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

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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.

Physical Healing and the Atonement Pt. 3

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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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Physical Healing and the Atonement Pt. 2

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Physical Infirmity As Punishment

In modern times, we do not equate being sick with being sinful. We don’t make someone feel like they’ve done something wrong for coming down with the flu or having cancer, and rightfully so.  Objectors to the view that healing is part of the atonement like to press this issue. They argue that if sickness is not a sin, how can it incur a penalty? Not only do I think this is this missing the point, I believe that it is looking at the bible anachronistically.

In the ancient near east, we see a worldview that connects sin and illness as revealed throughout scripture.  When Jesus’ disciples asked about a blind man “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn. 9:1-3) Jesus corrected their faulty theology that personal, specific sin is always the cause for illness. However, we do read where in John 5:14 he told the healed paralytic to “sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you”.

When the paralyzed man who was bore by his four friends was let in through the roof, Jesus told the man that he forgave his sins. This strikes us as a strange reaction because the man was clearly seeking healing. When the Pharisees charged Jesus of blasphemy for saying he had such authority, Jesus showed them that he had the power to forgive sins by healing the man. The Psalmist declared that God “forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” (Ps. 103:3). In the epistle of James we read “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.” (Js. 5:14-16). When Israel complained to Moses for the umpteenth time, venomous snakes came into the camp as a judgment. The people quickly repented, and God instructed Moses to put a serpent upon a pole. As the people gazed at the pole, they were healed. (Num. 21:1-9)  We find this thinking throughout the Psalms as well:

LORD my God, I called to you for help,
and you healed me.
You, LORD, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
you spared me from going down to the pit.   Sing the praises of the LORD, you his faithful people;
praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime

Forgiveness and healing oftentimes go together in the bible.

Healing and the Penal Substitutionary Atonement

Most Christians would agree that ultimately all human sickness is a result of sin, in that the fall introduced not only sin but also corruption and death into the human race. When Jesus was enduring the terrible beating at the hands of the Roman guard, it is hardly a controversial theological statement to say that he was taking the beating that we all deserved for our rebellion.

I argue that sickness is itself a beating; a flogging. When Jesus told the woman with the issue of blood “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” – the Greek word here used for disease is μάστιγος (mastix), which is also translated flogging or scourging. (See also Mk. 3:10 and Lk. 7:21) Christians would not deny that without Christ people will suffer eternal destruction because they believe “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” and “the wages of sin is death“. (Rom. 3:23, 6:23) For a Christian to stay consistent, I believe they must say that Christ bore all of our the punishment we deserved, which would include sickness and disease, not just eternal separation from God.

On what grounds do I say this? In Exodus 15:26 we read where God promised Israel that He would be their healer on the condition that they kept his covenant.

“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.”

Later we read in Deuteronomy 28:15-48, 59, 61 that Israel’s disobedience to God’s law resulted in specific curses that were not just spiritual, but were rather physical in nature, naming specific diseases that would come upon them for forsaking God’s covenant. We later read in Galatians 3:13-14 that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…” I believe this was God lifting his hand of protection and allowing them to feel the force of the demonic corruption of nature. If his people wanted to pursue the devil, they could have the devil.

The good news is that Christ took the curse we all deserved for all of man’s disobedience, which included not only hell to come but hell on earth.  Ask anyone with cancer, lupus, epilepsy, Ebola and the like if disease is not experiencing a living hell. To think that God would want any of his children to suffer under such dreaded diseases in light of His Son’s suffering for us I believe would be a miscarriage of justice. Why must we endure the beating of disease when Christ already suffered in our place?

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5

I argue therefore, that it is wrong to accept sickness and disease from the hand of Satan when the penalty for our sin has been fully paid. Moreover, Jesus always viewed illness as an enemy. Nowhere in scripture did Christ tell his followers to expect sickness or disease as part of their calling in life and ministry. Jesus never suggested that sickness was “a cross to bear.” He promised persecution, slander, and the possibility of martyrdom for his followers, but never sickness. All sickness is suffering, but not all suffering is sickness.

