The Christian and Healing
By: Deji Yesufu
An old writing of mine titled “Faith Healing and Death” which I recently republished has been gathering some reactions. While I hope to share some of the reactions in this article here, one particular message to me on Whatsapp requested that I provide biblical backing for my assertions. In “Faith Healing and Death” I had chosen not to go the full length of stating biblical positions on the argument because both the faith healers and those who oppose them take their position from scriptures. The essay had been written from the perspective of death: I compared the way most “faith healing” believers die and how those who do not hold this theological perspective die, and concluded that “faith healing” believers do not die well.
In this article, however, I want to provide a biblical position to my assertions and would request that you bear with me the length of the essay. If we are going to teach the Bible, we want to take our time to understand it properly. To make reading the text easier, I will be providing sub-headings to each new thought I am discussing. I hope you find it enlightening.
One of the realities that we are coming to grasp with in life is the fact that nobody comes to any subject with a blank mind. We all have certain presuppositions that are etched upon our hearts. These presuppositions, or assumptions, are the result of our learning, experiences, religious teachings and so on. The bases for the ideologies that people hold are quite vast—all around the world—but in this essay I would be narrowing my considerations to two prominent presuppositions which I had looked at in my initial essay and renamed “theologies” here. These theologies are the Word of Faith/Charismatic/Pentecostal theology and the Historic/Orthodox/Protestant Christian beliefs. These two theologies can be worlds apart and would inform how a Christian regards the matter of healing, sickness and death.
Historic Protestant theology holds scriptures as sole authority for all manner of life and ministry. This is my default theological perspective. Protestants see one story running through the Bible. It is the story of redemption: how God kept revealing himself little by little until his ultimate revelation in the person of Jesus Christ. His sole aim was that Christ might save sinners – especially after Adam had sinned in the beginning and alienated all humanity from a holy God. Anything else that is recorded in the Bible is seen as pursuing this one ultimate goal: God seeking to save sinners through the redemptive works of Christ on the cross. This theology also regards the whole of history as the outworking of God’s eternal plan; a plan which he made long before the foundation of the world. He made this plan, not just to save sinful humanity, but that all creation may glorify him as God. The ultimate purpose of creation and redemption, according to the historic Christian and Protestant theology, is God’s glory.
On the other hand, there is the Pentecostal/Charismatic/Faith theology that is simply reactionary to the aforementioned theology. It is a theology that came with one presupposition: God still works miracles today. “Healing is the children’s bread” – which is actually a Bible quote ripped out of context. It also teaches that God wants his people to be healthy and wealthy. The miraculous events of scripture are brought forth as examples of what we should be seeing today – “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever” they say, again ripping the scripture from it context. The overall story of the Bible is ever hardly considered. The heart of God to save sinners is only an addendum to revival meetings as people are called to come and “give their lives to Christ”. There is practically no understanding of the eternal works of God, his decrees, or his commitment for all things to work together for his own glory. When we realize this defective theological position, we would understand why every other thing begins to fall apart within the Pentecostal/Charismatic/Word of Faith theology.
Having considered these two theologies, let us look now at what the Bible teaches on the matter of healing.
Healing and Miracles in the Old Testament
The Old Testament can be divided into the following epochs: the times of the Patriarchs, Moses and Joshua, the Judges, the Kings, Israel’s days in exile, and post exilic days. Through these epochs, God worked among his people providentially. But it is only in two epochs that the miraculous was prolific: Moses and Joshua, and Elijah and Elisha. God worked among his people through all the other times as well but they did not witness the kinds of miracles that he worked in the two aforementioned epochs.
When Moses encountered God for the first time at the burning bush, we get some inkling as to what the miraculous dimension of his ministry was meant to be. God meets with Moses in Exodus 3 and tells him that he is sending him to the children of Israel to deliver them from their bondage to Egypt. But along with this he said: “And I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in the midst thereof: and after that he will let you go.” (Exodus 3:20).
This verse tells us that the purpose of the miraculous dimensions in Moses’ ministry was to confirm to the Israelites that Moses was a sent one from God. He was a sort of apostle, bringing a message to the children of Israel. The miracles simply confirmed those messages that he was bringing to Israel. It is also within this context that we must situate the miracle of healing even in the days of Moses.
Now there is an often quoted scripture in Exodus that many Pentecostals claim for their healing. It reads:
“If thou will diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and will give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee.” (Exodus 15:26)
Does this scripture contain texts that can be claimed for healing for Christians of all times? I do not believe so.
First, we must realize that God was speaking to a set of people within a certain historical context and within a certain covenantal agreement. These were the people of Israel and God tied their faithfulness to his covenant with material blessings and physical well-being. So that throughout the Old Testament, when God’s people were obedient to him they enjoyed health and prosperity. When they were disobedient, they suffered lack and illness. The specific response to this scripture is this: there is no such corresponding promise in the New Testament. It leads us to one reality: while the Old Covenant that God had with Israel manifested in physical blessing, the New Covenant which God has with the Church is shown forth through spiritual blessings. The mere fact that the blessings in the New Testament are spiritual shows that they are better than those of the Old Testament.
Healing and miracles were entities in the Old Testament that God used to legitimize the ministries of his sent ones. We have seen this in the life of Moses. Scripture also records this in the life of Joshua, Elijah and Elisha. Incidentally, however, to show that the miraculous was not the norm even in the Old Testament, we do not see much of these in other epochs.
Healing and Miracles in the New Testament
The life and ministry of Jesus Christ as recorded in the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) was replete with healing and miracles. Our Lord had these signs following his ministry as pointer to the fact that he was one sent by God to humanity with a message. Miracles also followed Jesus’ ministry because he was the Messiah and those miracles were confirming his person as the one God would send to redeem his people from their sins. A few of such scriptures will suffice here:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
The above scripture is Christ reiterating Isaiah 61:1-2, one of many scriptures in the Old Testament that spoke of the life of the Messiah when he would come. Christ identified himself in this scripture and told the people listening to him that that scripture was fulfilled right before their eyes. According to the passage, one of the things that the Messiah would do was “heal the brokenhearted” (KJV) –translated in the above version as “proclaim liberty to the captives”. We see that the ministry of the Messiah would include healing of the sick and the manifestation of many miracles. Another scripture worth mentioning here, which points at the work of the Messiah and what he will do on the earth when he comes, is:
“When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaiah the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sickness.” (Matthew 8:16-17)
We see here that the healing of the sick was part of the ministry of the Messiah and our Lord did manifest much of this in his life and ministry. We should be reminded of why this was happening in Christ’s life and ministry: he was the sent one of God to bring the gospel to a lost humanity, and in keeping with God’s manner of doing things, he confirmed Christ’s ministry with miracles – which included healing also.
The Apostles of Jesus Christ, who carried on the ministry of their Master, after he had gone to heaven, also had their ministry replete with miracles, signs and wonders. They healed many that were sick and those who had demonic oppressions too. The New Testament tells us why this was happening in the life of the apostles:
“Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.” (2 Corinthians 12:12)
“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his will…” (Hebrew 2:3-4)
These two scriptures show us a couple of things. First, there is something called a “sign of the apostle” – this is signs and wonders, and mighty deeds. Second, we see that it is God that bears witness to an Apostle with these mighty gifts of the Spirit. These points need to be established, or else we would not understand the purpose of healing and miracles in the New Testament; and these things could easily be misconstrued to mean something else in the church today.
To be continued in (II).
You may download the whole text in a PDF file from this link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/12bMaGffwIFSbVGd0aJdF6-y-k4bFei4A/view?usp=sharing