Health and Disease
It is not surprising that, in the full-orbed view of men which the Scriptures take, we should find considerable reference to an experience so universal as health and disease. A matter which profoundly affects man’s relationship not only to his fellows, but also to his God, is bound to receive more than passing attention in God’s revelation of His dealings with men, and of His will concerning their conduct and condition on earth. Thus we find reference to items as diversified as the healing of fractures (Ezek. 30:21), and the period of quarantine for various diseases of the skin (Lev. 13:4). The healing ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ is, of course, of paramount interest and importance.
In the Old Testament, health was promised as a reward for obedience to the laws of God (Deut. 7:15): sickness was to be the portion of the disobedient (Lev. 26:15-16). The prolonged health and strength of Joshua and Caleb might be taken as instances of the fulfilment of the former promise (Num. 14:38); the plague of boils in Egypt (Ex. 9:10) and the leprosy from which Gehazi suffered (2 Kings 5:27) are instances of the latter.
It is unjustifiable, however, either to conclude today that all who enjoy good health do so as a special mark of God’s favour, or to adopt the view of the disciples who evidently felt that all sickness and disability are due to the sins of an individual (John 9:1-3). The story of Job is a warning not to assume that illness is always the result of personal sin. The New Testament, too, provides examples of righteous men who suffered ill-health; for instance, the Apostle Paul himself had a physical disability, almost certainly a diseased condition of the eyes (Gal. 4:13-15; 6:11).
It is obvious that a perfect creation, whether past or future, cannot be marred by the presence of disease. As originally created, man was free from sin, disease, and death; his life stemming from the life of God (Gen. 1:27, 31; 2:7). But with the entrance of sin into the world, there also entered disease and death, to which all of us are subject (Rom. 5:12). What, then, is the relationship between sin and disease at the present time? Because as Christians we are free from the penalty of sin, should we expect to be free from disease as well? Disease, like death, is the common heritage of mankind, until the redeemed are forever delivered from the presence of these forces, through being translated into the presence of the Lord (Rom. 8:22-23). Until that day, we can expect to suffer the effects of these forces, and although it is clearly stated that some suffer as a result of sin in their lives (1 Cor. 11:30), it is usually almost impossible in a particular case to attribute the illness to a direct visitation from the Lord. It is safer to say in general that our sin, and that of our forefathers, has made us subject to disease, from which we will be delivered at the redemption of our bodies.
If a Christian becomes ill, should he expect divine healing? In the first place, it must be stated that the nature of the healing process, being a living force, is unknown. It is as mysterious as life itself, and has its source in God. The best that man can do is to assist this healing process. Because God is the Author of all healing, whether assisted or unassisted by human remedies, there is a sense in which all healing is divine healing. Since God regulates all healing, it is obvious that He can speed the process into an instantaneous one, if He so desires.
The Lord Himself and His disciples performed miracles of healing; gifts of healing were given to the Church. Does this mean that we should expect to exercise the power of instantaneous healing today? In reply it is necessary to examine the place and purpose of miracles in apostolic days. They were designed to prove the authenticity of the message, rather than to attract people to the message (Acts 14:3. Heb. 2:3-4). On several occasions, the Lord forbade the sufferer whom He cured, to noise abroad the event (Mk. 1:44). The Lord never attracted people to hear His message by a promise of miraculous healing, although His compassion for suffering souls led Him to cure the sick, apparently in large numbers (John 21:25). Paul and Barnabas likewise did not exploit their gift of healing; they did not use it to attract a hearing; rather, when they returned to Jerusalem, they defended their turning to the Gentiles by declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among them, as proof of divine approval of their deeds (Acts 15:4-12).
Today, such a witness to the authenticity of the message is unnecessary, because there are many other widely known and infallible proofs. This does not mean, however, that the gift of healing has been removed from the Church, even though instantaneous healing is not a common occurrence today. All down the centuries, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ have been to the fore in ministering to and healing the sick: even today, the ministry of healing is an important and fruitful handmaiden to the ministry of evangelism on the mission field. Nor does it mean that cases of instantaneous healing cannot occur today. Where conditions approximate those of apostolic days, miracles of healing may occur even now, as a witness to the authenticity of the gospel message.
Prayer is enjoined for the sick in James 5:15, without necessarily implying that an instantaneous cure, or one apart from the use of God-given remedies, will occur. In fact, it would seem that the Apostle has in mind those cases of sickness which are directly the result of sin in the believer’s life, the forgiveness of that sin being the primary end in view.
In the light of all this, what should be the attitude of believers to so-called miracles of healing today? Primarily, it should be one of caution, especially in view of the cure of psychosomatic disease by natural methods. Such cures may to the undiscerning appear truly miraculous. Furthermore, “miracles” of various kinds have been performed through the use of “spiritual” power which is decidedly not the power of God; for example, the feats of the magicians at the court of Pharaoh in the days of Moses (Exod. 7:11, 22; 8:7, 18), the sorcery of Simon (Acts 8:9-11), and the works of practitioners of the occult even to modern times. In addition, there is a very real danger of “spiritual healers” doing harm to suggestible people, especially in cases of incipient mental disease. It would also be well for Christians to beware of any abuse of God-given gifts of healing, seeking rather to enter into new depths of consecration to God, more understanding of the power of prayer and the authority of God in every aspect of life, until we are made ready to enter into the likeness of His image, freed forever from all trace of our former lost estate (Rev. 21:4).
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If thou knowest God, thou knowest that everything is possible for God to do.