Tag Archives: sickness

Is it okay to pray for physical healing?

Of course it is! Physical sickness was not a part of God’s original creation. It’s only natural that we call out to our Creator to make us well.

The gospel accounts share numerous examples of Jesus healing people who had all sorts of illnesses and maladies.[1] Like a trailer from a highly anticipated movie, this is one of many ways Jesus gave previews of what it looks like when the power of God’s Kingdom comes to earth.

As we pray for healing today, it’s helpful to keep before us two New Testament passages that show us God will respond with healing or with grace.

On one hand, there is James writing, “Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well.” (James 5:13–14)

On the other hand, there is the apostle Paul who asked Jesus to remove what he called a “thorn in my flesh.”[2]

 “Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8–9)

 And in his last letter, Paul alludes to a co-worker that he left behind because of illness. “Trophimus I left sick in Miletus,” he writes.3 Sometimes God chooses not to heal His servants immediately.

The New Testament assures us that only when God’s Kingdom is fully implemented in the future will death and sickness and pain be eradicated.4 Until then, it’s good to pray for physical healing. The answer we receive won’t be healing or no healing. It’s healing now or healing later—with the grace to live faithfully and joyfully in anticipation of a full and permanent healing in God’s new heavens and new earth.

[1] Matthew 4:23

[2] 2 Corinthians 12:7

3 2 Timothy 4:20

4 Revelation 21:1-5

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Addictions and Other Destructive Behaviors: Sin or Disease?

Destructive behavior includes elements of both sin and “disease.” Some people are especially susceptible to particular kinds of destructive behavior. For example, men who abuse women are often reared in families where women were abused. Imbued with contempt for women, they are predisposed to use women as scapegoats for frustration. There is clearly a sense in which this predisposition (or heightened temptation) to debase and abuse women can be called a “sickness,” since it was largely instilled by external influences.

Does this mean that an abuser’s “sickness”—the fact that he has been damaged by sin and is consequently more prone to abuse women than men who haven’t been so damaged—justifies his abusive behavior? Absolutely not! His “sickness” helps us understand his behavior, but doesn’t excuse it. He isn’t merely a victim of outside circumstances, like someone with meningitis or malaria. In spite of the tendencies he inherited, an element of conscious, willful sin is present in every abusive act. Regardless of his background, he is capable of resisting his impulses. No one is so isolated from the laws of society and the influence of conscience that they are completely unaware of the wrongfulness of spouse abuse. Our legal system acknowledges this with the principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Abusers are accountable to society for any violation of laws against spouse abuse. Further, to the extent that an abuser knows his behavior is wrong, he is responsible before God to change.

Some people object to making a distinction between sick internal impulses and sinful actions (willful sin). They say that the impulses and emotions of the abuser are just as sinful as his decision to abuse.

It is true that the evil emotions and impulses of an abuser are not merely sick. They are the results both of original and personal sin and are repulsive and evil in themselves. However, they aren’t sinful in the same sense and to the same degree as a conscious personal decision to act sinfully. (See the ATQ article, Are Christians Held Responsible for Unpremeditated and Unconscious Sins?)

If we condemn sick predispositions as much as sinful decisions and actions, we leave no room for compassion.

Jesus had compassion on sinners (Matthew 9:12-13). He stressed the importance of having compassion on the failures of others:

You wicked servant, he said, I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? (Matthew 18:32-33)

The reason Jesus had compassion was due to His awareness that while people are sinners, they are not entirely given over to premeditated evil. There is a sense in which they are also sin’s victims.

And Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd. (Mt. 10:35-36)

If we are to be like our Master, we must be able to have compassion upon lost, sinful people, at the same time as we hold them responsible for their premeditated sin.

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What Was Paul’s “Thorn”?

What was the “thorn” that Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians 12:7?

We do not know exactly what the affliction was that Paul called his “thorn in the flesh.” It probably was a physical malady. There is some evidence in Scripture that Paul had an eye problem. He spoke of the large letters he used in writing to the Galatians (Galatians 6:11). He also declared that the Galatians would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to him (Galatians 4:13-15). Some have suggested that this may have been a chronic eye disease or an injury suffered when he was stoned in Lystra (Acts 14:19,20).

Paul also referred to his “thorn” as “a messenger of Satan.” We know that the devil afflicted Job with a physical malady (Job 2:7) and caused physical deformity to a woman (Luke 13:16). We therefore have scriptural support for the idea that the “messenger of Satan” can be something physical.

