Thoughts on Nabeel Qureshi, Healing and God’s Will

This past Sunday, I was saddened to hear about the death of Nabeel Qureshi. For those of you who are hearing about this brother for the first time, Nabeel’s testimony on how he turned from Islam to Christianity is extremely powerful and well worth learning more about. You can hear the short version of his testimony here:

His whole story is laid out in his NYT Bestselling book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. It’s a great read. I highly recommend it.

One of the most powerful things about his story is that he had friends who not only patiently loved him in spite of his arguments that Nabeel made against their own faith, but were able to answer his arguments based on reason and history, and raise arguments against Islam as well. In other words, Nabeel ran into some Christians who were able to do what 1 Peter 3:15 and 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 says. What is amazing is that not only did Brother Nabeel become convinced of the truth of Jesus by what he could see from the evidence, but also supernaturally from the various ways the Lord talked to him through dreams. And he was willing to follow Jesus, regardless of what it may have cost him in terms of his relationship with his own family.

I think what inspires me about his life is not just his story on how he came to know Jesus, but what Jesus did with his life in just a short amount of time. Space won’t allow me to get into all the details, but how he devoted his time to education, study and ministry of the gospel puts me to shame. As someone who is just four years older than Nabeel, it’s both encouraging and convicting to see someone give himself so fully to his gifting and calling. It makes me want to get busy with my life. The man clearly loved God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength. He did in a few short years what most Christians fail to do in a life time. He could speak on levels of both the mind and heart in a balanced way that I’ve seen few be able to do. I’ve seen a lot of Christian apologists become dry and heady, and that certainly wasn’t the case with Brother Nabeel.

I think what now stands out to me the most is that Brother Nabeel didn’t allow cancer to crush his hopes. From what I’ve seen, he didn’t get miffed at God or get bitter, but his faith continued to burn bright. For me, to go through such a trial and still be clinging to Jesus the way he did is encouraging. I know I would have been tempted to get bitter and upset. And while we’re going miss him, I’m glad he’s home with Jesus and enjoying his reward until the day of resurrection.

What I Refuse to Believe

Since he received a diagnosis of stomach cancer around a year ago, one of the things that Nabeel believed was that God had the power to miraculously heal him. I believe that as well. Yet he also stated repeatedly (search him out on Facebook or his vlogs) that he wasn’t so sure what God’s will was.

Since this tragedy has happened, there have been some heartfelt thoughts shared as to why God could have allowed this to happen. And while I certainly appreciate the sentiment behind them, I can’t go along with any of them.

God didn’t just have the power to heal him. He did want to heal him. I know this is an unpopular view with much of the Body of Christ today, but it’s unpopularity doesn’t make it untrue. We all know the story of the leper that came to Jesus in Mark 1. He said “if you’re willing, you can make me clean”. Jesus said “I am willing, be cleansed”. Jesus always did the things He saw His Father do. And every person who came to Him for healing in faith, he healed. Whether it fits within our theology or not, Jesus healed people in response to their belief in what He was both able and willing to do. Here are just a few examples:

Key Phrase

Leper in Galilee

“If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus said “I am willing, be clean!”

Mk. 1:40-45

Paralytic at Capernaum

Jesus saw their faith

Mk. 2:3-12

Hemorrhaging woman at Capernaum

Daughter, your faith has healed you

Mk. 5:25-34

Two blind men at Capernaum

According to your faith let it be done to you

Mt. 9:27-29

Ten lepers between Samaria and Galilee

your faith has made you well

Lk. 17:11-19

Blind Bartimaeus

your faith has healed you

Mk. 10:46-48

Roman centurion’s paralyzed servant

Let it be done just as you believed it would

Mt. 8:5-13

Canaanite Woman’s demonized daughter

Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.

Mk. 15:21-28

Man’s epileptic son near Caesarea-Philippi

Father: if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us…Jesus: “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Mk. 9:17-29

Jairus’s daughter

Don’t be afraid; just believe

Mk. 5:36

Lame man at Lystra

Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

Acts 14:7-9

Jesus’ healing ministry is continued in the church, as we see in James 5:14-16:

“Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;  and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.  Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

Now I can sense that people are going to read this and get angry and upset with me. The last thing I would want to do is disparage another man’s faith, especially during a time of grief. And I don’t know the full scope of the story, but can only go based on Nabeel’s own words. Please hear me. I am not saying any of this to find fault. There are two kinds of unbelief. There’s the unbelief due to a lack of knowledge, and there’s an unbelief out of a stubborn refusal to accept what God says. It seems clear to me that Nabeel, like so many Christians, was just unaware of God’s willingness in his own life. I can’t fault him for him walking in all the light that he had. He walked in all the faith that he had, and I believe that pleases God.

