John E. Todd, Chesterfield, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
There are three methods by which God heals human sicknesses: by natural means; by medical means; and by miraculous intervention.
Healing by natural means
When God created man, He incorporated into our bodies many automatic systems of repair and healing. When we cut ourselves the blood congeals and later the wound heals. When a bone is broken, after it is set, it knits together by a natural process. When germs and viruses invade our body, antibodies form to defend the body and it is possible for human beings to survive even serious diseases without medical aid. Scant attention is paid to this form of ‘divine’ healing. Evolution denies the Creator His honoured place in our being and all His wisdom by which we are made.
Healing by medical means
God has created man with an intelligent brain, which has been applied to medical matters. The observations and experiments of men from the earliest times have provided an ever-increasing fund of medical knowledge. So that now, in advanced societies, the average citizen can reasonably look forward to a long and healthy life supported by medical discoveries.
God uses medical means to achieve His purposes. When God, in answer to prayer, gave to Hezekiah a further fifteen years of life, on what was to have been his deathbed, it was by medical means. For Isaiah cured the king’s boil by means of a poultice, Isa. 38. 21. In the New Testament, Paul refers to Luke as ‘the beloved physician’, not the beloved ex-physician, Col. 4. 14. We may also note Timothy being exhorted to take a little wine for his health’s sake, 1 Tim. 5. 23. Those who consider the use of medical means as a lack of faith are the victims of human speculation, not scriptural guidance.
Healing by miraculous means
Finally, God does heal by miraculous means. Superceding all other means God can intervene and provide instant healing. Miraculous healing in scripture has five marks. These are general principles, and although incidents may be cited which seem to contradict them, nevertheless a little thought will show that these principles still hold good.
First, there are no failures in miraculous healing, Mark 6. 56. The failure of the disciples to heal on the one occasion in Matthew 17 verse 16 was immediately corrected by the Lord’s healing of that person, ‘And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly’, v. 18.
Second, the healing was always immediate.
Third, the healing was always complete. There is the incident of the blind man, whose restored vision was at first so blurred that he could distinguish between trees and men only by the movement of the latter, Mark 8. 24. This does not invalidate the second and third marks of miraculous divine healing, because the healing was completed within a few moments, the first part being a stage of the whole event, ‘Then again he (Jesus) laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly’, v. 25.
Fourth, The results of miraculous healing were permanent. The fact that Jairus’s daughter, the widow of Nain’s son and Lazarus, who were raised from the dead, later died of old age, can hardly be said to contradict this!
And finally, faith was not absolutely necessary for an act of miraculous healing to take place. Malchus, whose ear was healed by the Lord, was actually an enemy of the Lord coming to arrest Him, not in any sense a believer, Luke 22. 50-51.
Modern healing campaigns
In the light of these five scriptural aspects of miraculous divine healing, one must reject modern healing campaigns as being of God. For the great majority of the sick attending such campaigns are not healed. Many of the healings claimed are gradual, incomplete or not permanent. Also, faith is insisted upon as an absolute condition of healing. Indeed, lack of faith is blamed for the failures. In view of this, even the few dramatic healings claimed cannot bring the healing campaigns under the heading of miraculous divine healing, because they lack all five of the scriptural marks.
Scriptural patterns of divine healing the sign
Miracles, including healing, are not scattered through the scriptures in a continuous stream from Genesis to the Revelation. Miracles have occurred during four periods of history, with long and definite gaps between. Miracles always appear in connection with a new message from God. This brings out the true meaning of the word miracle; it means literally ‘a sign’. Unfortunately the word miracle tends to hide the meaning of the original Greek word. The word sign is more satisfactory as it tells us the purpose of the miracle. It is a sign that the message being declared is of divine authority. The miracle is the means of authenticating the divine message in the eyes of men. To be a sign of divine intervention the sign must be of a nature other than natural. If the Lord had given, for example, herbal potions to the sick that in time cured them, this would be a sign that He was a good doctor, but would not be a sign that He was the Son of God. The signs needed to prove that He was the Son of God must be in the true sense ‘supernatural’. As Isaiah prophesied of the coming of the Son of God, ‘Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy’, Isa. 35. 5-6.
Time periods in the divine use of signs
The first period of signs, beginning in the days of Moses, was preceded by the period of the patriarchs from Adam to Joseph, in which there were no miraculous signs. God gave to the patriarchs visions, help and guidance, but no miracles. Moses introduced the message of the old covenant to Israel, and this message was clearly attended by numerous signs, the exodus from Egypt, the wilderness wanderings and the entry into the Promised Land comprises this first period of miraculous signs.
