01 February 2009

Alpha Talk on Healing

I've decided to post my talk that I did for the Alpha course on the topic of healing. I think I've arrived at what I think is a good theology of healing.

There is a lot of interest in health and being well and well being. I recently googled the phrase healing, and these are some of the results that I found:

  • Faith Healing
  • Spiritual Healing
  • Holistic Healing
  • Nordic Healing
  • Energy Healing
  • Healing Crystals
  • Theta Healing
  • Pranic Healing
  • Color Therapy for Healing
  • Reiki Healing

There was at one time a bit of an embarrassment to talk about healing in the church. It was a family secret that we kept hidden from view and did not talk about openly. My theological training made the assumption that even if the gifts survived the apostolic age, they were of no use or value to the church today.

But the conversation has changed. It has changed from a topic that caused embarrassment or anxiety to the reality that healing does exist, and what is its source?

This is no surprise, as health is the power to be a human, as exercised the vital functions of the soul and the body. Health and life is not an eternal possession, it is temporal, and therefore a limited possession. It is entrusted to us, but it does not belong to us. It is a gift from God.

Perhaps nothing has challenges us more than physical illness. We can make a space shuttle land on a dime after circling the heavens, but we have no cure for the common cold; the strongest athlete can be struck down by an invisible microbe.

The doctor can set the bone, cut out the tissue, and administer a drug, but it is only life itself that can join cells back together again and restore our health.

But the realm of the spirit is at once powerful, largely unknown and beyond our control, and perhaps we find it threatening.

But to believe in healing prayer:

1. We must first believe that the spiritual world is real,
2. We must believe that powers in the spiritual world affect things in the physical world.

In order to gain an understanding of what healing is, we will look at the subject healing as it is found in the Old Testament, in the ministry of Jesus and in the rest of the New Testament. We will also look at Church history as well, and then at what is happening today.

I. Healing in the Bible

1) Old Testament

The Divine Magna Carta - Ex. 15:26 He said, 'If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.'

Our Part - Psalm 30
1I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. 2Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.
3You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit.
Our Response - Psalm 107: 15 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for the human race, 16for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron. 17Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. 18They loathed all food and drew near the gates of death. 19Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. 20He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.
21Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for the human race.

2) The Ministry of Jesus

As we look at the ministry of Jesus in the New Testament, we find that 25% of gospels stories focus on healing the sick, driving out demons, and raising the dead.

A. Jesus chooses the twelve (cf Matt. 10:1ff, where he commissions them)

1. Matt. 4:23

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and illness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.

2. Nine miracles, mostly healing Matt 8:1-9:34

Jesus heals a man with leprosy 8:1
The faith of the centurion 8:5
Jesus heals many 8:14
Jesus calms the storm 8:23
Jesus restores two demon-possessed men 8:28
Jesus forgives and heals a paralyzed man 9:1
Jesus raises a dead girl and heals a sick woman 9:18
Jesus heals the blind and the mute 9:27

3. Jesus goes throughout Galilee Matt 9:35-38

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and illness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'

What does that look like?

4. Sends out disciples to heal, preach Matt 10:1-8

  • 1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil1 spirits and to heal every disease and illness...
  • 5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: 'Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: "The kingdom of heaven has come near." 8 Heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

5. Cf Luke 10:1-20, sends out 72 disciples in pairs

  • 1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.
  • 9 Heal those there who are ill and tell them, "The kingdom of God has come near to you."
  • 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.'

B. Rest of New Testament

1. There are about ten stories in Acts of people who are healed, raised from the dead, or being freed from demonic oppression.

2. Book of Acts – First event after Pentecost is Peter and John healing the man in the temple.

3. 1 Cor. 12-14 Spiritual gifts are listed and discussed, which show that they were not the domain only of the apostles, and didn't end with them.

II. Healing in Church History

First of all, it is clear that Jesus considered that his major mission, in addition to teaching, was to heal and cast out evil spirits. This is how he spent his time, and he even risked his life to heal on the Sabbath.

    He passed his healing power on to the Twelve, the disciples, then on to the entire church. The book of Acts shows that the early church did the same things that Jesus did. Peter healed the sick and even raised a woman from the dead, while Paul also healed and raised the dead.
    In the first four or five centuries after Christ, it was expected that healing might take place. But by the fifth century we begin to that Christians no longer learned to pray for healing. Instead, the sick were encouraged to visit shrines and pray for the intercession of the saints.

Examples from the Church Fathers

1. Irenaeus (130-200 AD), Against Heresies 2.32.4 Wherefore, also, those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles

2. Tertullian, c. 212 "There are still preserved among Christians traces of that Holy Spirit that appeared in the form of a dove. They expel evil spirits, perform many cures, and foresee certain events."

3. Origen, c. 248
"Not a few cures are brought about in the name of Jesus, and certain other manifestations of no small significance have taken place."

4. Augustine (354-430 AD), City of God, book 22:8

a) "The miracle which was wrought at Milan when I was there, and by which a blind man was restored to sight, could come to the knowledge of many; for not only is the city a large one, but also the emperor was there at the time, and the occurrence was witnessed by an immense concourse of people.

b) "In the same city of Carthage lived Innocentia, a very devout woman of the highest rank in the state. She had cancer in one of her breasts, a disease which, as physicians say, is incurable. She took herself to God alone by prayer, and she was immediately healed.

    The physician who had advised her, when he had examined her after this, and found that she who was afflicted with that disease was now perfectly cured, eagerly asked her what remedy she had used. But when she told him what had happened, he is said to have replied, I thought you would make some great discovery known to me. She --upset at his indifference, quickly replied, "What great thing was it for Christ to heal a cancer, who raised one who had been four days dead?"