I have to believe in healing personally for a few reasons. For 1.) it’s the clear teaching of scripture. If you want to read up on it, here ya go. If you want the short version, I’ve written about this topic several times here. 2.) I can’t believe that God is taking fathers from their families and their ministries in such terrible ways and still call him Love, the Good Shepherd, or Jehovah Rapha or Our Father.  3.) I have to believe for health in my own life. My mother died prematurely. I have had my own health issues, even if they are minor in comparison to cancer. I can’t entertain that God might not want to heal me or that he may will that I’ll die at a young age. That’s dangerous and for me it would be a stubborn refusal to believe, it would not be ignorance. My own son had a valve close in his heart that the doctor’s said they would possibly have to operate on when he was a baby in response to prayer and by God’s grace. There are people in my own church who have been miraculously healed by standing in faith. It would take a stubbornness of being convinced at this point that God is not both able and willing.

And that is why I ask, no…I beg those who are reading: Study the scriptures for yourself with an open heart. Jesus told the Pharisees they make void the Word of God through their traditions. There are thousands of Christians who just seem to stubbornly refuse to consider that these things are even possibly true and are cutting off their own help. They reject the practice of scripture because some have abused it. They raise all kind of silly straw man arguments against healing when they should know better. Worse, they attack other Christians who do believe that it’s God’s will to heal in the name of “sound doctrine” and don’t realize just how unsound their own theology and view of God is. Jesus was the will of God in action. He never refused anyone healing. And Jesus never was a fan of those who are difficult to convince. Let us not discredit God’s character by saying he must have been unwilling because it did not happen when it is clear that faith has a part in what we receive. Do not shut the door for others by criticizing things you have not searched out yourself, or have only looked at in a one-sided way to confirm your own bias.

Readers, I hope you hear my heart here. I want people to live and not die, and declare the works of the Lord, as the Psalmist said. I want the person who is sick to have hope and to live out their life.  And though I never personally met Nabeel, I wish I had said something. I wish I shared a book with him, or some of the truths I’m sharing with you now but I didn’t because I didn’t know if it would have made a difference because the traditional teaching is so pervasive, and that he didn’t know me from Adam. That was wrong of me to assume. Looking back now, it may have been worth the effort.

Stop assuming the worst about Joel Osteen

I logged on to Twitter last night to see Joel Osteen getting pilloried over him and his church not doing enough in terms of disaster relief. For those of you who don’t know, Joel is worth $50 million dollars, his church has 16,000 people and the church building is well…huge. Huge as in it is where the NBA’s Houston Rockets used to play.

Listen, I’ve never read a Joel Osteen book. I’m not really a mega-church guy, but that isn’t to say that they do not do plenty of good. I admit, part of me agreed and was like “yeah, why waste this huge church building where there are people in dire need?!?” But the part about this that made me sick to my stomach was just how Twitter turns into an echo chamber of vitriol. I’m just going to throw this out these thoughts out there and you can tear me apart if you want to… but you say Joel should be more Christian, well in saying he should be more Christian you’re out there casting the first stone, judging him and saying things that you really don’t know for sure about. You’re not living by the standard  you say he should be living by.

Just because he hasn’t taken to social media, blown the trumpet in the streets and said that he’s gonna give a big amount to Harvey relief doesn’t mean that he has not done so. Jesus said in Matthew 6:

“Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”

While it’s good to do good works and share with others what you’re doing in order to encourage them to follow your example, I can’t help but to think that *some* of this “hey, look how generous I am and how much I’m going to give” that we’re seeing Pharisaical trumpet blowing. Some of it is people caring more about being seen as generous and wanting human praise than actually caring about giving. To be clear, I’m assuming that most of the time that is not the case. 99% of the response seems to be really amazing and I’m thankful for it.

Anyway, and I know this isn’t going to be popular, but doesn’t Romans 2:1 say that those who judge others are guilty of the same thing?:

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”

Instead of pointing fingers at Osteen, ask yourself this question: “Am I guilty of the same thing? What percentage of my income do I give away? What have I done to help the people in Houston?” Or if you’re like me and you lived in Eastern Iowa during the flood, ask yourself, “what have I done in order to help others? Did I open my home to displaced people? Did I spend my time sandbagging or helping my neighbors out?”