In my next post, I will close my positive case for healing being included in the atonement with a look at Christ’s victory over Satan.

Physical Healing and the Atonement

Question:

Is there bodily healing included the atonement? Many would vehemently deny that there is, saying such a belief brings false hope in the minds of sincere Christians.

The writer of this blog is unabashedly a capital “P” Pentecostal. Along with many members within the mainline Pentecostal tradition (as well as the Christian & Missionary Alliance), I affirm that bodily healing is included in the atonement. This is not a view without controversy, and I will deal with the most common objections against the view in future posts. The purpose of this post is to make a positive case for the belief that physical, bodily healing is indeed included in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

I believe there are many arguments one might make for this view, but the strongest one comes from the passages found in the famous The Suffering Servant verses found in Isaiah 52:13-53:12.

The Suffering Servant

In Isaiah 53:4 we read “Surely he (Jesus) has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” The Hebrew word griefs is חֹ֫לִי (choli), defined as sickness. The word is translated as sickness, disease or illness 21 times out of the 24 times it is used in the New American Standard Bible. Such verses include Deuteronomy 7:15 and 28:61, where the plain meaning is clearly sickness. Sorrows is the Hebrew words מַכְאוֹב (makob), and is literally translated “pains”. An example of it used elsewhere is found in Job 33:19“Man is also chastened with pain on his bed”.

Young’s Literal Translation of the passage reads as follows: “Surely our sicknesses he hath borne, And our pains — he hath carried them, And we — we have esteemed him plagued, Smitten of God, and afflicted.”

The words “borne” and “carried” in the Hebrew are נָשָׂ֔א (nasa) and סְבָלָ֑ם (sabal). Nasa means “to lift, carry, take”. The same word is used in the 12th verse of the passage where we read that Christ “bare the sin of many”.  The imagery of the scapegoat in Leviticus 16:22 captures this substitution concept when we read that “the goat shall bear (nasa) on itself all their iniquities” The meaning is clear: As Christ lifted, carried, and took our sin, he also did the same with our sicknesses. Sabal means “to bear a heavy load” It is used in bearing a heavy load of chastisement or penalty. In the 11th verse we read that “he (Christ) he shall bear their iniquities”. So in the same way Christ bore our iniquities, likewise he bore our pains. The same verbs used to denote Christ as our sin-bearer are also used to denote Christ as our sickness-bearer.

If that was not enough, we have the Gospel of Matthew’s own use of the text in the context of Christ healing the sick in an anticipatory way to Christ’s death. Matthew 8:16-17

That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

Another oft-cited passage used by proponents of the “healing in the atonement” view is 1 Peter 2:24

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

Peter is quoting the Isaiah 53:5. The Greek word used for healed is ἰάομαι, and variations of the word are used 26 times in the New Testament. It is used in a figurative sense only when the New Testament writers are quoting Isaiah 6:10, and in Hebrews 13:12. All other times it is referring to physical healing.

Based on the original language of the texts about Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross, and the Matthew’s own interpretation of the prophecy coming to pass in the context of Christ’s healing ministry, I think we have good grounds for accepting the fact that healing is indeed in included in the atonement.

But there’s more! In my next post I will look more in-depth at the biblical teaching of the nature of sickness itself.

Why the Cross?

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Today is the day we celebrate the Crucifixion of Christ. In the minds of most unbelievers, celebrating something as bloody as crucifixion could be seen as just plain strange, if not a bit ghoulish.

At the heart of this, I think a lot of misunderstandings exist about the nature of the cross of Christ, and I’m afraid that the church has only exacerbated the matter by misconstruing what the atonement really is.

What the atonement is not

  • Simply a moral example to humanity to inspire us to lift ourselves out of sin and grow towards union with God.
  • A payment that God paid the devil to ransom our release from the devil.
  • Merely what God required to forgive sins, or what you see in the typical Christians tracts that present the “Romans Road”. Don’t misunderstand me, it is that in on a certain level, but there is much more to it than simply that.

