Believers often pray for healing, even with great faith, and more often than not results are not forthcoming. We hear reports of parents withholding vital medication from their sick children believing that God will heal them. When the children tragically die despite the well-intentioned faith of the parents, we conclude that it must be God’s express will to heal before such miracles will occur. It is not the faith that matters, but only God’s will to intervene in a miraculous way. Is this conclusion supported by Scripture?
First of all, let us understand from the broadest perspective that God is the Ruler of the universe, and that everything that occurs does so according to His will, whether His perfect will or permissive will.
Luke 12:6 “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
However, knowing this does not mean that believers simply sit around and wait for God to act. Scripture clearly tells us that in some areas we have the responsibility to do our part before God will act. For example, before God forgives us of our sin, we must accept the crucified Christ as our sin offering. From this more limited and local perspective, what we do definitely has an effect on what God does. From this perspective we are free agents to whom God has given a measure of freedom to act.
Returning to the question about miraculous healing, then, is there anything we can do that will affect the outcome? Or, as some maintain, is it completely a matter of God’s express will—if God wills to heal, it occurs; if God does not will to heal, it does not occur?
According to Scripture, it may not be that simple. We see in Scripture instances in which indeed miraculous healings take place completely by God’s sovereign will apart from any human agency. But we also see miracles happening after someone took a certain course of action, sometimes apparently apart from God’s sovereign will working through His son Jesus Christ. Let’s look at these instances…
John 5:5 Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” 9 And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.
We note that the sick man did not do anything noteworthy to move Jesus to heal him. He did not appear to know that Jesus could heal him; he did not request him to do so even after Jesus asked him if he wanted to get well. Instead, he was complaining to him that other people always beat him to the pool when the water was stirred. This man evidently had no faith in Jesus to heal him. Nevertheless Jesus willed to heal him and did so. The miracle appeared to be completely a result of the will of the Lord to heal the man.
Mark’s gospel records miracles from a different perspective. He often recounts the role that the actions of people played in the miracles that Jesus did. One miracle apparently took place apart from the Lord of the will—not against His will, but independent of his will, because the Lord’s will with regard to healing in that instance was arguably neutral.
Mark 5:21 Now when Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side, a great multitude gathered to Him; and He was by the sea. 22 And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet 23 and begged Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.” 24 So Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him and thronged Him. 25 Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, 26 and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. 28 For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.” 29 Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. 30 And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My clothes?” 31 But His disciples said to Him, “You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’ ” 32 And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. 33 But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. 34 And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”
According to Jesus, the woman was healed by her faith. She believed that she would be healed if she touched his clothes, and it came to pass just as she believed. She did not even have the opportunity to ask Jesus to heal her. She was just one of many in the crowd pressing upon him and reaching out to touch him. When Jesus felt the healing power go out of him, he knew that someone had been healed, but it apparently since there was a crowd pressing on him he did not know who. Some argue that Jesus, being God, in fact knew precisely who had touched him, and was simply testing the woman by pretending not to know. Let’s examine this issue.
When the Word became flesh, he gave up some of the prerogatives of deity. He gave up his glory (John 17.5), his ability not to be tempted by evil (Hebrews 4.15), and even his miracle-working power. He was not able to do miracles until after the Holy Spirit descended upon him at the Jordan River—it was not by virtue of him being equal with God, but by the power of the Holy Spirit that he did miracles on earth. After he became flesh, he even had to “learn” perfection through his sufferings (Hebrews 2.10, 5.8). And when he was on earth in the form of a human being, he was not omniscient like his Father in heaven. For example, he implied he didn’t know when his Second Coming would be, something only his Father knew (Matthew 24:36).