I truthfully, to my own shame, wish I could say I did more during that time. But if you can say that you opened your home, or paid for someone to be put up in a hotel, or went out of your way to help someone, then great. You have a better perspective. So instead of jumping on Osteen with all the snark you can muster in 140 characters, maybe kindly shoot an email to the church and say “hey, you have this huge building…is there any reason it can’t be used? Maybe you’re already making plans and I don’t know it, but is there anything I can donate in order for you to help these people?” Quoting Jesus again:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

I’d hate to be judged by my own standard, and I’m not gonna say I see the situation as clearly as I should. So rather than lobbing verbal grenades at others because of what they are not doing, or appear to not be doing, let’s focus on our own responsibility to our neighbors in Houston.

Paul’s Conversion: Evidence for the Truth of Christianity

Conversion of St Paul
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“And here let me pause to say that it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of St. Paul’s conversion as one of the evidences of Christianity. That he should have passed, by one flash of conviction, not only from darkness to light, but from one direction of life to the very opposite, is not only characteristic of the man, but evidential of the power and significance of Christianity. That the same man who, just before, was persecuting Christianity with the most violent hatred, should come all at once to believe in Him whose followers he had been seeking to destroy, and that in this faith he should become a “new creature”—what is this but a victory which Christianity owed to nothing but the spell of its own inherent power? Of all who have been converted to the faith of Christ, there is not one in whose case the Christian principle broke so immediately through everything opposed to it, and asserted so absolutely its triumphant superiority. Henceforth to Paul Christianity was summed up in the one word Christ.

And to what does he testify respecting Jesus? To almost every single primarily important fact respecting His Incarnation, Life, Sufferings, Betrayal, Last Supper, Trial, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and Heavenly Exaltation. We complain that nearly two thousand years have passed away, and that the brightness of historical events is apt to fade, and even their very outline to be obliterated, as they sink into the “dark backward and abysm of time.” Well, but are we more keen-sighted, more hostile, more eager to disprove the evidence, than the consummate legalist, the admired rabbi, the commissioner of the Sanhedrin, the leading intellect in the schools—learned as Hillel, patriotic as Judas of Gaulon, burning with zeal for the Law as intense as that of Shammai?

He was not separated from the events, as we are, by centuries of time. He was not liable to be blinded, as we are, by the dazzling glamour of a victorious Christendom. He had mingled daily with men who had watched from Bethlehem to Golgotha the life of the Crucified,—not only with His simple-hearted followers, but with His learned and powerful enemies. He had talked with the priests who had consigned Him to the cross; he had put to death the followers who had wept beside His tomb. He had to face the unutterable horror which, to any orthodox Jew, was involved in the thought of a Messiah who “had hung upon a tree.”

He had heard again and again the proofs which satisfied an Annas and a Gamaliel that Jesus was a deceiver of the people. The events on which the Apostles relied, in proof of His divinity, had taken place in the full blaze of contemporary knowledge. He had not to deal with uncertainties of criticism or assaults on authenticity. He could question, not ancient documents, but living men; he could analyse, not fragmentary records, but existing evidence. He had thousands of means close at hand whereby to test the reality or unreality of the Resurrection in which, unto this time, he had so passionately and contemptuously disbelieved. In accepting this half-crushed and wholly execrated faith he had everything in the world to lose—he had nothing conceivable to gain; and yet, in spite of all—overwhelmed by a conviction which he felt to be irresistible—Saul, the Pharisee, became a witness of the Resurrection, a preacher of the Cross.”

-The life and work of St. Paul, Volume 1, By Frederic William Farrar pp 114-115

Is Intuition an Unjustifiable Reason for Faith?

The Thinker
Image by 4johnny5 via Flickr

The writers at LiveScience.com tell us that those who are more intuitive are people who are more likely to have faith in God.

Shenhav and his colleagues investigated that question in a series of studies. In the first, 882 American adults answered online surveys about their belief in God. Next, the participants took a three-question math test with questions such as, “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

The intuitive answer to that question is 10 cents, since most people’s first impulse is to knock $1 off the total. But people who use “reflective” reasoning to question their first impulse are more likely to get the correct answer: 5 cents.

Sure enough, people who went with their intuition on the math test were found to be one-and-a-half times more likely to believe in God than those who got all the answers right. The results held even when taking factors such as education and income into account.

The headline of the article reads that “belief in God boils down to a gut feeling”. I think some may read this article and walk away with the feeling that belief in God is therefore unjustified, or even irrational. To use an example, a football coach may decide to “go for it” on 4th and short based on a hunch and have it end up backfiring and costing his team valuable field position, or possibly even the game. The last thing fans want to hear from the coach is that he went with his gut. Intuition isn’t always the best justification for our beliefs.

