Not If but When: Reflections on 4 Different Kinds of Healing

Not If but When: Reflections on 4 Different Kinds of Healing

Theological Reflection

At some point or other, every Christian with a disability is going to have to figure out how to think about physical healing. In our case, theological reflection on healing has been essential: we help lead a large charismatic church that sees dozens of people physically healed each year; I have talked about God’s healing power in at least three of my books; we both speak at conferences and churches where people get physically healed in response to prayer; and yet we also have two children with special needs who have not been healed, as well as many friends for whom that is also true. All this, in a very good way, has forced us to think carefully about the subject.

When it comes to physical healing, the extremes are relatively easy to see. We have the loony prosperity gospel preachers and their shallow messages of permanent health and wealth for everyone who follows Jesus. Then we have the starchy cynics who think that everyone who claims to have experienced divine healing is either lying or delusional. The first group acts as if God always heals today because the kingdom of God is entirely now; the second group acts as if God never heals today because the kingdom of God is entirely not yet. The biblical picture (to summarize a huge amount of theology in one sentence!) is that it is both now and not yet. We should expect both miracles and disappointments, physical healing and physical death, to form part of our experience until Jesus returns.

So far, so good. But even when people agree on those things, there can still be confusion. We have Tigger types, who bounce around insisting that God will always heal us if we just have enough certainty that he will, and we have Eeyore types, who mope around mumbling that disabilities are just part of the way things are and that asking God to heal us is a waste of time. Being a Winnie-the-Pooh type in the middle, believing that God wants to heal but trusting him when he doesn’t, can be exhausting. The Tigger types make you feel guilty; the Eeyore types make you feel grumpy. And you’re still the one with the disabled child.

So it has helped us to realize that, although we often talk as if there is only one type of divine healing, there are actually four, as far as we can tell. Most people instinctively prefer some to others, but they’re all there.

Type 1

A virus enters my body, and my white blood cells are launched into action like a rabid dog, hunting down the perpetrator to kill it. I cut my hand, and immediately a combination of clotting blood cells and replacement skin cells begin the patch-up job. Every second, as my heart beats, tiny bits of mineral and organic material are sent to parts of the body that need it, performing ongoing repairs that will never finish, like painting the Golden Gate bridge hour after hour, year after year. My body is being healed all the time, and it’s a result of the grace of the God who created me, searches me, knows me, and loves me that he has designed a body that functions that way. I never want to forget—although I often do—the daily wonder of living in a physical body that heals itself.

We should expect both miracles and disappointments, physical healing and physical death, to form part of our experience until Jesus returns.

Type 2

A young man who was born deaf and is attending a training event with me is immediately healed when someone prays for him in Jesus’s name; he promptly calls his fiancée with his (until now deaf) ear to the phone and has a (very excitable) conversation with her. A woman, wheelchair-bound for years, is prayed for in Jesus’s name, is immediately healed, gets out of her wheelchair, and months later phones the Benefits Office to stop her disability allowance, whereupon she is told that the system does not allow for miracles, so she will have to keep receiving payments (which leads the Daily Mail and the BBC to run an outraged story about it). A young woman whose protein allergy immediately disappears, in response to healing prayer, now has the words “miracle cure” in her official National Health Services file. A Jewish prophet lays his hands on blind eyes and deaf ears, with or without mud and spit, and causes them instantly to see and hear. “Whoever believes in me,” he says, “will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).

Type 3

I cycle into the middle of a main road, aged eleven, and collide with a VW Beetle, with the result that my tibia and fibula are smashed between the car and the bike, and the windshield wiper makes a four-inch deep stab wound in my side, between my liver and my spleen, right before I land on the asphalt headfirst. An ambulance appears within minutes, and a splint is put on my leg. A surgeon removes the glass from inside my torso and then repairs it, leaving only a scar (which looks like a shark bite and is good for parties). My leg is reset under general anesthetic, which kicks in within seconds of being injected into my arm, and after sixteen weeks I am running around again like a normal eleven-year-old. The materials to build the hospital, the oil that fuels the ambulance and enables me to get there before I die from blood loss, the image of God in the paramedics that makes them give themselves to rescuing people they’ve never met, the wisdom of the surgeon, the intelligence and skill of the thousands of individuals whose discoveries have made operating rooms and anesthesia possible—all these are gracious gifts of a loving God whose mercy enables healings to take place across the world that would, in any other generation, have been considered quite miraculous. No wonder they call him Yahweh-who-heals-you (Ex. 15:26).

Type 4

A trumpet sounds, and the dead are raised in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, never to perish again. Physical bodies become incorruptible, spiritual, glorious, powerful; no sickness or affliction will ever befall them again. Cholera and cancer are consigned to the cosmic dumpster for all eternity. Operating rooms, doctors, ambulances, and health secretaries become a thing of the past. Nobody cries, except with joy. Nobody grieves. The sterile smell of the emergency room corridor is no more. The octogenarians, who sit, walnut-faced, under blankets in wheelchairs in hospital reception areas, are given a new life and a new youth that will never again be stolen by the long march of time. Every deaf ear is unblocked, every damaged limb is made whole, every blind eye sees. Autism and Down’s syndrome and schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s are swallowed up in victory. And “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). There are three helpful things about viewing it like this. First, we remember that God is healing people all the time. Second, we realize that the question isn’t actually whether God will heal our children but when. And third, we see that praying is about asking God to do now what he will certainly do then: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). It’s about staring into the furnace, like the three men in Daniel 3, and saying, “Our God is able to rescue us, O king, and he will. But even if he doesn’t, we’re still going to trust him” (Daniel 3:17–18).

So we pray for healing. We believe God can heal our children. And we trust him when he doesn’t, knowing that one day he will.

This article is adapted from The Life We Never Expected: Hopeful Reflections on the Challenges of Parenting Children with Special Needs by Andrew and Rachel Wilson.

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