Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 12 October 2010; Revised 30 July 2016
Sources: Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic writings and message I use the terms Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), and Besekh (New Testament) and incorporate other appropriate Hebrew and Jewish terms. (See the glossary.)
The subject of healing evokes considerable discussion and even debate among believers in Yeshua. Many lay-people (and not a few ministers) have questions about whether God heals, about whether to pray confidently for healing and about why many people aren't healed. My interest in divine healing goes back to when I was a child. At the end of my first grade I stayed with my paternal grandmother to finish the school year when my parents had to move to another city because of my father's job change. Later I became sick (don't remember what it was) and my grandmother took me to the Pentecostal church she attended. I remember being placed on an altar at the front of the church, people putting their hands on me and prayers being offered. I don't remember any dramatic results, but I obviously got over whatever was ailing my young body. However, from that time to this I have never had any hesitation about asking for God's help with physical problems, and I believe He has answered my prayers on a number of occasions. I also believe God has answered my specific prayers on the behalf of other people. I don't claim the gift of divine healing, but I do believe in following the teaching of Scripture, which offers sufficient wisdom and definitive answers on the subject.
Facts About Life and Death
The subject of healing must be set in context of certain biblical facts.
Penalty for Sin. Disease and physical ailments exist, in general, because God cursed all of nature, including people, as the penalty for Adam's sin (Gen 3:14-19). The true impact of the curse is that the body begins to decay and die as soon as it's born. The burden of the curse is the continual necessity to maintain the body as a functioning organism. As a result nature and humans groan to be free of this burden (Rom 8:22-23). In addition, down through history God has punished sin and disobedience in particular cases with disease and death (contrary to the popular view that God would never hurt anyone). See Exodus 12:29; Leviticus 26:16; Deuteronomy 28:22; 1 Samuel 5:9-12; 2 Samuel 24:15; Romans 1:27; Acts 5:1-10; 12:23.
The Certainty of Death. Because Adam sinned we will all return to the dust from which we were created (Gen 3:19; 1Cor 15:22). Not only do all die but mankind inherited another penalty of Adam's sin – condemnation or separation from knowing God (Rom 5:14-18). Death is appointed by God (Heb 9:27). While many believe this verse refers merely to the inevitability of death, I believe it refers to an appointed day. As David says, "in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them" (Ps 139:16). Solomon also said "there is…a time to die" (Eccl 3:1-2). Many people will speak sentimentally of death as the ultimate healing, probably as a means of consoling themselves. But such an expression is not accurate.
Death is the last enemy (1Cor 15:26), so dying is not healing. Whether in the Bible or contemporary language, the word "healing" refers to restoring the body to the level of health that existed before the physical problem or to an even better condition. Death can, however, be better than healing, if the person is a believer and goes to heaven. On the other hand, if a person fails to take advantage of the atonement of Yeshua to restore fellowship with God and dies unrepentant, then the death of the body becomes the permanent death of eternal separation from God and all that is good (John 3:36; Rev 20:11-15).
Life Expectancy. The judgment of death obviously meant that Adam and all his descendants would have a finite life span. However, the global cataclysmic flood of Noah's day (Gen 7:17-24) and the "division of the earth" (Gen 10:25) that occurred a hundred years later so altered the environment that life expectancy dramatically plummeted from a high of 969 years prior to Noah to about 200 years afterwards. The average life span continued to shorten to the point that about a millennium later Moses observed, "As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years" (Ps 90:10).
Although there are many people who live well past 80, modern medicine has not actually made a significant difference in the average life expectancy from birth, which as of the year 2010 in the U.S. is 78.7 years, an increase of 1.8 years from the year 2000 (see the reports at Centers for Disease Control, Life Expectancy). According to a United Nations report at World Health.net global life expectancy is 68 for the years 2005-2010. In Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and the Far East average life expectancy is 70-80, whereas in most of Africa the average life span is under 60. See the World Life Expectancy Map. Moses' analogy that man's days are like grass, which springs up in the morning and is gone by evening (Ps 90:5), is still apt.
The Fact of Healing
God heals. In spite of the curse of decay, God's punishment of sin, shortened lives, and death, God heals. It is God's nature to heal because He is the Source of life (Gen 1:27; Deut 32:39; 1Sam 2:6; 2Kgs 5:7; Rev 1:18) and the Sustainer of life (Gen 1:29; 9:3; Ps 104; Matt 5:45; 6:26; Rom 8:28; Heb 1:3). David asserted that God heals all our diseases (Ps 103:2). David merely stated a fact, because living to 70 or 80 can only be achieved by God's power. If God withheld His healing grace we would die from the very first sickness. Thus, no physical problem gets healed without God's help, and if God didn't want to heal there would be no population on the earth. All healings from God demonstrate that He is a God of mercies (Ps 103:13).
Created for Healing. God not only heals directly, but God has given the body the ability to heal itself. If the body doesn't check a cold virus or the cold virus doesn't die, the body would be dead in a short time. God has given the body the ability to create molecules known as antibodies which attack invaders. The body was also designed with an excellent waste disposal system to filter out and expel harmful products. Many organs cooperate to keep body chemicals and hormones in proper balance. Scientists have documented the amazing healing properties of the blood and immune system without understanding why they work. God clearly programmed the body for healing.