But when considering the question of God’s existence, the answer is not like taking a math quiz or gambling field position in a football game. Some truths that are known intuitively are perfectly justified. Intuition could be defined as pure, untaught, inferential knowledge. In other words, some things are self-evident. Take for instance moral facts. Moral facts cannot be proven scientifically. You can describe what happens to a woman psychologically or physiologically when she is being raped by a man, but science cannot tell you why one ought not to rape a woman. That is something we infer based upon on our moral intuitions. We just know that some things are just plain wrong. Thomas Aquinas once wrote  “A truth can come into the mind in two ways, namely as known in itself, and as known through another. What is known in itself is like a principle, and is perceived immediately by the mind….It is a firm and easy quality of mind which sees into principles.”

Moreover, if we continue to ask for justification for everything we can possibly know, we fall into an infinite regress. Greg Koukl states that..

If it’s always necessary to give a justification for everything we know, then knowledge would be impossible, because we could never answer an infinite series of questions. It’s clear, though, that we do know some things without having to go through the regress. Therefore, not every bit of knowledge requires justification based on prior steps of reasoning. Eventually you’re going to be pushed back to something foundational, something you seem to have a direct awareness of and for which you need no further evidence.

Furthermore, if God does exist and he wants to be known and he wants us to act a certain way towards him and our fellow-man, one way he can make himself known is through instilling in intuitions so that we respond in such a way he would like. We can then choose to stifle those intuitions, play dumb and demand an unreasonable amount of evidence – or we can choose to respond.

Finally, I would also say that being a more reflective person does not necessarily mean one will end up being an atheist or an agnostic. Quite the contrary. As Francis Bacon famously quipped. “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”

When one seriously reflects on things such as what could be the first cause of the universe, or why the universe displays such exquisite design, or what is the basis for moral facts, or how the Christian faith originated, they will find that faith cannot only be grasped intuitively, but also intellectually.

Isn’t it arrogant and immoral for Christians to evangelize?

Are Christian missionaries doing something wrong by trying to share their faith with others? I mean, they have to believe that they have some elite status with God. After all, they think that their faith has given some sort of audience with God, and those who do not hold to their particular view are mistaken and are failing to embrace something that is extremely important. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be handing you that tract or knocking on your front door on Saturday morning when you’re trying to watch College Gameday. For them to push their beliefs on someone has to be the apex of spiritually snobbery, no?

So what is the young and eager missionary to do, other than look for a new line of work? Well, she or he could stop believing that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” altogether, or they could just be agnostic about it, refusing to believe one way or the other. For the Bible-believing Christian, neither option is appealing.

If the missionary chooses the former, he’s still being exclusive, because now he’s saying Christians are wrong and what he believes is right. If he chooses the latter and decides to withhold judgment, it’s just a tacit way of saying that his status is privileged. After all, if people were smart as he was, they’d follow his lead. So really there is no neutral ground to be found. The criticism that there cannot be only one way to God is a double-edged sword. In saying that the missionary is arrogant and immoral, the religious pluralist wants you to adopt their view that there can’t be only one way to God. But then by their own criteria, they are arrogant and immoral. Therefore, I don’t think the arrogance charge sticks.

You really think you're better than me, don't you?!

Moreover, it could be that the missionary has done their due diligence in looking at other religions and worldviews and concluded that the Christian worldview has the most explanatory power and scope. Furthermore, they may have had an life-changing encounter of God’s love through Christ and want to share that with others.

Think about it: This might be a crude illustration, but if you recently had car troubles and found a good, honest and affordable mechanic, wouldn’t you tell someone about this mechanic in the proper circumstance? Think about what the Christian believes, (or at least most do, I think): The Christian believes that they found the answers to the meaning, value and existence and that anyone can do likewise, not by merely adopting a moral code or repeating a creed, but by knowing Jesus as Lord. They believe they God can be personally experienced now and want to help lead others in enjoying that same experience.

Can they be blamed for wanting to share this with others? I fail to see how.

The Christian and the Euthyphro Dilemma

Bust of Socrates in the Vatican Museum
Image via Wikipedia

One of the arguments raised against God being the basis for morality is the age-old Euthyphro Dilemma. Socrates, in Plato’s dialogue, asks Euthyphro: “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” The modern adaptation raised against theism goes something like this: “Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?”

