Thursday, March 30, 2017

Why Doesn't God Heal Everybody? Some Thoughts.


Some of our Redeemer kids

(At Redeemer I am now preaching on Healing and the Atonement. We are seeing sick people healed. We'll pray again for the sick this Sunday morning. If you have a friend that desires prayer for their illness bring them - 10:30 AM.)

My grandmother was healed of cancer. She lived with us six months out of every year when we were growing up. When she was in her mid-80s Grandma was diagnosed with breast cancer. She decided not to have it medically treated. The cancerous tumors in her breasts grew. My mother used to bathe her, and visually saw and physically felt the hard tumors growing.

Grandma knew she was going to die. She had lived a long life, and was ready to leave this world for another one. She even bought the dress she wanted to be buried in.

When Grandma had spent what we assumed would be her last 6 months in our home, she went to live with my aunt and uncle in Michgian's Upper Peninsula. One day my aunt called. She told my mother that, while bathing Grandma, she noticed that the tumors did not appear to be there. My mother could not believe this, yet wanted to believe it. Mom personally traveled 400 miles to visually inspect Grandma and confirm this.

Grandma lived for twelve more years. She bought two or three more dresses to be buried in. She died at age ninety-seven. 

What happened? How can we explain this? I, and my mother, concluded two things:

- Grandma once was cancer-filled, and then one day the cancer was gone
- God healed Grandma

I’ve heard of and personally seen other things like this. (For some really good, current, encouraging stuff see Eric Metaxas's book Miracles, and Craig Keener's magisterial Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. .) 

I’ve also been part of praying for people with illnesses whose illnesses have not gone away. Which raises the question: Why? Why do we not see everyone healed when we pray for them? I’ve thought long and hard about this over the years. I not only don’t have all the answers, I don’t think I can, given my quite-limited point of view, expect to have all the answers. Nonetheless, when I am asked this question, here’s how I respond.

1. Sickness and disease are not caused by God. God hates sickness and disease.
2. Sickness and disease are in this world because we live in, as Jesus referred to it, “this present evil age.” We live in a fallen world that’s ruled by Satan, who is called “the Prince of this world.”
3. Some diseases are part of living in this fallen world. The entire world is crying out for redemption (release) from this bondage.
4. Some diseases are caused by demonic forces. For example, Jesus sometimes heals a person by casting out a demon that is the cause of a person’s illness.
5. Some diseases are caused by our own choices.


Why did God create a world like this? Why a world where such suffering was even allowed? For me the answer is this:


- God is love. That is, God, in His essence, IS love. God cannot not-love.
- Therefore, love is the highest value for God.
- God created persons (and spiritual beings) out of love.
- Genuine love is only possible if created agents have free will.
- Therefore, God gave created agents free will.
- This is risky, since free will implies that one can choose to not love God. When people choose against God this results in suffering, even illness. (This is the Free Will Defense. See, e.g., Alvin Plantinga.)


From God’s perspective, giving created agents free will is worth it, since God is love, and love is the highest value for God. Hence, much of this world’s suffering happens because of this.

As a pastor I’ve been around a lot of death and dying, to include my own family, even my baby son David. How do I continue to find hope in all of this? Here are some thoughts.

1. Understand what Jesus taught about the kingdom of God. Jesus talked about “the age to come,” where will be no sickness, no struggle, no tears. When God invaded earth in the form of a Person, the “age to come” invaded this present evil age. Jesus once said that, “If you see me cast out demons by the finger of God, you can know that the kingdom of God is in your midst.” That is why I pray for the sick to be healed today, and will continue to do so. 

2. Be part of a faith community. This makes a huge difference for me. I know people (even Christians) who would never pray for someone to be healed. In a faithless community one should not be shocked that healings are not seen. 

3. Discern. Sometimes a deeper spiritual healing is needed. Some illnesses are, at root, spiritual and emotional. I have found that, for example, a person who lives for years with bitterness towards others and refuses to forgive can be subject to physical illnesses. The account of Jesus' healing the lame man let down through the roof (Mark 2:1-12) implies that the forgiveness of the man's sins had some connection with his ability to pick up his mat and walk.


4. Don't blame the person who is sick. When Jesus prayed for sick people he never blamed them for their sickness. For example, Jesus rejects his disciples’ assumption that the blind man in John 10 was blind because either he or his parents must have sinned.


5. Persist in prayer. When some sick people are not healed through prayer, it may simply be because we haven't prayed long enough to bring the healing to completion. If you are my friend and you are sick I will never stop praying for your healing.

6. Live a Christ-abiding life. As James writes, "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:6)

7. Be a skeptical theist. This does not mean be skeptical of God. It means: be skeptical of your own cognitive abilities to understand what God is doing. It is irrational to reason as follows:
1) I see nothing happening when I prayed for someone.
2) Therefore, nothing is happening.

You can only go from 1 to 2 if you have epistemic (knowledge) access to the mind of our all-knowing God. (As an analogy: 1) I see no germs on this hypodermic needle. 2) Therefore, there are no germs on this hypodermic needle. We can all affirm the truth of 1. But none of us can see germs. Thus, we cannot go from 1 to 2. See "Skeptical Theism.")