Divine healing and other miracles – part 1
Some time ago I was triggered by a text we read during a Wednesday evening Healing Service, from Mark, chapter 6. It made me think, study and pray about the nature of healing. I found 5 aspects of divine healing (and indeed of all miracles) in the Bible.They always need to be considered together in order to do justice to God’s work as well as to our own responsibility. They also help us to distinguish miracles from magic.
- The supernatural. The Bible is filled with praise of the wonderful deeds of God. These deeds were not only powerful, but quite often unexpected.
For instance, the choice of Joseph (not the eldest son of Jacob) to save the people of Israel from starvation. Or the parting of the Red Sea to provide a path for the Israelites. The Bible makes it clear that God’s ways are not our ways and that for God nothing is impossible. God’s miraculous deeds correspond to “the invisible” as mentioned in our Creed. But we need to be cautious here. God can be trusted to come to the aid of His people. In that sense His deeds are not unexpected. But they may still be supernatural in the sense that we do not or do not yet understand how they work.
- The natural. In the first centuries, a group of Christians believed that all (physical) matter was created by an inferior god and connected with evil. This was a Hellenistic (Greek) distortion of the truth, but one that left its mark on Christian thinking, and some Christians still secretly regard the material world, natural laws and pure science as less worthy of our attention.
But the Bible teaches that God called his visible (physical) creation “good”.
The material world does not by its very nature frustrate God’s will, but it is sin that is holding back creation from reaching its full potential. Romans 8:20,21 – “Creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will … the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God”. It is therefore unlikely that if God performs a miracle, He is actually further restricting and overruling his own creation. It is more likely that, as much as possible, He will use and liberate what is already present in creation to accomplish His purpose. To St. Augustine (5th Century) miracles were natural processes that were as it were “speeded up”. In other words, he did not see the natural and the supernatural as two competing realms. Ultimately, the visible and the invisible are one creation, meant to glorify God. Romans 8:28 – “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose”.
In the second part of this article I will deal with three other important aspects of healing (and other miracles) namely obedience, faith and grace. But we have already found that, although God often moves in mysterious ways, He does not necessarily heal us by routinely switching off the logic or energy in his own creation. In practical terms this means we should use all the means God has given us to prevent disease, to apply natural medicine, to make use of medical knowledge and to promote further research into physical and mental health in humility and with thanks to God. What applies to all areas of life, ora et labora, pray and work, applies to our health as well. Sometimes the simplest measures, like drinking more water or breathing more deeply, can have “miraculous” effects. Surely these things are just as divine in origin as the healings which seem to be entirely spontaneous.
Divine healing and other miracles – part 2
In part 1 we looked at natural and supernatural aspects of healings and miracles in general. When we call something supernatural it is often because we have little or no understanding of it. That does not mean we should be discouraged from studying the many factors that influence bodily, mental and spiritual health. The first letter to the Thessalonians exhorts us to test, prove or examine “all things” and hold on to that which is good. The context shows that St. Paul is not talking about the Scriptures, but about new insights that may be received, as long as we refrain from all kinds of evil. But above all, health is our natural state, and we may expect God to first use, bless and advocate natural ways of healing. Now let us look at the other 3 aspects (obedience, faith and grace).
- Obedience. In Deuteronomy 7 the Lord says, “If you heed these ordinances, by diligently observing them … the Lord will turn away from you every illness; all the dread diseases of Egypt that you experienced, he will not inflict on you”. Besides the Holy Scriptures, God has given us a mind which we can and should use. And so we continually discover more about sickness and health. It will, however, be dangerous to disregard wisdom until we fully understand it. The aspect of obedience also includes following the New Testament instructions about praying for the sick and laying on of hands. These means were provided by God for a reason and should not be left unused.
- Faith. Mark 6 describes Jesus visiting his home town and not being able to cure people because of their lack of faith. It literally says, “he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them”. People who usually favour a literal reading of the Bible, tend to read this text as “he could do deeds of power there, but he chose not to”. However, that is not what it says! Phillipians 2:6-7 explains that Christ emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. He only had to take the form of a servant once. After that, for all practical purposes, He could only heal through faith. Thus He left an important key in the hands of mortal people. If we have little faith, we can pray for more (or someone else can pray for us). But if there is no faith at all, we will have a problem.
- Grace. Sometimes we obey God’s instructions as well as the laws of nature as much as we can and we have faith in God and in the outcome, but we are still not healed. At other times people disregard health principles or seem to have no faith, and they still get better. We may regard this as unfair, but it also has an important positive side. It means that God’s work for us does not entirely rely on our weak faith and our inconsistent obedience. Lamentations 3:22,23: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Even when we die, we know that through the mercies of God, His children may rest in peace and rise in glory.The element of grace also distinguishes divine healing from ‘magic’. When performing magic, the person entirely relies on his own (the devil’s) rituals and formulae. This is not how our God wants to be invoked. For Him, the intention of the heart, submission to / harmony with His will and becoming a channel of His love are what matters. We should therefore respect that God’s priorities may be different. Sometimes a healing or miracle is performed just to demonstrate God’s power. The Greek word for miracle actually means “sign”. Spurgeon wrote that the “Christian on earth enjoys [only] a foretaste of the blessings that are yet to be revealed”.Finally, grace is related to forgiveness. In many instances Jesus cured people by granting them forgiveness. Guilt and thinking you are a failure are indeed causes of disease. The church is fortunate to be able to pass on the forgiveness and acceptance of Christ through absolution, the Eucharist, through preaching and the rite of confession.
As the Scottish Reformed theologian John Murray has pointed out, divine healing is not only about a temporal cure for the body, it is much more about a spiritual transformation and a growth in holiness. In all Gods works, whether we consider them miraculous or not, His purpose is to bring us closer to Him, restoring everything he originally intended for us. So let us respect these natural and spiritual laws, and study and apply them.
Joshua 1:8 instructs, “This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night”. This clearly points to the need for an ever increasing understanding and adoption of God’s wisdom. But we can only begin to understand if we also apply these truths in our daily lives. And if we then discover something new in the Bible or in nature, it does not mean we have been misled before. It simply means that our understanding has been incomplete.
God will have mercy on us, still. Fortunately our God is not one to punish us for an incorrect understanding, as long as we are sincere and strive to improve our understanding. In Christ He has born our sickness and transgressions and even our ignorance. Under His wings we will find refuge (Ps.91:4) and Jesus assures us that no one will snatch us out of His hands (John 10:28). Let us then act as one flock, seeking healing not only for ourselves, but for relationships and for the whole community as well.