The Catch-22 for the theist is this:

  1. God could command any arbitrary thing that popped into his head – like killing kittens – and we’d be obligated to obey and call it good because God says so. Or
  2. God answers to some sort of higher moral standard outside of himself, thus he cannot be the basis for our morality.

Based on biblical teachings, I do not think the Euthyphro dilemma poses a real problem for the Christian at all. If the statements found in the Bible are even possibly true in what they say about God, then the Euthyphro dilemma is really a false dilemma.

  1. “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (Referring to evil as darkness and light as good) (1 John 1:5)
  2. “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8)
  3. God is triune “And I (Jesus) will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (Jn. 14:16)
  4. God is eternal and necessary. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (Jn. 1:1-3)
  5. God’s character is unchanging. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. “ (James 1:17)

So if God is light and he is unchanging, then He cannot on a whim become a “dark god” and command torture of little babies. If God is love, then what he commands will by necessity be loving. If God is triune, then his morality is not found outside himself, but within the persons of the Trinity. The persons who make up the Godhead relate to each other freely not out of law or arbitrary demands,  but out of perfect and maximal love for the other. “For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.” (John 3:34-35)

So assuming the Bible is correct in what it says about the nature of God, God cannot have other traits then the ones that He possesses,  thus there is no arbitrariness. Furthermore, there is no higher moral good than love of the self-sacrificial, agape kind. God’s commands flow from his loving nature, and the New Testament command is to believe in Jesus Christ  love as Christ loved. (Jn. 13:34-35, 1 Jn. 3:22-24) There is no love standard that the triune God answers to outside of himself, He is necessarily a perfectly loving being by his very own nature.

Moreover, we read that whether we know God or not, He has “hard-wired” all humanity to recognize his commands. The commands aren’t imposed on us from the outside, but rather we recognize internally that we ought to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we do love our neighbor as ourselves, then we won’t steal from them, sleep with their wife, kick their cat, throw fireworks at their dog, etc.

“Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” -Romans 2:14-15

The Christian has a special advantage. Not only does the Christian experience the benefit of having their sins forgiven, but they also God’s very own Spirit living within her, enabling her with divine grace to keep God’s commands.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)

To close, if the Christian theology and anthropology is correct, then Euthyphro dilemma really is not a dilemma at all. Socrates may have stuck a pebble in Euthyphro’s shoe (or sandal, I should say) but for the Christian believer, there is no quandary.

If healing is in the atonement, why are not all healed?

Eustache Le Sueur, Christ Healing the Blind Ma...
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So far I’ve dealt with some of the exegetical arguments raised against the view that healing is in the atonement. Now I’d like to turn to what I would call the logical argument against healing in the atonement, which simplified, goes something like this:

  1. If healing is in the Atonement, then we would expect all believers to not be sick.
  2. Many believers are sick.
  3. Therefore, present-time physical healing cannot be in the atonement.

A.C. Gaebelein argues this point forcefully, saying:

We must add, that if it were true that Christ died for our sicknesses, then His atoning work in this respect is a failure. His people ever since these words were written have borne all manner of diseases and have died. Some of the greatest saints of God, the most mighty instruments of God the Holy Spirit, men of faith and whole-souled devotion, were weak in body and afflicted with infirmities. The choicest saints on earth today are the thousands of shut-ins, who suffer in patience and sing their sweet songs in the night. (The Healing Question, pg. 74-75)

We can all feel the emotional power behind this argument, but I don’t think it works. Premise 2 is obviously true, but premise 1 is demonstrably false. Think about it. Can one benefit from something they do not know is theirs? Case in point: no Bible-believing Christian would argue that Jesus’ death did not atone for our sins. They may disagree about the nature of the atonement, but that forgiveness belongs to the Christian is not up for debate. But just because Christ secured our forgiveness, it doesn’t automatically guarantee that every believer will enjoy the full benefits of that pardon. In fact, many believers live under a cloud of despair. Despite that they are forgiven, many of them often do not feel forgiven; rather they feel dirty and worthless. They do not enjoy the benefit of being forgiven, often because of ignorance of scripture.

So also, we read from scripture that Christ has delivered us from the power of sin (Rom. 6:1-14). But many Christians, ignorant of their new nature in Christ, still struggle with self-destructive habits. Moreover, we read that deliverance from the power of darkness is a present-time blessing. (Col. 1:13-14). Yet we are elsewhere told in scripture to “give no place to the devil” and to “resist the devil”.  (Eph. 4:27, James 4:7). So despite being delivered, if a believer does not resist the devil because of ignorance, he will not flee, at least not without some other sort of intervention.

