A Healthy Theology of Healing
Have you ever looked at an old photograph of yourself and been struck by how much younger you look in the photo? Welcome to the club. It’s called the ageing process.
The apostle Paul talked about it in 2 Corinthians 4:16 when he told his readers that “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”
Ultimately this “wasting away” of our bodies reminds us that they are mortal and will not sustain our souls on this planet beyond a mere fraction of its history. Only God is immortal, or as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “Man is destined to die.” (Heb 9:27)
On the other hand, have you ever stopped to think about the way in which your body constantly replenishes itself, bringing healing and wholeness to itself wherever there is decay?
In the next hour alone your body will shed some 600,000 skin cells, but you won’t notice because simultaneously it will also produce 600,000 more.
This may sound like a busy hour’s work, but it’s nothing compared to what is happening in your blood vessels every second. Every single second of your life 2,000,000 red blood cells return to your bone marrow to die, and they are replaced every second by another 2,000,000 red blood cells which will make a quarter of a million round trips of your body before they also return to the bone marrow to die. No wonder you sometimes feel a bit tired!
We also see our bodies working even harder each time we are ill. Colds get better – with or without Lemsip and Lockets – if we simply give our body enough time to recover. Broken bones mend. Cut fingers heal. Although our bodies cannot deal with every sickness without medical intervention, it is obvious that our bodies have an inbuilt capacity, given them by their Designer, which works tirelessly to heal what is sick and mend what is broken. God has decreed that our bodies are mortal, but He is still very committed to promoting healing and wholeness in them as an expression of His character.
Paradox & clarity
As Christians, we are not confused by this paradox. The atheist learns no spiritual lesson from the opposing principles of both healing and decline in his body. Without firm hope beyond the grave, he either laments or ignores his mortality whilst trying to halt the decline as long as possible before death inevitably comes. We know as Christians, however, that these two opposing forces of physical healing and decline are at the very heart of the Gospel. When God created the world He saw that it was “very good” (Gen 1:31), but when Adam disobeyed the Lord’s command that “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen 2:17) he brought about the Fall and its very bad consequences. Paul explains that “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin” (Rom 5:12), and Moses makes it clear that sickness was part of the curse which came through sin (Deut 28:21-22&59-61). This makes sense of Peter’s teaching that Jesus was undoing the work of the Fall in his earthly ministry when he came “healing all who were under the power of the devil” (Acts 10:38), and explains why Scripture teaches that it is often (but not always) linked to demonic activity (Mt 9:32-33, Lk 13:11&16).1 Sickness is not just a biological and medical phenomenon, but also a spiritual one related to the devil’s work in the world (Acts 10:38). Healing is therefore part of God’s work in the world, as personified in Jesus Christ, who became a human being with a mortal body in order to “destroy the devil’s work” (1Jn 3:8).
Given the clear biblical teaching about the two principles of human mortality and divine healing, no Christian seriously denies either one of them in their entirety. Even the most die-hard cessationist still expects to get better when he catches the ‘flu, and if necessary goes to the doctor to help his body in its work of recuperation. Even the most fiery Pentecostal faith-healer does not seriously expect his congregation to experience so much healing from God that they will never actually die.
The question is not whether the Bible and experience teach that there are two principles of mortality and healing at work in our bodies, but how much we can expect God to heal our mortal bodies right now. Since Jesus taught that healing was a primary sign that His Kingdom had come (Mt 10:7-8, Mk 1:15&27, Lk 9:2,9:11&10:9), the answer to this question is part of the bigger question of how much has the Kingdom of God already come? In this much bigger question lies a healthy theology of healing.
Most Christians agree that the Kingdom of God has come through the first coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus said “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Mt 12:28). He quietened John the Baptist’s doubts over whether he truly was the promised Messianic King by reminding him that through him “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised” (Mt 11:5).
Most Christians also agree that the Kingdom of God has not yet fully come and will not fully come until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Lk 19:11-12). The apostle John saw that it was only after the Second Coming that the angels would fully proclaim that “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Rev 11:15), and he also saw that it was only after the Second Coming that the old order of things would be ended and sickness would become a distant memory rather than a daily reality. He tells us that “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 sea. 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, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live 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!’” (Rev 21:1-5a). We do not yet possess the resurrection bodies which Jesus has won for us through his work of salvation, but we eagerly await them through the groans and trials of this life (1Cor 15:39-53, Phil 3:21, Rom 8:23, Acts 14:22), knowing that at the Second Coming of Jesus we will be raised to life to enjoy the complete fullness of the Kingdom of God.
Most Christians agree still further that we have a role to play as Christians in turning the now-but not-yet Kingdom of God into reality on earth today. Jesus, after all, told us to ask the Father “Let your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10).
Therefore since almost all Christians agree that, in Jesus Christ, the promised Kingdom has come (Gen 49:10, Jer 23:5-6, Eze 21:25-27), a healthy theology of healing answers the question of just how much the Kingdom of God came through his First Coming and how much we should resign ourselves to sickness in the here and now as part of our groaning for his speedy Second Coming. Put simply, we can say that if the Kingdom of God has come much then I can have much expectation of being healed, but if the Kingdom of God has come little then I can have little expectation of being healed (Lk 10:9).
This series will therefore examine each of the four main Christian answers to the question of how much the Kingdom of God has already come in Jesus Christ, and will conclude by showing how a biblical answer to this question provides us with the framework for a healthy theology of healing. This will then provide us with four crucial areas in which we need to grow in our own personal ministries if we are to bring the healing of God to our own generation as an expression of the Kingdom rule, here and now, of the Great King Jesus Christ.
Check back next week for the next installment in this series on healing.
// Originally posted on Theology Matters //