In Scripture we see three broad categories with regard to physical healing. First, it may be God’s categorical will not to heal, even if much faith is present. Second, the Lord might exercise His sovereignty in the very opposite way and heal a sick person, even if no faith at all is present. Between these two ends of the healing spectrum there is a middle range where faith to varying degrees determines the outcome—“according to your faith will it be done to you.” (Matthew 9:29)
Let us picture a continuum with two opposite ends. The right end of this “healing continuum” represents the case where it is absolutely God’s will NOT to heal, regardless of the faith present. He exercises His sovereignty very forcefully. He STRONGLY wills NOT to heal the sick person. In the case of a terminal illness, He may strongly will to take the person ‘home.’ The anointed prophet Elisha encountered God’s will not to heal.
2 Kings 13:14 And Elisha had fallen sick with his illness in which he died. …20 And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at first of the year. 21 And it happened as they were burying a man, behold, they spied a band. And they threw the man into the grave of Elisha. And the man went down and touched the bones of Elisha, and revived and stood up on his feet.
We can reasonably assume that Elisha wanted to be healed from his illness. But it was not God’s will for His servant to be healed, and he died. Yet God’s miracle-working anointing upon Elisha was so great that after his death even his bones brought a dead man back to life. With regard to his own healing, however, Elisha’s anointing and faith were to no avail since it was not God’s will to heal him. Incidentally, this incident shows that an infirm believer can be used by God to minister healing to others.
Sometimes it is God’s will to heal absolutely and categorically, apart from any person’s faith or works. God again demonstrates His sovereignty but now at the left end of the “healing continuum.” He STRONGLY wills to heal the sick person. In the following two examples, we will not view Jesus as the human minister through whom God healed, but rather the Son of God who sovereignly exercised the authority given by the Father apart from the recipient’s faith.
Luke 7:11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” 14 Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
The grieving mother here did not have faith in Jesus to raise her son back to life—she was in fact in the process of burying her son. The son of course did not have faith, for he was not even present; all that remained of him was his lifeless shell. But despite the absence of faith at that moment, Jesus moved to show compassion to the mother and raised the son back to life.
John 5:1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” 7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked….
Just as in the case of the bereaved widow of Nain, the invalid did not believe that Jesus could heal him nor did he ask the Lord to do so. Instead he was concerned about how he could get into the pool before someone else did. His faith was in the stirring of the water, not in Jesus. But the Lord had compassion on him and healed him despite his lack of faith.
In the wide middle range of the continuum between the left and right extremes we find most instances of healing in the New Testament. This kind of healing is related to the faith present: the mountain-moving faith of the minister, or faith in Christ on the part of the sick person, or faith in Christ of his family members and friends who intercede for the healing. In some cases, both directions of faith were present, combining to result in a miraculous healing. The more the total amount of faith present, the more quick, complete, or permanent the healing. In this middle range, God’s will to heal or not to heal may not be fixed or absolute, but may itself vary in ‘intensity.’ Some examples from Scripture are given below.
Matthew 9:27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” 28 When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. 29 Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you”; 30 and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.”
Mark 5:24 …A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “if I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. 30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman…told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
In the above two instances, God’s will to heal was neutral. He neither strongly desired to heal nor not to heal. The result would be determined by the faith of the sick person, or of his family and friends. On the “healing continuum” this type of healing would be dead center, equidistant from the two ends. In the case of the woman who was healed from twelve years of bleeding solely by dint of her faith, Jesus might not even have known who had been healed, or at least appeared not to have known.
There are also instances in the middle range of this continuum of healing where it was not God’s will to heal, but nevertheless God was willing to hear the prayer of the sick person for healing. Perhaps in this case it was not God’s will to heal, but NOT STRONGLY SO; on the healing continuum it would be positioned between the center and right extreme end. In such an instance, God’s will not to heal is flexible and negotiable, as it were.
2 Kings 20:1 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.” 2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, 3 “Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: 5 “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the LORD. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.’” 7 Then Isaiah said, “Prepare a poultice of figs.” They did so and applied it to the boil, and he recovered.
It was clearly God’s will for Hezekiah not to recover from his illness. But because of his faith, devotion to the Lord, and fervent prayer, God appeared to change His mind. The king recovered from the fatal disease.
We also see in Scripture God willing to heal, but not unconditionally. Here, faith leading to obedience is necessary to bring about the fulfillment of the healing. This kind of healing would be placed between the center and the left end of the healing continuum.
John 9:1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
Before the miraculous healing took place, the blind man was required to have the faith to obey Jesus’ command to wash off the mud in the Pool of Siloam.
And so we see in Scripture all manner of manner of miraculous healings. Sometimes He may exercise His sovereignty over the matter as God Almighty; other times He may leave the matter to determined by the faith of His people. Most of the miraculous healings in the New Testament appear to fall in this latter category. This type of perspective may help us to reconcile the often conflicting views between Calvinism and Arminianism.