So…why then the cross?

Jesus’ words in John 12:24 are particularly enlightening about this subject:

I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains [just one grain; it never becomes more but lives] by itself alone. But if it dies, it produces many others and yields a rich harvest. (Amplified Bible)

Often Christians interpret this passage as something they must do; that they must die to their own selfish desires to become more Christ-like. While I think there is some truth to that, I think Jesus is referring to himself in this passage. Throughout the first 19 chapters of John’s gospel are references to Jesus being the only begotten Son. After the resurrection however we see Jesus tell Mary Magdalene to “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (Jn. 20:17) The only begotten Son (the one grain) is planted and dies, but in the end it produces many other sons. Satan thought that by inciting Judas’ betrayal he was ridding himself of a problem, but in doing so the life of Christ was reproduced in believers many, many times over!

The writer of Hebrews elaborates further:

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.

God, who is Love, wanted many sons participating in his glory. As sons, we partake in Christ’s divine nature, or at least those which can be communicated – love, joy, peace, faithfulness, etc. This participation in the divine life is further illustrated in Paul’s analogy of the body of Christ, and Jesus’ metaphor of the vine and the branches. How could a perfect being communicate this type of life to us? Robin Collins has come up with an interesting theory of the atonement that he calls the Incarnational Theory, and I’ve personally found it to be helpful, at least in some respects. Here it is in a nutshell:

As finite creatures, something such as the nature of God is completely foreign to us. You can’t do something ridiculous like graft in a tree branch to a lion, but only another tree, that is to say you have to find something of the same nature.  Through the Incarnation and Passion, God entered into our human situation of death and suffering and overcame the this alienation. Jesus was fully human/fully divine and acted in complete moral perfection. Jesus exercised the virtues (faith, love) that God intended man to exercise in the face of human suffering, persecution, uncertainty, opposition, etc.

Interestingly, God could not personally, actively exercise these virtues apart from the incarnation. Apart from the incarnation, God could not experience temptation, danger, uncertainty, vulnerability, weakness, lack or victimization. We now can take part in this life by being “grafted in the vine” by placing our faith in Christ, and it is this that saves us from sin.

We “tap in” to the divine virtues come not only from reading or hearing scripture, but these spiritual disciplines are also intertwined with the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, our Connector to Christ. The indwelling Holy Spirit also supernaturally transmits to us Christ’s subjectivity. One analogy Collins uses that I actually think is really cool is we can imagine somehow through technology a future in which a person can tap into and adapt the desires exercised by an extremely courageous or loving person.  Imagine we could all tap into Mother Teresa’s subjective compassion for the poor, or Muhammad Ali’s confidence in the face of a fight.

Or another example is how children pattern themselves after their parents. Our view of the world and behavioral patterns are often unconsciously picked up or patterned after those in our environment whom influence us. Paul speaks of following God, as dearly loved children follow after their parents. (Eph. 5:1-2) What we could not change through the self-effort of our distorted human desire, God “works in us both to will and to do his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13)

The cross was not merely the price that was paid for our forgiveness, but where our warped, selfish, sinful selves died; where we partake of Christ’s full facing of human frailty and alienation and yet in the face of it we overcome through the resurrection. We now gradually learn to put off selfishness and grow into godly maturity as we tap into the mind of Christ through the help of the Holy Spirit. Through doing so, we get a victorious mentality, a son of God mentality. (1 Corinthians 2:10-16, Romans 12:2, Eph. 2:6, 4:22-24).

The cross is not just where we become forgiven sinners, but where we also died. As we tap into the mind of Christ we see ourselves in Him; dead to the praises of men and our selfish impulses, and moreover, alive with Him, victorious over the loneliness and powerlessness that world tries to hold us captive to.

There are other theories of the atonement I find worthwhile; in particular I’m a fan of the “Christus Victor” interpretation, which I hope to tackle in a future post because I see that I’ve hit the 1000 word mark, so if you’ve got this far, thanks for tapping into Christ’s patience to get to the end!

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