Healing Rates. Not only does the body have equipment for healing, but there are different rates of healing for different kinds of physical problems. Broken bones heal at a different rate than cuts on the skin. In the case of almost all healings that physicians or patients describe as "providential" or "miraculous" God has simply manipulated the rate of healing by speeding it up. However, there are some miracles, called "signs" in the book of John, that require much more than merely increasing the rate of healing. Some physical maladies can only be remedied if God creates something that doesn't exist, as in the case of the man born blind (John 9:1-7). Yeshua performed "signs" while on earth to prove His identity as the Messiah and the Son of God (John 20:30-31).
Agents of God. God not only gave our bodies the ability for self-healing, but He also chose from the beginning to use human agents to assist in the healing process. Yeshua sent out His disciples and part of their mission statement was to "heal the sick" (Matt 10:8; Luke 10:9). After Yeshua ascended to Heaven the apostles continued the healing ministry and provided instructions to the congregations on how they should minister to the bodies and souls of men. Seeking help, then, from medical practitioners is entirely appropriate. They are part of God's plan for healing. Since it's God's will to heal, I would be foolish to ignore a treatment plan from a doctor or other medical practitioner that would help heal my body. Who am I to dictate to God how and when He heals?
How to Receive Healing
God's Word provides simple instructions when someone wants to be healed (Jas 5:14-16).
Call for the Elders. In apostolic times the elders were those appointed to care for the local congregation. They were not "preachers" per se but more like the first deacons. They had both administrative responsibilities and ministry duties. The qualifications of the elders were basically that of having a good reputation, being full of the Spirit and full of wisdom. The assumption is that the elders would have the compassion to respond to human need, the spiritual wisdom to determine the relevance of sin to the malady, and the willingness to pray for healing while trusting in the sovereign care of God.
Anoint and Pray. Whether one anoints and then prays or prays while anointing is immaterial. Both actions are important to God. The word for oil in the instruction is olive oil. While olive oil was used as a salve in ancient times it's not likely that Jacob assumed that the oil had any curative powers. Rather the oil represented the blessing of God. Abundance of oil was one of God's promises to Israel (Deut 8:8). The first use of the word in Genesis 27:18 where Jacob anointed a stone with oil was an act which symbolized his promise that if God would bless him with safety and supplies, he would return to God a tenth and build a place of worship. The oil likely represented an advance payment on the tithe to demonstrate his commitment. Later the Levites, who were the "tithe" of Israel to God, would be anointed with oil when they were commissioned for service. To anoint someone for healing, then, is a serious act which denotes giving that person to God and expecting God to bless.
Pray in faith. Those praying must pray in faith (Mark 11:24; Heb 11:6). The prayer of faith is not based upon a special revelation. It is praying with a confident trust in the providential care of a loving God (Matt 8:5-10; Mark 5:28, 34). The prayer of faith is expressed in obedience. Many times Yeshua asked people to do some physical act to receive healing (Matt 8:13; Mark 2:11; John 9:6-7, 35-37). The prayer of faith is also grounded in the Word of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:26f; Eph 6:18; Jude 1:20).
Pray with Persistence. By definition the prayer of faith is also persistent prayer, that is, praying until the Lord answers (Matt 15:22-28; Mark 10:47-52). Healing may be instantaneous or it may be gradual. If full healing doesn't take place at the first request, then prayer should be repeated until God answers (Matt 7:7-11; Luke 18:1; Eph 6:18).
The Willingness of God
Some believe that prayers for healing should always include the caveat "if God wills," since Yeshua prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "yet not as I will, but as You will" (Matt 26:39). However, Yeshua added the condition to His prayer precisely because He made a proposition directly contrary to the known will of the Father. Outside the histories of Yeshua the phrase, "if God wills" is primarily used in reference to the sovereign will of God in the context of making plans for the future. God's sovereign will can not be known in advance unless God reveals it (Acts 18:21; 21:14; Rom 1:10; 15:32; 1 Cor 4:19; 16:7; Jas 4:15). Saying "if God wills" is an acknowledgement that God does not guarantee tomorrow and that our plans may not come to pass. What is the point, then, of worrying over the future and acquiring the necessities of life (Matt 6:25-34)?
The only place in the apostolic writings where the subject of God's will arises in connection with healing is the request of a leper to Yeshua (Mark 1:40). The leper makes an interesting statement, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." In spite of Yeshua's record of healing, the leper was not convinced that God's healing grace would be extended to him. He should have realized that God sent His Son to heal. Yet, in this one and only case where the willingness of Yeshua (and thus of God) was questioned, Yeshua replied "I am willing" (Mark 1:41) and healed the man. Indeed every person who came to Yeshua for help with a physical problem went home healed (Matt 4:23f; 8:16; 9:35; 14:14; 15:30; 19:2; 21:14). Yeshua still asks the question He put to the blind man, "What do you want me to do for you" (Matt 20:31-33).
