The question of sickness and healing has confused many people. Some don’t believe in godly healing; others claim that given enough faith, God will heal every sickness in this life. Some carry with them feelings of guilt, as they prayed to God for healing and were not healed, concluding that the reason must be their fault and their lack of faith. Some conclude that if we prayed to God for healing “in accordance with” or “subject to” His Will, this would already signify our doubt in God’s intervention. Some say that when Paul asked God for healing (compare 2 Corinthians 12:7-10), Paul did not really have the faith that God would heal him. They make the same argument regarding Elisha (2 Kings 13:14, 20-21), stating that Elisha was not healed because he did not have the faith that he would be healed.
We should be able to see that these conclusions cannot possibly be correct. To suggest that Paul and Elisha did not have enough faith in God’s healing is absolutely wrong. But those ideas show the confusion some people have regarding this often-misunderstood topic of sickness and healing.
It is true, of course, that when we are sick, God commands us to call for the elders of His Church to anoint us with oil—a symbol of God’s Holy Spirit—and to pray for us, and Scripture says that the prayer of faith will “save the sick,” and God will ”raise him up.” And we are also encouraged to pray for one another that we may be healed (James 5:13-16). But how is this passage to be understood, and what all is involved here?
We have prepared a free booklet, titled, “Sickness and Healing—What the Bible Tells Us.” We are going to quote pertinent excerpts in this Q&A, strictly focusing on the question of faith and healing:
“Some say that if we only have enough faith in God to heal, then we have an unconditional promise for healing in each and every case. But… this is not correct. If it were so, why was the apostle Paul not healed? Why were righteous prophets, like Elisha, not healed? …
“God may very well heal in this life, and quickly. Although God may heal people with little or no faith in Him, He generally only does so, if we believe that He can and will heal us. But without faith, there is no reason to think that God will heal us. Christ healed a blind man, saying to him: ‘according to your faith let it be to you’ (Matthew 9:29). He healed the demon-possessed daughter of a Gentile woman when He saw the woman’s faith. He said to her: ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire!’ (Matthew 15:28). He healed a blind man, telling him: ‘Your faith has made you well’ (Luke 18:42). Sarah was healed and received a child, ‘because she judged Him faithful who had promised’ (Hebrews 11:11).
“… this does not mean that if we only have enough faith, we have an absolute unconditional promise that God will heal us immediately. More than faith may be involved. God may decide that it is best for us not to be healed right away. We need to always submit to the will of God, saying, as Christ did in the garden of Gethsemane: ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will… O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done’ (Matthew 26:39, 42). Christ did not doubt God’s power to intervene; likewise, we must never doubt God’s power to heal. Still, Christ was willing to submit to the Father’s will. Christ prayed to the Father, as it says in Mark 14:36: ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.’”
To interject, we must understand that it may NOT be God’s Will to heal us right away, or completely, or at all, in this life. And there are reasons for that. To argue with and deny this, we are really “tempting” God or better “testing Him severely,” trying to force OUR Will on Him. Some have done this, refusing to take medical help–for instance, an insulin-dependent diabetic refuses to take insulin–“believing” that God would heal the person of diabetes. In some cases, they nearly died, and some did, in fact, die. This is not unconditional faith—it is “foolishness” and unbiblical conduct.
“Christ experienced what it was like to suffer in the flesh, so that He could become our merciful High Priest (Hebrews 2:17; 4:14–16; 5:6–8). All of us need to be compassionate and merciful toward others. In going through trials and suffering, including [a prolonged] sickness, we develop empathy for others who are also afflicted with sickness (compare 2 Corinthians 1:3–7). This may be, at times, one of the reasons why God may decide not to heal us right away.”
This is an important observation which we must never overlook when contemplating the issue of sickness and healing. Christ was familiar with sickness (Isaiah 53:3), so that He could become our MERCIFUL High Priest—knowing how it is like to be sick—and we must experience similar occurrences so that we can empathize with those who are sick and become merciful and compassionate people.
“Without faith, however, we have absolutely no guarantee that God will heal us, even though He otherwise might have done it. Notice the following revealing examples: We read that Christ ‘did not do many works’ in Nazareth ‘because of their unbelief’ (Matthew 13:58). We are even told in Mark 6:5–6 that He could not do mighty works there because of their unbelief. If we do not have enough faith in God, then we are to pray and fast in order to GROW in faith. Christ said that given enough faith, ‘nothing will be impossible for you’ (Matthew 17:20). At the same time, He explained to His disciples that they needed to pray and fast MORE in order to be given the kind of faith that was necessary to cast out a powerful demon (verse 21)…
“Faith is necessary for healing, but faith alone is not enough. Our way of life has a great deal to do with whether God may choose to heal us or not. We read in 1 John 3:22: ‘And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.’ (Compare, too, Matthew 21:22.) If we please God, by keeping His commandments, then we CAN have confidence that God WILL heal us, in HIS time, and when it is BEST for us.”
