As a continuationist, I believe God is still in the healing business. I’ve known of several people who have experienced miraculous healings. And yet, I can name more people who have died from diseases than those who were healed. As a young Christian I was always confused by this. I heard many messages in which it was proclaimed that God has promised us healing so long as we will believe. Indeed, it’s often said that Christ’s atonement not only secured our salvation, but our healing as well. An appeal is made to Isaiah 53:4-5 which reads:
But he lifted up our illnesses, he carried our pain; even though we thought he was being punished, attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done. 5 He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed. (NET)
If Jesus’ atonement secured our healing just as it secured our salvation, and both can be received by faith, then why do so many who have received salvation by faith not receive healing? Is it because they lack faith? Is it because they have not prayed enough? Perhaps in some instances, but clearly not all.
I eventually came to reject the idea that we are promised healing due to the Biblical data. Consider the following:
- In 2 Kings 13:14 we read that Elisha had a disease from which he ultimately died. This is the man who had the double-portion anointing and was responsible for many miraculous events. Surely he was not a man who lacked faith, and yet he contracted a disease that God never healed him of, and from which he died.
- Paul instructed Timothy to drink wine to help him with his digestive issues and frequent illnesses (1 Timothy 5:23).
- Paul noted that his fellow minister, Trophimus, was so sick that he could no longer travel with Paul, but had to be left behind in the city of Miletus. Surely Paul prayed for him, and surely Paul had faith, and yet Trophimus was not healed.
So what about Isaiah 53:5? Isn’t healing included in the atonement? No. The healing spoken of by the prophet is best understood as referring to Israel’s spiritual healing, not their physical healing. Indeed, this is how Peter understood the passage. He refers to the passage in Isaiah, writing, “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed,” and then continues, “For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25, NASB). The clause preceded by “so that” tells us the purpose for the atonement, while the two clauses preceded by “for” provide supporting explanations for that purpose:
[purpose] so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness;
for you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”
The first “for” clause explains how our salvation is possible, while the second “for” clause explains why it was necessary. For Peter, being healed is equivalent to dying to sin and living to righteousness. The healing Peter has in mind is not physical healing, but healing for our sin.
We ought to pray for healing and believe God is able to do it, but we must keep in mind that we are not promised healing by God. We need to put our trust in God, and not in any particular outcome. Whether we are healed or not, we need to continue to trust in the God who is able to heal.