7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NKJV)
Does God Always Heal?
Many in today’s church would argue that yes, God will always heal the person who has faith. There is a tendency within these circles to blame a lack of healing on a lack of faith. But is healing so entwined with faith? It is true that Jesus performed many works of healing, and it is often the case that He praised those He healed for their great faith. (See Luke 7:1-10 for example.)
Yet it is not always the case that those healed possessed great faith. There are numerous examples where Jesus heals those who had little or no faith. See the subsequent verses in Luke 7, where the widow’s son was raised even though neither he nor his mother expressed any faith.
So if God heals those with or without faith, can it be equally true that God denies healing to some despite their great faith? Our opening passage written by the Apostle Paul gives the striking and authoritative answer to this: yes, God does deny healing to some, and it is not for any lack of faith on their part that he does so.
“By His Stripes We Are Healed”
One of the most often quoted verses in Scripture to support the claim that those with faith are always healed is this verse from Isaiah: “By His stripes we have been healed.” I want to briefly look at this because, on face value and taken out of context this does seem to plainly state that Jesus has healed us if we put our trust in Him. But let us look at the context:
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
– Isaiah 53:5-6
Here we can see that when the Holy Spirit, speaking through Isaiah, says that “we are healed”, the whole passage is referring to Jesus taking upon Himself our sins, our iniquity. The first three lines of verse 5 are about His bearing our sins, and then comes the line on healing. Then the whole of verse 6 deals with how we have all sinned and how He has borne our iniquity. It would therefore be the most compelling case that this phrase, “And by His stripes we are healed,” is not an out of place declaration of physical (or mental) healing, but rather fits in well as a statement of our healing from sin.
The Danger of the “Always Healed” Doctrine
The idea that those with faith are always healed can, in fact, be dangerous and cause much discouragement to Christians who are taught such and yet do not experience the healing that they want. The teaching that you simply need more faith and you will get the healing you want can bring those who do not experience such healing to question their own faith: do I really believe? Am I really a man (or woman) or faith? Does God actually love me? What’s wrong with me that God doesn’t heal me? Or, for those with a penchant for expressing faith: “I believe I am healed,” whilst walking around with a broken leg.
Paul didn’t believe the “always healed” doctrine. He heard clearly from God that his own ailment, a messenger of Satan no less, was not going to be taken away from him. God said to Paul that “My grace is sufficient for you.” Did Paul lack faith? Clearly he did not, but would go great strides by faith and was the most prolific writer of the New Testament.
I want to close this post with a few reflections on how God uses suffering. If we believe that sometimes God allows us to suffer rather than be healed, we must at least start to address why there is suffering in the Christian life. This is a huge topic in its own right, and I do not pretend to have all the answers, but we can make some points.
Firstly, we are, as Christ’s followers, called to partake in His suffering. We are called blessed when we are persecuted and slandered, because Jesus was persecuted and slandered. The Apostle Paul says we should be “conformed to His death”. (See Phil 3:9-11.)
Then, God will often use suffering to bring about a greater good than that which can be achieved by constant well-being. Our illnesses may enable us to become more compassionate and sympathetic to others who are suffering. We may find that poor health brings us more time, and with that greater time to spend in prayer. We may find that certain sins are able to be overcome because we experience God’s discipline through sickness.
There are many other ways in which God can use suffering, and we must always bear in mind that God’s ways are so high above our ways that we cannot hope to comprehend the fullness of His wisdom this side of eternity. But what is clear, and something I hope I have been able to relate a little, is that God does both allow and use illness and does not always desire to heal everyone who has enough faith.