So it is when we read “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases“. (Mt. 8:17) Healing is ours, but have to believe and act on that reality, even if it is not apparent. Certain benefits of the atonement are not our automatic experience, our response is necessary.

This might be a crude illustration, but not long ago a Chicagoan named Irving Przyborski won a $9 million prize through the Illinois lottery, and yet he didn’t know that he had won until he found the ticket by accident after opening an old tax file. He did not realize the ticket fell into the file.  He had no idea that this ticket was a winning ticket despite having it in his possession for nearly a year. In fact, it nearly expired and his winnings would have gone to fund public schools had he not claimed his prize. So it is with many Christians. They have the healing ticket, so to speak, whether they realize it or not,  but they have to collect their prize.

Notice also that in Mr. Pryzborki’s case, the Illinois Lotto Commission was not hunting him down to tell him that he had won. It wasn’t up to them tell him of his benefit, for the lotto picks were broadcasted long ago. So likewise, we have to read what was published long ago (the scriptures) to find out what is ours.  God will be merciful with us and occasionally heal someone in spite of our ignorance simply because it pleases Him to do so, but He does expect us to learn what belongs to us.  But if congregation members are taught that we are only healed “spiritually”, or told that sickness is “our cross to bear”, how can anyone expect to receive healing from God with any confidence?

It is considered to be a church faux pas to encourage one to simply have faith for healing (and I agree that we should do everything in love), but we see repeatedly that the healings of Jesus were in response to faith. Here is a sketch of the individuals Jesus specifically healed in reaction to their faith.

Key Phrase

Ref.

Leper in Galilee

“If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus said “I am willing, be clean!”

Mk. 1:40-45

Paralytic at Capernaum

Jesus saw their faith

Mk. 2:3-12

Hemorrhaging woman at Capernaum

Daughter, your faith has healed you

Mk. 5:25-34

Two blind men at Capernaum

According to your faith let it be done to you

Mt. 9:27-29

Ten lepers between Samaria and Galilee

your faith has made you well

Lk. 17:11-19

Blind Bartimaeus

your faith has healed you

Mk. 10:46-48

Roman centurion’s paralyzed servant

Let it be done just as you believed it would

Mt. 8:5-13

Canaanite Woman’s demonized daughter

Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.

Mk. 15:21-28

Man’s epileptic son near Caesarea-Philippi

Father: if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us…Jesus: “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Mk. 9:17-29

Jairus’s daughter

Don’t be afraid; just believe

Mk. 5:36

Lame man at Lystra

Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

Acts 14:7-9

It should be noted that we do not always see Jesus remark about the faith of the one coming to him for healing. In other passages with individuals (Jn. 9:1-12) and groups (Lk. 6:17-19), we see their faith demonstrated simply by their actions.

Moreover, we see that a lack of faith to some extent limited Jesus’ healing ministry. In his own hometown of Nazareth, we read that Jesus “could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mk. 6:1-6) While at times Christ would approach the sick to heal them by Father’s direction (Jn. 5:19), quite often it was the other way around. This is particularly notable in the accounts of Jesus’ mass healing events, where people came to Jesus to be healed. (Mt. 4:23-25, 21:14-15, Luke 4:40, 6:17-19, 7:21, Mark 6:53-56, etc.)

Healing is not a matter that is simply all up to God. In relation to forgiveness, Jesus told the woman who anointed his feet in Luke 7 the same thing he told the woman with the hemorrhage in Luke 8. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Lk. 7:50, Lk. 8:48) In order to enjoy the benefits of the atonement, we cannot remain passive.

Sick for the glory of God?

Raising of Lazarus by Jesus
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Critics of the view that healing is in the atonement often respond with Jesus’ words in John 11:3-4. Upon hearing the news that Lazarus was terminally ill, Jesus responded to his disciples, saying “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Somehow this passage is supposed to overturn the multiple passages that show sickness and disease is Satanic oppression. It is also interpreted that God mysteriously wishes for some to stay sick, and that somehow brings glory to Himself. I think a closer examination of the story of Lazarus give no such credence to this interpretation.

We see throughout scripture that sickness and disease in themselves give no glory to God. On the contrary, God gets glory through healing! For example:

But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—”I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”  (Luke 5:24-26)

When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. (Luke 13:12-17)

This is just a small scriptural sampling that demonstrates that the healing of the disease is what brought praise and glory to God. Sickness in itself was an opportunity for Jesus, just as sins against us can give us opportunity to respond in love and mercy, and that brings God glory.