Thus it would entirely be in keeping with the nature of the kenosis—Christ’s emptying himself of his prerogatives as deity to become a human being—if he actually did not know who had touched him and been healed. The scene that Mark paints would become implausible if Jesus in fact knew who had been healed. Imagine Jesus surrounded by a throng of people as he tried to push his way to the home of Jairus to heal his daughter. People were pressing on him and touching him from all sides. It is hardly plausible that in the midst of all this commotion the man Jesus has become aware that a hand belonging to a bleeding woman will reach out from nowhere to touch him, and ahead of time he decides he is going to heal that woman of her bleeding when physical contact is made. Afterwards, he pretends he doesn’t know who is healed. Such a scenario is highly unlikely based on the narrative. Not only that, when the man Jesus wills and purposes to heal the sick elsewhere in the gospels, we see him doing so very purposefully and directly—he lays hands on them, he rebukes their infirmity, he commands them to be healed or to get up or to perform some other action. He knows who he is healing. And so when someone with great faith touches him from behind, he really does not know who has been healed.
But regardless of whether or not Jesus in his human form knew who had been healed, his words to the woman after she came forward are revealing. “Your faith has healed you.” Jesus emphasizes that her faith played the dominant role in the miracle. The point here is that it was not so much the will of the Lord that brought about the healing, but rather the woman’s faith. One can reasonably say that the will of Jesus in this matter was neutral, since he did not even know that the woman was going to touch him and be healed.
We see that healing can be a result of the Lord’s intentional purpose as was the miracle at the pool in John, or it can be a result of someone’s faith when the Lord has no express purpose or will in the matter. In the second scenario, the Lord says to us: let it be done to you according to your faith.
Can the Lord choose to exert His sovereignty in some matter, and choose not to exert it in another matter, preferring instead to leave it up to us? Does He have the right to say to us: do whatever your hand finds to do, for I am with you? If we deny Him that right and tell Him He must exert His sovereign will at all times, then he is no longer sovereign.
In keeping with His nature, the Lord does give us a measure of freedom to exercise our free will and our faith. He can certainly exercise His sovereignty and say “no” as He did to Paul when the apostle asked Him to take away the thorn in his flesh, or when He did not heal the child who was deprived of his medication by his well-intentioned parents. But I believe He is generally pleased to see us exercise our free will and faith in accordance with the logos, the written word of God. Often, sick believers are healed miraculously in this way. But unfortunately it is the “horror story” of misplaced faith resulting in tragedy that gets the headlines. The many testimonies of healing through well-placed faith usually go unreported—such is the nature of the media.
But why are the sick not healed today as we read of in the gospels and Acts? It is not because God no longer heals. It might not be because God wills to heal far less frequently than He did in the time of Jesus on earth. But it may be because we believers fail to exercise the authority over disease that Christ has given us for the sake of the gospel. God has given us talents to invest for the sake of His kingdom—the gospel, and a measure authority over disease and demons to confirm the gospel (Luke 9.1-2; 10:1,9). If we bury these talents, thinking that the Sovereign God will take care of these things Himself in His own time and way, we will displease Him. But if we use and invest these talents according to the wisdom given to us by the Spirit and in His word, we will see souls saved, the sick healed, and the prisoners set free. Let’s not drift to the extreme position of using “God’s will” as a pretext for inaction because of our fear and insecurity.
Thank God when it is His express purpose and will to heal a sick person. But even if it is not, let’s not dismiss the possibility that He might want us to exercise our faith and authority to minister the healing.
There is even an instance in Scripture where it was God’s will for someone not to recover from an infirmity and to be taken home to God. Yet this person experienced healing from God.
2 Kings 20:1 In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.’ “ 2 Then he turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the Lord, saying, 3 “Remember now, O Lord, I pray, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart, and have done what was good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 And it happened, before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, 5 “Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord. 6 “And I will add to your days fifteen years. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake, and for the sake of My servant David.” ‘ “
Because of Hezekiah’s prayer and tears, God appeared to have changed His mind, and healed him of the life-threatening boil.
Therefore it is possible that even when it is not God’s express will and purpose to heal someone, through faith and prayer the healing may still be possible. Of course, whether or not it is good to go against God’s will in this area is yet another question. Hezekiah sinned in the eyes of the Lord after his recovery from the infirmity (2 Kings 20:12-18), resulting in judgment upon his kingdom after his eventual death.