As a pastor, this has always baffled me. I have had my fair share of praying for the sick when the patient instantaneously recovered. One particular incident that stood out in my memory happened years ago when I visited a home in the interior part of Samar. A young boy got so sick that he has been refusing food for days. When I arrived at their home, it was like a cloud of death was hovering over the entire household. Without much words, I went under the mosquito net where the child was lying, took the child in my arms, put my palms on both sides of his head, prayed a prayer of supplication, and commanded the sickness to leave him in the name of Jesus. I could literally feel the boy’s temperature going down while I was praying. When we said our Amens, the child asked for food. He lived.
I wish all my prayers are like that. I wish I could say that every single one person I prayed for received instant healing. They didn’t. Some are healed gradually. Some don’t recover at all.
So last week when a dear lady from church asked Pastor Kix and me to pray for a friend who was sick, I was already praying alone and asking God for a specific Word while I was walking towards the room. I was wondering at the back of my mind, “Why is divine healing so sporadic? Isn’t it easier for God to just heal everyone and show them all that He cares and He is able?”
We prayed for the guy, claimed God’s Word for healing, and declared that by the wounds of Jesus he is healed. Since the nature of the sickness is not very external and we couldn’t know if he was healed right away, we finished the prayer time with more talks about how God is greater than our sickness and how faith is receiving before you can see the evidence.
I went home that night thinking about divine healing and why God surprises some with spectacular miracles while he sovereignly withholds it from others. Is God playing favorites? He couldn’t be. Jesus died for everyone and the sun rises for both the good and the bad. It’s too hard to accuse God of favoritism with these two in mind. It’s not that God doesn’t care either, or out of touch, or ignorant of our plight. One only needs to open the pages of the Bible to see that none of those is true. So what’s the deal with selective healing?
My answer came clearly this morning in the form of a theology blog posted by Derek Rishmawy. In his post he mentioned a lecture he attended where the Q&A tackled questions on healing. I was particularly stunned when Rishmawy referenced 2 Timothy 4:20: “I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus.”
In the book of Acts, Paul’s ministry included many miraculous healings: his handkerchiefs and aprons were used to heal the sick (Acts 19:11-12); he brought Eutychus to life (Acts 20:9-12); and he was bitten by a snake but was unharmed (Acts 28:1-6). And yet, when he was all alone and he needed someone to stand with him on his first defense before Caesar, he could not heal a sick friend. He had no other option but to leave him in Miletus.
The inclusion of this verse in the Bible is not an accident. Yes we know that Jesus, Peter, and Paul performed miraculous healings in the New Testament and that miracles still happen today. What we need to notice, however, is the fact that the New Testament also has a record of people who were not miraculously healed. In Bethesda, for example, Jesus healed only one person even if the place was full of sick people (John 5:1-9).
I have had cases when after praying for the sick, one well-meaning Christian in the room would feel the need to insist that the sick person is really healed, even if everyone knows that nothing really happened. I could always feel the awkward glances thrown around the room when that happens. I think it is a disservice to the gospel of Christ when we do that. It is one thing to pray the prayer of faith, it is another thing to insist, regardless of reason and evidence, that the person is healed. Then we simply add quickly that healing takes faith and you could be healed if you only believe. Most of us know that it is a thinly veiled attempt to save face in case the person doesn’t get healed. At least now we could say that maybe the sick person didn’t have enough faith. In the end, instead of ministering grace, we ended up blaming the sick for not having enough faith.
We need a better theology than this. When we pray for the sick, we need to be able to administer grace and faith without having to add an asterisk at the end of our conversation in case the person is not healed. People actually notice that. They know when we are trying to save face. The best practice, I believe, is to just pray for the sick because Jesus commanded us to do it and just leave the results to Him. In other words, let us just do the praying and let God do the healing. There is no embarrassment on our side if the person is not healed because we only did what Jesus told us to do. The healing part is now up to the counsel of the Holy Trinity. If it will make you feel better, just think of it this way: it is not your name that is at stake when you pray for the sick; it is the name of Jesus.
I believe that divine healing is still operating in the church today. I believe that we are commanded to lay hands on the sick for them to recover (Mark 16:17-18). But I also believe that God keeps his own counsel about who will get instantaneous healing, who will be healed gradually, who will be healed by prayer alone, who will be healed by medicine, who will not be healed, and who he will take home through sickness.
We should not forget that in the economy of God, healing is not the end goal. The end goal is for the person to know Jesus and be saved. When we minister to the sick, the point that must be made is not only that Jesus heals but that he is the God who saves. The world may not agree with this but in the Christian faith, the greater miracle is not the alteration of physical and natural phenomena but the salvation of a soul that was rescued from the power of darkness.