In contrast, Lazarus’ death raised questions in the hearts of his two sisters about Jesus’ goodness. (vs. 21, 32). Also, some of Jesus critics asked “could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”. This is the typical problem of evil we see so often raised in our day. If Jesus is God’s all-benevolent, powerful Messiah, how could he let this happen to his friend? Yet we see that Jesus didn’t offer a theodicy. In response to the crowd, we read that Jesus was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled”.

I submit that most of the Bible translators dropped the ball, so to speak, when translating these verses. The Greek word for  “deeply moved” is ἐμβριμάομαι, which means “I snort (with the notion of coercion springing out of displeasure, anger, indignation, antagonism), express indignant displeasure with someone”. Jesus was deeply indignant. Indignant at whom?  We read in 1 Corinthians 15:26 that death is an enemy. We see also in Hebrews that one of the reasons Jesus became incarnate was ” that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” Death did not glorify God, rather Jesus was angry at the one who had power over death.

What happened in this classical bible narrative that glorified God?

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:40-45)

It was God raising Lazarus’ from the dead that glorified God, not the sickness that led up to it. That was the enemy that Jesus was antagonistic against. Had Lazarus remained in the tomb, and Jesus’ prayer had been left unanswered, would God have been glorified? Would Jesus still be viewed by his disciples as God’s chosen Messiah if he simply said “God has his reasons” or “it must not have been God’s will”?

So we see that by taking this verse out of its setting and building a doctrine around it, we greatly err and rob people of their faith. Healing and miracles glorify God, acquiescing to sickness does not.

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

"Martyrdom of St. Paul", from an 188...
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Opponents of the view that healing is in the atonement often point to Paul’s thorn in the flesh. According to their interpretation, Paul’s affliction was some sort of chronic physical problem that he repeatedly begged God to remove. In order to keep Paul humble, God refused his prayer to heal him. The reasoning follows that if the great apostle Paul’s prayer got rejected, how can Christians possibly expect God to always heal them?

I really feel like this objection is quite weak, as it is based on some very sloppy exegesis. Let’s look at the passage in question:

Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself. Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So because of Christ, I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (HCSB)

The context of these verses makes this passage more clear.  In the earlier chapter Paul is discussing false apostles whom Paul feared were leading the Corinthian church astray. These teachers were questioning Paul’s authority. Reluctant to defend himself, Paul tells of his hardships, pointing to proof of his commitment to Jesus in comparison to some of these false teachers.

But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

Conspicuously absent in these passages is the mention of sickness and disease. Many bible scholars believe that this thorn was actually demonic messenger who stirred up persecution everywhere Paul went, not to mention many heresies from within. The term “thorn in the flesh” is a metaphor similar to the expression “pain in the neck” in our modern vernacular. In the bible, the metaphor is never used in connection with illness. For example, see Numbers 33:55,

But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.

(See also Judges 2:3, Joshua 23:13 and Ezekiel 28:24.) This was the view of the ancient church father John Chrysostom, who said:

“And so by the “messenger of Satan,” he means…those who contended with and fought against him, those that cast him into a prison, those that beat him, that led him away to death); for they did Satan’s business.” (Homilies 26)

Following Paul’s conversion, Christ said that Paul is “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” This wasn’t just Jesus “picking on Paul”, as Christ warned his disciples that they “will be hated by all because of My name”. (Mk. 13:13)  But Paul did lay a large part of the foundation for Christian doctrine, and he preached the gospel to much of the known world. His impact is immeasurable, so naturally he greatly opposed by Satan. While it was men who persecuted him, Paul teaches us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” but spiritual forces who oppose the gospel. (Eph. 6:12, see also 1 Thess. 2:18)

Given that demonic spirits and human beings can presently freely choose to oppose the gospel if they so wish, God could not take this “thorn” away that was stirring up trouble and thus tormenting Paul. For when Paul was weak and weary from the persecutions and trials, then he was strong through the grace of God, demonstrating the “marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles”, which we know includes healing (2 Cor. 12:12, see also Acts 19:11-12, 28:8, Rom. 15:19). This humbling lesson that he learned is clear from the outset of this epistle, as Paul began by saying that he “felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead…” (2 Cor. 1:9)

Some have also connected Galatians 4:13-14 with these passages in order to explain that Paul’s disease was eye-related. However, we learn from Acts 14 that Paul was stoned by an angry mob and left for dead in Lystra, a city in Galatia. It is noteworthy that this stoning took place in conjunction with Paul healing a man from the town who was born lame.  (see Acts 14:7-20) This miraculous healing brought undesirable attention from Satan, who worked through the mob that nearly killed Paul.  It is not at all implausible to think that Paul’s eyes, as well as other parts of his head and body were still bruised and swollen when he had preached to those addressed in the epistle. At the end of his letter to the Galatian Christians, Paul speaks of his scars that he bore in his body attesting to the fact he belonged to Christ. So this was not some sort of illness in his eyes, but the scars of persecution that Paul bore in his body.

