and his angels, not human beings.
“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty. – Malachi 4:1-3 (NIV)
“Then [The Lord] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” – Matthew 25:41 (NIV)
The scripture isn’t explicit about annihilation, but implies the finality of judgement and the stark contrast between the second death and eternal life. In order to grasp eternal life, we need to abandon faith in this life. If we’re not prepared to endure difficulties here and now, we will miss out on the process of being conformed to the image of Christ.
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. – James 1:12 (NIV)
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. – Romans 5:1-5 (NIV)
Will God heal me?
Physical healing is possible through the power of God. I have experienced this myself and I do not want to detract from His glory by saying otherwise. God will provide physical healing when it points people towards faith in Him and not faith in other people or their own strength.
As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me.” – John 9:1-4 (NIV)
Sickness and affliction are sometimes part of God’s plan for revealing Himself to us so that we know He is real. They don’t necessarily have anything to do with what a person deserves. There are three main reasons for illness according to the bible: to demonstrate the power of God for His glory, to draw us closer to God through great need, and as a method of chastisement for choosing to treat each other cruelly.
I had a bad back for almost a decade. When it first went out my doctor told me to lie down for a week and take painkillers, which didn’t really do very much except bore me to tears. I spent a long time seeking help through both medical and alternative avenues including “energy healing” and remedial massage. Often something would alleviate the discomfort for a while, but ultimately couldn’t provide a cure.
In late 2020 I went to a chiropractor for treatment after experiencing major problems. Remedial massage hadn’t been working and I was struggling to drive my car because of the pain. The treatment seemed to free up my movement and reduce the pain, but if I did any physical work like gardening, or driving a long way, or vacuuming my floors I would be crippled once more and have to go back. I had temporary functionality in between sessions which would progressively deteriorate in proportion to how much activity I did.
During the course of a casual conversation with my pastor, I mentioned my back problems and at the end of the church service that day he asked everyone to join in prayer for healing for me. I was happy to receive prayers for healing, but it wasn’t an instant miraculous cure on the spot. I went home from church that day in much the same condition as when I had arrived, but the next day I spent some time in prayer and asked God if He would heal me and what He might ask in return.
The answer I got was; “Do you trust Me?”
I had an appointment for the chiropractor already booked for the next day and I knew what God was asking me to do in that situation, so I called up the clinic and cancelled it. Within 12 hours my back muscles had stopped bunching themselves into hard balls and I was able to move about more easily. That was roughly a month ago and without any treatment it has progressively improved over that time and I am able to do more physical activity than before.
Now; I’m not advocating for people to shun medical advice or intervention. Trusting God through various health issues can look different in different situations. In this situation I had already exhausted all of the human interventions for healing and God was pretty much all I had left. When the strength of human ability fails, the strength of God does not. In my weakness His strength can become manifest.
God has given me physical healing, but the healing I’m most grateful for and needed more than the physical healing, was psychological and emotional.
Psychological and Emotional Healing
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27 (NIV)
Being reborn in the Spirit comes with the promise of inner peace from Jesus. Learning to lean on God’s strength instead of your own should result in peace which surpasses whatever circumstances you find yourself in.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)
The Christian walk is not free from troubles or discomfort. Pretty much the opposite is guaranteed to happen if you’re faithful to Jesus, but as Joseph told his brothers when they met him in Egypt 27 years after selling him into slavery; their intentions were evil, but God used the situation to save multitudes of people from starvation. We don’t have access to the bigger picture and the reasons why we go through various trials, but God asks us to trust Him all the same.
It’s important to give God sovereignty over our lives, whether that means getting the things we pray for or not, and allowing Christ to have rulership over the state of our hearts so that we learn what it means to love God and love one-another.
I had experienced so much abuse over the course of my life that I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. I wanted to be free of this world and I wanted to be left alone. My ability to endure or remain open-hearted was almost entirely depleted.
At the time when I was saved I had absolutely no problem with the idea of laying down my life as a witness for Christ if tribulation happened to unfold. That seemed like reasonable service. It was also easier to face than human relationships.
God worked patiently with me to bring me around to the idea of forming new friendships by providing me with a secure attachment to fall back on when people proved unreliable or untrustworthy.
Motivational speaker Najwa Zebian once said that we make ourselves vulnerable to emotional homelessness if we build our psychological and emotional home within another person. Jesus says we should build our home in Him because He is the rock of salvation and no matter what storms come our way we will never be made homeless (Matthew 7:24-27).
You don’t need to go to a faith healer for this kind of healing. Having emotional stability through the peace of God is not dependent on other human relationships or going to preachers, pastors, or priests to receive it. We can receive God’s love directly from Him without self-appointed middle-men.
Nobody can make you spiritually homeless. Nobody can steal your peace.
Once you have that sort of secure attachment to God through learning about His ways and His definition of love, you can form healthier relationships with others which are not dependent on them meeting all of your needs because God is meeting your needs. You can have more capacity for grace and patience because God has grace and patience with you and is teaching you how to show that sort of compassion for yourself and others.
This doesn’t make you a doormat either, because God gives you the strength to walk away from toxic people and bad situations. You’re less at risk of becoming emotionally dependent on manipulative people.
Once you know that you can disengage from toxic circumstances and have your emotional peace in tact, it’s easier to take a risk on forming new relationships. The risk isn’t removed, but it is significantly reduced.
God does His best work with healing people who are broken-hearted.
Jesus Himself was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3) and He empathises with our struggles and the pain we go through in this world, but He calls us to remain kind in the face of overwhelming cruelty (Hebrews 4:15). We are not to be conformed to the pattern of hard-heartedness and exploitation prevalent in this world, but instead allow God to transform us by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
Being set-apart for God doesn’t mean being cloistered away from the rest of humanity or looking down on other people as though they are lesser beings. It means remembering that such were all of us once upon a time, and the only reason we have the capacity for compassion towards people who have done terrible things is because Christ has compassion on us first.
That’s the healing of the heart.
*The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by Permission of Biblica, Inc.® All rights reserved worldwide.