Does the Lord want everyone to be healed?
2 Corinthians 12.
Last week an email prayer request came through from a minister in the Northern Territory. His son had been involved in a freak car accident. There was no speeding or any kind of irresponsible behaviour, but he had hurt his back and prayers were sought for healing. And of course I did what was asked and prayed for the lad. But I found myself thinking about the situation a little more deeply.
Does the Lord always want everyone to be healed? And does He always want them to be healed in the way we suggest, at the time we suggest is appropriate? Further, does healing prayer depend upon the right people saying the right words at the right time with the right emotion, at the right volume, with the right faith? Do they depend on catching the Lord in a particularly helpful frame of mind at a certain time? Or does healing really depend on the person being prayed for so that if nothing obvious happens we can all say, “Well, he didn’t have enough faith!”
More deeply again, when we think of healing does the Lord always want us to be injury free, devoid of suffering, with nothing going wrong or even inconveniencing us? I thought, what if the Lord decided that more good can come through this boy with a damaged back rather than whole one. But a further question arises from this; what is the purpose of our lives? Basil Fawlty answers,
“Beats me. You’re just here for a few years then you snuff it.”
That’s probably how many people saw a stay in his hotel.
Is the purpose of life to maximise happiness? To be free from pain and suffering? Let’s walk around this for a few minutes.
Think of Paul in his very personal 2 Corinthians where he bears his heart and soul to a difficult church. One of the key words is in verse 8 where he says he was ‘given’ his problem, and it was given to achieve a beneficial purpose – the prevention of spiritual conceit. The ‘thorn’ was given immediately or shortly after the vision described in verses 2-4. Among the recurring suggestions are Jewish persecution, carnal temptation, epilepsy, chronic opthalmia, a speech impediment or a recurrent malady (such as malaria). Someone liberal commentators suggest he was an alcoholic, or that he had a nagging wife, and so travelled so much to get away from her. Such claims are as baseless as the one that wine ran out at the wedding in Canaan because Jesus and the disciples were all heavy drinkers. Paul sought help with his problem even though he was a man with a very high tolerance for pain and discomfort, marooned, bitten by a snake, whipped, and imprisoned for Christ. (Cor. 2:11).
He never asked to have any of those other forms of suffering taken away from him, but this one he did. He must have felt that his condition was interfering with his ministry, his health or his comfort. It is remarkable that Paul could regard his affliction as given by God and yet as a “messenger of Satan.”
It is usually linked with a physical problem. For some background Paul had been involved in healing ministry and knew the Lord was a healing God. So he resolutely prays three times over an extended period (v. 8). On each occasion he hears back the answer, “my grace is sufficient, my power is made perfect in weakness.” The greater the Christian’s acknowledged weakness, the more evident Christ’s enabling. He prays thrice and that is it. The implication is also this, that he no longer prayed that the condition be taken away and after verse 9 he accepts it. The Lord chose not to heal him physically but for Paul to depend on Him spiritually for ministry. The Lord would help him live with it. It would make him more dependent on the Lord, whose strength is perfected in weakness.
Sometimes God wants people to live with suffering. Sometimes more good can come out of that suffering than if it did not exist. Another example is in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Garden He prays that this cup might be taken from him, (Luke 22:42). He prays that the suffering, pain and betrayal ahead could be by-passed. He does not want to have to go through with this “thorn”. Jesus’s humanity comes to the fore. Is there another way? No. So he says, “Not my will Father, but yours be done.” He accepts that his suffering is the way to life for all people. The Father wants him to suffer, that other people might be blessed, healed, saved and helped. The power of the Crossvis perfected in His weakness.
The Lord is most interested in what will bless His kingdom, and for that purpose we exist. We do not exist just to be happy, comfortable and affluent. Or just to enjoy the rich beauty of the world and relationships, as good as those things can be. Our ultimate purpose is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. That is why you live – to love and serve the Lord. Everything else is a bonus. Even a radical theologian like John Hick says our purpose in living is soul growth, to expand and develop spiritually.
But having said all this, Jesus was still active in healing suffering on the terms suggested by others. One example is blind Bartimaeus, the lame, blind, leper. In this instance He healed the obvious need, but not always. When that man was lowered down from the roof, he was presented for healing from paralysis. It was a huge anti-climax when Jesus told him his sins were forgiven. He had looked into the man’s soul and saw that his deepest need had less to do with his body, than his soul. He needed spiritual healing before physical healing, so he told him first, his sins were forgiven. Then to prove to all He had the power to forgive sins, He showed that power in a physical way and healed his lameness as well.
So though he usually heals the obvious need, he does so on the basis of what is best for this person and the kingdom of God. This means that when emails like the one I referred to come, we need to have a spirit of discernment. Is the best thing that can happen for this person a complete, immediate and perfect healing? Or is there a need for soul growth that will benefit the kingdom of God more. Does God see that that soul may be strong enough to grow through deeper and unwanted suffering that others might be blessed, and Jesus’ Kingdom advanced?
I will now give a personal illustration. I had had diabetes for about five years. It came on me as I joined my Golden Grove congregation. This may seem bizarre, but I have come to thank God for my diabetes. I do not pray that it will be removed. It makes me take better care of what I eat and what I do. It makes me exercise in ways I would not normally. It makes me more medically diligent in getting a couple of check-ups each year. I seek healing more of the factors that contributed to the development of diabetes such as physical neglect and the factors behind that than I do for a healing of the condition. The Lord seems to have shown me that He would rather me have it and let him use it to help others, than for me to be free from it. And I am happy in that.
This is not to say that when we suffer, pain, insomnia, distress, and poverty, we ought not to take those things to the Lord. He clearly wants us to. He wants us to pray in terms of the obvious, like Paul and the lame man’s friends. But he also wants us to think about what is best for His kingdom as well. His healing may be the serenity to live with the pain and suffering and to model a grace not possible in our state of air-conditioned, pain-free, relaxed comfort.
Now I know when we have toothache the last thing on our mind is spiritual growth. We are distracted from the pain of the tooth only by the greater pain of the dental bill. So when we pray, the first prayer is that an appointment is available in the next 10 minutes. We deal with the obvious. But sometimes the Lord wants us to live with some thorns in the flesh because we can be of greater use to the Lord.
In the end how God chooses to answer prayers for healing is based upon His sovereign knowledge and power. He knows what is most needed. It doesn’t always depend on us telling Him what needs to be done. I have noticed over the years, doctors have never appreciated being told the symptoms, the source of the problem and the solution they should pursue. So with the Lord, pray the obvious but discern what he is saying and doing beyond the obvious.
God is a prayer-answering, miracle working God, but He does not need our help in defining what the best outcome is. He wants us simply to be faithful pray-ers, asking Him to do what is best for His kingdom and the life of that needy person. And His answers will always be for the be
By George Robert Iles