The period of the early kings, Saul, David and Solomon, although a time of great divine activity, was a period without miraculous signs. It is the ministry of the prophets Elijah and Elisha that gives us the second period of miraculous signs. Both kingdoms of Israel had fallen into idolatry, and these two prophets were entrusted with the message of repentance. ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him’, 1 Kgs. 18. 21. This was a time of crisis for the people of God, for judgement loomed. But alas, even the miraculous signs failed to turn the nation permanently to God.
The period of the decline of the kingdoms was a period of great prophets including Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, but a period without miracles. The only exception to this is the turning back of the shadow on the sundial, Isa. 38. 8. But note that this again was to authenticate a divine message, v. 7.
It was the ministry of Daniel and his companions which gave us the third period of miracles. Again, it was the occasion of a new message from God. Now God was speaking through Daniel to the emperors of two successive world empires, Babylon and Persia. This message was that which would preserve both the people of God and the worship of God. This series of signs included the healing of Nebuchadnezzar, Dan. 4. 34.
The period of the return from exile and the restoration of the temple and Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubabbel, Ezra and Nehemiah was a time of great activity, but without miracles. It is not until the proclamation of the good news of the new covenant do we have the fourth and greatest period of signs. This period includes the ministry of our Lord and the evangelism by the early church.
Divine healing does not guarantee Christians’ health
But although miraculous signs, including healing, were given as the gospel was proclaimed, this did not guarantee healing for Christians. Paul had a thorn in the flesh that he asked the Lord to remove three times, but without healing, 2 Cor. 12. 7-9. This thorn in the flesh was perhaps a disease of the eyes. This was disfiguring and the Christians of Galatia, out of love for Paul, would have given him their own eyes, if it had been possible. ‘And though my condition was a trial to you . . . I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me’, Gal. 4. 13-15. This disease forced Paul to write with a large script, ‘See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand’, Gal. 6. 11. Timothy had a s t o m a c h a i l m e n t which was also of a recurring and u n r e l i e v e d nature, ‘No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments’, 1 Tim. 5. 23. When Paul was short of helpers, he was forced to leave Trophimus ill, at Miletus, being unable to heal him, 2 Tim. 4. 20.
Divine healing today
In the light of past history we would not expect miraculous signs at this present time, because God is giving no new message, for the gospel is unchanging for this age. It is His only message. But having said this, we must also remember that in His sovereign will, God can perform a miracle whenever He so chooses.
In the case of minor ailments the Christian should be grateful to the Creator for the healing powers within his or her own body. This gratitude must reveal itself in practice by both refusing to abuse the body and in seeking to maintain its health as an instrument for doing the will of God. Such an attitude would forbid the use of nicotine, alcohol and addictive drugs; indulgence in gluttony; and all else that would destroy the health of the body. Also, the Christian should consider exercise as a means to keep the body fit.
When more serious illness comes the Christian should gratefully accept all medical aid as from the Lord. For it is the Lord alone who is the fount of all wisdom, ‘For the Lord gives wisdom’, Prov. 2. 6. ‘But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand’, Job 32. 8. As God said to Solomon, ‘Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind’, 1 Kgs. 3. 12. All knowledge, including medical and surgical knowledge, has been revealed by the Designer of the universe and graciously provided to seeking men. To refuse medical help could be considered a form of unbelief.
When it seems that the situation is beyond medical skill, we must remember that it is never beyond prayer. God has given definite instructions upon this matter in His word. ‘Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up’, Jas. 5. 14-15. When prayer is offered for the sick believer, he or she is being placed in the Lord’s hands. There the sick believer and his or her loved ones can rest the matter in peace. If the Lord should choose to raise up the sick one, whether by medical or miraculous means, then it will be done. If the Lord’s will is otherwise then we need to bow to His loving purposes and say, ‘Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt’, Matt. 26. 39.
It is accepted that many do not see this exhortation and practice cited here from James chapter 5, as being a general one in the case of sickness, but in the context rather of the case of sickness on account of sin in the life.
AUTHOR PROFILE: John has been constributing articles to assembly magazines since 1986. together with his wife he began work amongst children that led to establishment of the assembly. Now he serves the assembly as an elder and in the ministry of God's word.