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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Monday, 31 January 2011

Does God Promise to Heal All?

I am currently editing an excellent book on the history of healing movements in the nineteenth century (James Robinson, Divine Healing). It has prompted me to think again about the issue of healing.

Being a charismatic I move in circles in which one often encounters people who sincerely believe that God promises to heal all who reach out to him in faith and do not waver.

When you challenge them as to their experience (which never matches up to their theology) the line is: "we must bring our experiences up to the word of God rather than bring the word of God down to our experience."

Now, I do think such determination to hold on to God in faith is admirable and I do think that such a belief motivates people to pray for healing and, as a result, to see more divine healing.

However, the belief seriously underestimates the theological significance of experience. Biblical writers themselves were more than happy to allow experience to shape their theology. Consider how Job's theology had to be rewriten in the light of his experience, or the impact of the exile on the theology of the inviolability of Zion, etc.

When one considers experience, the claim that "God will heal all who ask him in faith for healing" can be (a) tested, and (b) demonstrated to be false.

You see, no amount of positive testimonies of people who prayed for healing (in faith) and were healed would demonstrate the truth of the claim. Such experiences are perfectly compatible with more modest claims, such as "God will heal some of those who ask him in faith."

But it only takes one instance of a person who asked in faith for healing and was not healed to demonstrate the falsity of the claim.

And we do not have just one example—we have thousands of examples. And I mean examples of those who prayed for healing for themselves (or others) and who did not waver in their confidence that there would be (or was already) healing . . . and there was no healing.

Such experiences demonstrate conclusively the falsity of the claim that "God will heal all who ask him in faith for healing."

I do believe that God's endgame is to heal all and in the new creation all will be healed. But in the interim God allows and uses things that are less than the ideal to bring about his purposes. Healing in the present is a sign of the coming kingdom to be sought. But please let's stop promising things that are not true.

8 comments:

Matt F said...

I agree. It reminds me of someone who when asked how is was would sometimes reply, "Oo, nothing a good resurrection won't fix".

Anonymous said...

Do we not need to distinguish between 'cure' and 'healing'? 'Healing' defined as the serene integration of body and soul (irrespective of physical pathology), contrasted to 'cure' which is mere absence of physical pathology.

TN said...

One of my readings in Church yesterday was Daniel 3.

(Yes, I don't always follow the Lectionary!)

What I found interesting, but didn't comment on, was verses 17 & 18 where Daniel's three friends express two things:

1) if it be so, God will save them from the fiery furnace

2) but even if it's the case that God is not to save their worldly lives, they would still rather die than worship the false gods.

In other words, either way, they seem to be at peace with what the true God allows to happen to them.

I feel this "either way" is also our best attitude re healing.
The only trouble is, someone may say: "Oh, but God's never going to heal you with a wishy washy attitude like that" ... ?!

Kurt said...

I grew up 'old-school' pentecostal and later in life was exposed to "word of faith" theology on healing. In old school pentecostal, the common thing was, "If it is God's will..." but in "word of faith" it was, "It's always God's will, you just have to have (enough) faith." I think both approaches have positive and negative.

Christians don't always get healed. In fact, it's been my experience that healing is the exception rather than the rule. What do we do with that? In the word of faith camp, it was usually because you didn't stand in faith. I remember a dear friend who suffered with cancer until the end, standing in faith that she would be healed, but she died. That theology was so formulaic... If someone looked like they were in faith for their healing but it didn't happen, they must have secretly doubted God's will (we thought). I think we were wrong.

Since then, I've taken a middle view that it is God's desire to heal, but that our faith for healing is not the ONLY factor in the equation. There are at least 8 other factors involved in this spiritual conflict over our bodies. So, I take a sort of spiritual warfare view that says, "yes, God wants to heal, and yes, your faith matters, but that's not the only thing going on." There is a lot of mystery in this, but I'm more willing to posit the mystery in the complexity of creation than God's will.

Robin Parry said...

Many moons ago I too was into "word of faith" theology (Hagin and Copeland especially).

It is in my estimation a very damaging theology—pastorally harmful. Not because it has no truth in it but because it has enough truth in it to give it plausibility and to mask the untruth.

I do not question the motives and intentions of word of faith teachers (that is not my place). Nor do I doubt that God uses them. But none of that is an excuse for teaching things that ignore big chunks of the Bible and screw people up.

The main worry is that the word of faith theological approach does not allow questioning—to question is to doubt and to doubt is to be on a road to curse/failure/sickness. So the view immunnises itself against criticism. But this also immunises it against correction.

I remember Kennth Copeland once saying that he never read or listened to his critics lest it undermine his faith. But how can we ever spot our errors if we take that route?

James Goetz said...

Robin, I agree with you that God promises to eventually heal all. I find inaugurated eschatology is clearly taught in all four Gospels and the Pauline letters. Also, inaugurated eschatology is an important safeguard for the biblical understanding of health, wealth and messianic prophecy in regards to pastoral concerns. With that said, it's not outside my theology that there could be revivals where everybody gets healed, and that appears to have happened in some cases in the Gospels and even Acts.

Kurt said...

I totally agree with you about the WOF movement.

If you're interested in looking into the "spiritual warfare" type approach to this, Greg Boyd does a good job in "Is God to Blame?"

Celestial Fundy said...

Kurt, Greg Boys is excellent on the subject of evil and suffering.

His two books 'God at War' and Satan and the Problem of Evil' are classics.