4. Reformers
– An essential task for the Protestant reformers was to cleanse Christianity of everything that in their opinion had served to corrupt the true faith. This meant ridding it of such practices such as the adoration of saints, veneration of relics and pilgrimages to holy sites, many of which were closely associated with healing. The Protestant church tried to discourage belief in sacred and miraculous healing as a dangerous superstition, but holy sites and relics did not disappear overnight.

  • John Calvin - Calvin claimed that supernatural healing ceased with the death of the last apostle (Cessationism) and that Catholics making pilgrimages to healing shrines was vile "papist superstition" and should be abolished. Calvin's doctrine of cessation of miraculous healing is principally based on two propositions. First, they have fulfilled their function of certifying the gospel when it was new, and second, what really matters is the healing of the soul from sin.

  • Martin Luther - Luther's emphasis was on faith as trusting Jesus for spiritual healing.
    "This life is not godliness, but growth in godliness; not health, but healing; not being, but becoming; not rest, but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way; the process is not yet finished, but it has begun; this is not the goal, but it is road; at present all does not gleam and glitter, but everything is being purified."

5. John
(1703-1791) – Wesley believed that the first 300 years of church history showed that various gifts had survived the time of the apostles.  He said one reason these gifts did not extend as normal past the first 300 years was because of "general corruption of faith and morals" among Christians.  The faith of many grew cold as dry, formal people took over and belittled the gifts. Wesley is quick to point out these were not "fools or scoundrels" who were involved with the gifts. 

Commenting on the charge that no early church father directly claimed to speak in tongues or healed he says:

Perhaps this is true of those whose writings are in existence . . .  But what are these in comparison to those which are lost?  And how many saints of the first 300 years of the church left no written account at all?

III. Healing today

God's desire is for people to be well; he provides for such wellness not only through creation and human vocation, but also through the renewing power of God's Spirit through the gospel of Christ.

Examples of healing today: Indonesia in the 1960's; my own experience.

How does Healing happen?

1. Acts 3:16, Peter says, "By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him."

This healing will not be a "Let me do it TO YOU!" affair

  • It involves intentionality – "Look..." (Man reacted as beggar looking for alms, Peter wanted to heal)
  • It involves relationship – "Look at us." (It wasn't just Peter, but Peter and John who did the healing, i.e., community) 
  • The Means: Trust in the object of our FAITH.

    I remember a film about the evolution of flight, featuring a number of contraptions that people invented while trying to fly. One was a bicycle with a set of bird-like wings attached. Pedaling the bike caused the tires to roll while a series of gears, chains and levers moved the wings in a flapping motion.

    The rider was shown heading full speed toward the edge of a cliff with his wings flapping. His momentum carried him off the edge and allowed him to "fly" about three feet through the air before he headed down to crash in a heap.

        It can be said that this man believed his machine would fly. His willingness to ride it off a cliff proves his faith, and while we cannot doubt the sincerity of his faith, we must question the object of his faith. No amount of faith in that flying machine would make it fly. It was simply the wrong object of faith for flying, or more importantly, it could not be trusted to deliver on the man's faith.

2. Prerequisites

Eph 2:6 - And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no-one can boast.
10 For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Romans 8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?
25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God's people in accordance with the will of God.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

1) Simplicity

Faith is not a weapon by which we demand things from God or put him in subjection to us. Faith is an act of self-denial. Faith is a renunciation of one's ability to do anything and a confession that God can do everything. Faith derives its power not from the spiritual energy of the person who believes, but from the supernatural efficacy of the person who is believed: God! It is not faith's act but its object that accounts for the miraculous. Healing is not a right; it's a favor from God and even a constant miracle, for which we are to thank the One who gives us health now and full wholeness in a time yet to come.

(We can't be like the prodigal son, who demands his inheritance from his father and then goes off to do what he wants with his life.)

Faith and Prayer are not meant to be a replacement for hygiene, exercise and a healthy lifestyle, medicine, or the struggle for better living conditions for all. They are meant to complement, supplement, and partner with them.

2) Love

3) Words of Knowledge

It is important as we approach prayer for healing that we take time to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us, to discern what his will is for the person for whom we are praying.

4) Prayer

a. Where does it hurt? Ask the person what is wrong and what they would like us to pray for. N.B. the question of Jesus in John 5:6 –"Do you want to be healed?"3

b. Why does the person have this condition? Sometimes there is a root cause to the problem.

c. How do I pray? Pray to God to heal in the name of Jesus, ask the Holy Spirit to come upon the person; sometimes anointing with oil, laying on of hands.

c. How do you feel? Sometimes we are healed immediately; sometimes we feel nothing, in which case we continue to pray (example of Jesus and the blind man in Mark 8:22-25)

d. What next?

  • God loves us whether we are healed or not. We are free to come back for prayer whenever we want.
  • No burden for lack of faith on the recipient, or that we somehow can lose our healing.
  • Important to continue to pray and root our lives in the community of the church, where long term healing often occurs.
  • We must continue our obedience to the call and commission of Jesus Christ found in Matt 28//, and to proclaim the kingdom of God

Healing is more than a cure. Take the example of Marva Dawn. She is an older looking lady who often wears a worn dress. Physically handicapped, she wears a leg brace and often needs help to walk, and is blind in one eye. Her medications for her infirmities take a toll on her physically, but she doesn't wallow in physical or emotional pain.

She has four Master's degrees and an earned PhD in Ethics, she has taught at both Notre Dame (give American pronunciation as well) and Regent's college in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

N.B. – The Error of believing that you can lose your healing.

  • for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Rom 11:29
  • God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind. Has he promised, and will he not do it? Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? Num 23:19