Why People Aren't Healed
As I've mentioned already, most people experience healing whether they pray for it or not. Just as God sends the rain and sun on the just and the unjust, so He is continually healing people as an expression of His love. However, there are times when specific physical problems occur that are not healed or not healed fully. This is a complex puzzle and many people have suffered from well-meaning but critical people. Some, as Joni Tada, prayed earnestly for healing without receiving God's full restoration. The questions linger … why, why, why.
There could be a variety of reasons why people are not healed. The following are examples.
Failure to Want. The sick person may not desire to get well. In fact, Yeshua apparently healed the stranger in John 5:6-7 against his will. When asked if he wanted to be healed, the man reacted with a defensive statement as if Yeshua had asked "why aren't you healed." The man had been in such a dependent state for so long that he was comfortable with it. Yet Yeshua healed him anyway. Instead of rejoicing the man responded to this grace by reporting Yeshua to the Pharisees, whereupon Yeshua strongly warned the man against reoccurrence of sin, which apparently caused the paralysis. Many people say they want to be well, but in reality reject healing because they thrive on the attention they get by being dependent or it enables them to avoid responsibility to work.
Failure to Ask. The sick person may not ask (Jas 4:2). There are many people who simply don't ask God to heal them either because of doubts, a form of pride which prevents asking others from the congregation to help or fear of being embarrassed over the nature of the physical problem. Normally, God will only provide special healing with permission. Except for the man beside the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15), there is no record of Yeshua or the apostles healing anyone who didn't ask for it.
Failure to Act. The sick person may not want to change what's making him sick. Poor health and many diseases come from lifestyle choices, such as sexual sin, drug addictions (including pharmaceuticals), alcohol addiction, smoking, food sensitivities and improper diet. All of these behavioral choices have their negative consequences, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Many physical maladies can be remedied by following a healthy diet. Why should God miraculously fix a problem for someone who is unwilling to change?
Failure to Forgive. The sick person may have an underlying resentment and an unwillingness to forgive (Mark 11:25). Medical research has documented that many physical maladies are caused or aggravated by resentment, bitterness, anger, unforgiveness, hate, or hostility against another person. The immediate consequence of unforgiveness is that God cannot forgive (Matt 6:14f), which could result in the denial of other graces, such as healing (cf. 1Jn 3:22).
I first learned of the physical effects of resentment in 1987 from a presentation at a Christian conference of peacemakers by Dr. James A. Stringham, a Christian psychiatrist and medical missionary to India. In an article published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry (1969) Dr. Stringham chronicled the results of many clinical studies which linked resentment, hostility and suppressed aggression to hypertension, coronary disorders, stomach ulcers, psychosomatic pain, arthritis and rheumatic conditions, alcoholism and accidents. He also developed an instrument called "Spiritual Checkup," which he administered to many Christian groups.
The Checkup revealed the presence of resentment, unforgiveness, bitterness or hostility in about half the members of every tested group. My own use of the Checkup has resulted in similar findings. Dr. Stringham states forthrightly in the introduction to his article that "the human personality is so constituted that it is unable to contain, over prolonged periods of time, hatred, bitterness or resentment and remain healthy." In the book What the Bible Says About Healthy Living (Regal Books, 1996), Dr. Rex Russell states in similar fashion, "The only personality trait that has been shown to be detrimental to health is hostility or bitterness" (p. 249).
Failure to Repent. The sick person may have committed sin that needs to be confessed and quit (Isa 59:1f; Jas 5:16). When there is demonic involvement healing often requires more than just prayer (Matt 17:21; Acts 19:11-19).
God's Sovereign "No"
Incomplete Conditions. There is the possibility that if the physical properties necessary to accomplish the healing are not present and can't be obtained, then God is not able to manipulate the rate of healing as occurs in the average providential miracle. Of course, God could perform a "sign" and create what is missing. Since Yeshua performed "signs" to attest His divinity, then God's decision may rest on whether it would bring particular glory to Him and advance the cause of His Kingdom. It could be argued that miraculous signs have been rare in history because God no longer needs to provide proofs for man's faith.
God's Higher Purposes. God may reveal clearly and explicitly that He is not going to heal. Yeshua refused to heal Himself on the cross for obvious reasons (Luke 23:35). Paul prayed three times for healing and would have kept praying if God hadn't answered (2Cor 12:7-9). God told him "No" and gave the reason. Does Paul's experience mean that we should always pray "thy will be done" when we pray for healing? No, just the opposite. His example means that we should keep on praying for healing until God says "no." When God says "no," we need to pray for understanding and the grace to live with the answer. Consider Habakkuk 3:17-19.
A Time to Die. God may say "no" because it is time for the person to die as Solomon said (Eccl 3:2; Ps 90:5). Life and death are in the Lord's hands and He cares deeply about His people and wants to spare them evil times (Isa 57:1). Sometimes we should pray for the elderly person's release rather than to pray for healing. This takes the wisdom of God.
The truth is that God heals and He wants to heal. Moreover, God wants His disciples to pray confidently for healing and assist others to receive healing. So, pray and keep on praying. God can be trusted with all our cares.
Copyright © 2009-2016 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.