Those who believe that the thorn was something other than a physical affliction point out that it was sent to “buffet” Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7), that is to prick the apostle’s arrogance which may have lingered on after he had been converted from Pharisaism. Some scholars prefer this interpretation and think Paul referred to Alexander the coppersmith (2 Timothy 4:14), Hymenaeus, and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17), as the “thorns” who were adversaries of the work and therefore doing Satan’s business.

Those who hold to this view also refer to Numbers 33:55, where Moses warned the children of Israel as they were about to enter Canaan, “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell.”

Another example of such a “thorn” would be Elymas, the sorcerer mentioned in Acts 13, who tried to turn the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, away from the faith (v.8) and was addressed by Paul as “you son of the devil” (v.10). And in 1 Thessalonians 2:18, Satan is said to have prevented Paul more than once from visiting the Thessalonians.

The fact of the matter is that the Bible doesn’t identify Paul’s thorn. God must have had a good reason for not giving this information. He probably left it this way so that people with various kinds of physical and spiritual problems might identify with Paul and experience the grace that God has promised (2 Corinthians 12:9).

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Isn’t a Lack of Deliverance from Sickness or Harm a Sign of Deficient Faith?

It would be a serious mistake to imply that deficient faith accounts for all instances in which a person does not receive healing or deliverance.

It’s true that Scripture tells of people who were healed or delivered from danger because of their faith. Some examples are Gideon ( Judges 7:15-23 ); Naaman the Syrian ( 2 Kings 5:14-15 ); Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego ( Daniel 3:19-29 ); the centurion’s servant ( Matthew 8:13 ); the woman with an issue of blood ( Matthew 9:20-22 ); the man with a withered hand ( Matthew 12:9-13 ); and Peter’s deliverance from prison ( Acts 12:5-12 ). Even this partial list is impressive.

Clearly, faith in God may result in healing and deliverance. However, the Scriptures also show us just as clearly that there are times when a believer’s suffering or sickness has nothing to do with a lack of faith.

When Job lost his family, wealth, and physical health, his friends “comforted” him with the message that his loss and suffering were due to his own moral failure (his lack of faith). But Job was confident in his integrity before God. God Himself had declared him perfect and upright ( Job 1:8 ). Later, God Himself denied the explanation that Job’s “counselors” gave for his suffering ( Job 13:1-15 ). Even more importantly, God Himself denounced their words ( Job 42:7-8 ).

Job’s faith wasn’t the problem. In fact, Job’s faith in God was so strong that he, without cursing or disrespect, defended his integrity to God and questioned Him about the injustice of his suffering. Yet, in the midst of his agony, he continued to trust:

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him. He also shall be my salvation, for a hypocrite could not come before Him (Job 13:15-16).

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27).

Job’s faith was eventually rewarded and vindicated. But he wasn’t spared the terrible suffering that allowed his faith to be tested and proven.

Even at a time when miracles often occurred, God allowed Stephen to be stoned ( Acts 7:59-60 ) and James to be beheaded. Although Acts 12 tells of Peter’s supernatural deliverance from captivity in prison, Jesus had already prophesied that he would eventually die a martyr’s death ( John 21:17-19 ), as (according to tradition) did all of the other disciples except John.

In 2 Corinthians 11:23-30 Paul eloquently described the suffering and trials from which he hadn’t been delivered. He also suffered from a particular “thorn in the flesh” ( 2 Corinthians 12:7, 10 ) for which God had not provided a remedy. When Timothy suffered from a stomach ailment, Paul didn’t exhort him to have greater faith. Instead he told him to take some wine as medicine ( 1 Timothy 5:23 ). There isn’t the slightest hint in these passages that Paul’s trials and Timothy’s sickness were the product of unconfessed sin or deficient faith. In fact, rather than proclaiming that our faith in Christ should deliver us from the suffering and trials of this world, Paul extols the spiritual benefits of suffering.

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance [produces] character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us (Romans 5:3-5).

James also made it clear that strong faith is no insurance against suffering:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).

On the basis of Scripture, we can say that faith is always relevant to suffering. Our reaction to suffering — whether in faith or in despair — determines whether it will produce spiritual growth or despair. But because spiritual healing is more important to us than our physical circumstances, faith is not a barrier against suffering.

Whenever we are inclined to presume that the illness or suffering of another person is the result of that person’s sin, we should recall the foolishness of Job’s “counselors” in attempting to explain the mystery of God’s will. Although faith won’t always deliver us from tribulation, it will keep us conscious of God’s promises and of the assurance that He will work everything out to good of His children ( Romans 8:28 ).

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