Christ said that the tares would stay with the wheat until the last day, and not until then. Jesus took our sicknesses and bore our diseases, but not our persecutions. It is incongruous with the ministry of Jesus —  who healed everyone who approached him asking for healing — to turn away one of his greatest servants; a humble man who continued Jesus’ ministry to the Gentiles, a ministry which included divine healing.

Physical Healing and the Atonement Pt. 3

Medieval book illustration of Christ Exorcisin...
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Healing and Christus Victor

Through the gospels we see Christ dealing with sickness and disease in the same matter he dealt with demonic spirits. We know this because Jesus uses the same harsh Greek word ἐπετίμησεν (epetimēsen) to rebuke sickness as He uses to rebuke evil spirits.

In Luke 4:35 we read “...Jesus rebuked him (the spirit in the man), saying, “Be silent and come out of him!”. Four passages later we read “…and he (Jesus) stood over her (Simon’s mother-in-law) and rebuked the fever, and it left her”

Jesus always viewed illness as an enemy. Nowhere did Jesus tell his followers to expect sickness or disease as part of their calling in life. Jesus never suggested that sickness was “a cross to bear.” He honestly told his followers to expect to experience hardship. But the hardship he constantly referred to was persecution, not illness. In Luke 10:8-9 we read Jesus commissioning his disciples to “Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.” The coming of God’s kingdom, in some measure at least, entails deliverance from evil spirits and healing from physical disease.

When we read about Jesus healing the crippled woman in Luke 13:11-17, Jesus asked his critics “should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

We also read in Acts 10:38 a summary of Jesus’ ministry from the apostle Peter. That summary was about “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” I think it’s important to note the connection between “doing good” and “healing”.  We see that before being healed, the sick were  “under the power of the devil” . The Greek literally reads καταδυναστευομένους (katadunasteuo). Translated, the word means “I overpower, quell, treat harshly”. Therefore, disease is a satanic evil to resist, not acquiesce to.  It is not a blessing, but harsh treatment meant to overpower us.

We read in 1 John 3:8 that “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil”. The word destroy here is λύω, (luó) which is translated  “loose, untie, release, set at naught, contravene.” If sickness is Satan’s work, then one of the reasons Jesus became incarnate is to release us from it.

Healing is the presence of the Kingdom of God coming to the earth. Sickness, we understand, is Satan working to overpower those whom God made in his image. In Colossians 1:13-14 we read “He (God) has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”. Therefore, we’ve been delivered from Satan’s dominion over our lives through Christ’s redemption, and that includes the tyranny of sickness.

One may raise a scientific objection to this scriptural argument. Of course, we have natural explanations for illness that the Bible attributes to evil spirits. This is true. Sickness and disease, on one level, is simply nature taking its course. But there is no intrinsic contradiction with attributing infirmities to spirits on the one hand while also explaining them in natural terms on the other. Death itself is a “natural” process, yet we also see in scripture that the devil is “the one who has the power of death”. (Heb. 2:14) This suggests that the laws of nature as we know them are satanically influenced to some degree. This may sound strange, but we have no trouble saying that we as human beings have ability to use our free will to effect the natural order of things for good or bad. Why is it incomprehensible that spirit beings can do the same?

We see through this series of posts that there is no good scriptural basis to believe that we have to suffer with illness when Christ has already suffered on our behalf. Healing is in the atonement because Satan’s power over the believer has been annulled through the atonement. There is nothing that glorifies God by being under the burden of disease. An overcoming faith, however, does glorify God.  The gospel is about much more than “redeeming souls.”  It’s a holistic gospel that includes healing of our physical bodies, in anticipation of total redemption in the age to come.

I believe the burden of proof that healing is not included in the atonement lies with the objector. Most arguments against this view simply beg the question for a view of meticulous providence; that is the view that God is controlling everything in the world, even evil. On such a view, the will of God is never thwarted. It assumes people are sick because God always gets what He wants, so therefore He must want people to be sick. While this view is popular in western Christendom, I believe its starting points rests upon a distorted understanding of the nature of God’s sovereignty.

In future posts I will defend this view against some of the various objections that have been raised and hopefully I’ll be able to expose them as inadequate on the basis of scripture.

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