To summarize at this point, in order to be healed, we need to have faith and we must live lives which are pleasing to God, which includes, keeping His commandments in the letter and in the spirit.
Related to this is another extremely important condition that we must fulfill so that we can look confidently towards healing. We state the following:
“… James says in chapter 5, verses 13–16: ‘Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray… Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.’
“We are being told in James 5:16 that we are to ‘confess [our] trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that [we] may be healed.’ The Greek word for ‘trespass,’ paraptoma, is used in numerous additional passages, for instance in Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 2:1; 2:5; or 2 Corinthians 5:19. It is consistently and correctly translated in the New King James Bible as ‘trespasses’ in those passages. We are told in Colossians 2:13 that God, upon our repentance, forgives us all of our ‘trespasses.’ We are also told that if we forgive men their ‘trespasses,’ our Father will forgive us our ‘trespasses’… [What] we need to confess to our brother or sister, in order to obtain his or her ‘forgiveness,’ are those [trespasses] that we have committed against our brother or our sister. Mark 11:25–26 tells us: ‘And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’
“Unresolved problems between brethren might even prevent healing of physical sickness. James 5:16 tells us, ‘Confess your trespasses to one another [with the goal to ‘clear the air’], and pray for one another, THAT you may be healed.’ After all, Christ told Peter to forgive his repenting brother ‘seventy times seven’ (Matthew 18:22). In Peter’s question, the brother had sinned against Peter and had come to him to express to him his sorrow—in other words, to ‘confess’ to Peter his trespass or sin against Peter.
“We also read in Luke 17:3, ‘Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.’ Notice, too, Matthew 5:23–24, ‘Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.’
“If we commit a sin or trespass against someone else, resulting in an offense and a problem within our relationship with that other person, we are to ‘confess’ our sin or trespass to that person, asking him or her for forgiveness, with the goal of restoring our relationship…
“The Scripture in James 5:14–16 is a command for us, that if we are sick, we are to ask for God’s true ministers to anoint us with oil [a symbol of God’s Holy Spirit of power] and to pray over us. We have to pray with faith, and we have to repent of our sins, if our sickness is a result of sin. This shows that not every sickness is the result of sin, but sin CAN be the cause of it. Further, we have to repent of our trespasses towards others, and we have to forgive others the trespasses committed against us. Then, we are told, God will heal us if we are sick. He might do it immediately, or within a short while. But then again, He might not do it in this life. He will, however, do it without question at the time of our resurrection. We read that God will raise up the sick person. The word for ‘raise up’ is the same Greek word used when God talks about the resurrection from the dead.
“The connection is clear: IF we fulfill the conditions mentioned in James 5, we WILL be in the resurrection, having had our sins and trespasses forgiven and our sicknesses healed. If, on the other hand, we do NOT repent of our sins AND of our trespasses committed against our brothers and sisters, and if we do not forgive our brothers and sisters their trespasses, we will NOT be in the resurrection, nor will we receive physical healing from God.
“In effect, God is saying: ‘I will raise you up, perhaps right now to honor your faith in Me, but for sure at the time of Christ’s return, IF you have faith in Me and IF you repent of your sins and IF you confess your trespasses to your brother and sister, against whom you have sinned, thereby bringing about reconciliation between the two of you.’ We are not to confess sins against God to others, but if we have wronged another human being, we must go to that person and bring about reconciliation.”
And still, even if we had “perfect” faith and lived a “perfect” life and had brought about perfect reconciliation with our brother and sister, God might STILL NOT heal us in this life from a particular sickness. Why not? Because God might have in mind a superior purpose for us in this life which He deems much more important than our healing from temporary frailties. We state in our booklet:
“If we REALLY love God, then we will have developed such a close relationship with Him that we will understand and accept the fact that God may respond to our plea for healing with the words, ‘Not yet, My child.’ God will make His Will known to us as He did to Christ in the garden, and to Paul, and we will accept it, knowing that God will never do anything that is bad for us. We will understand that ‘all things work together for good to those who love God’ (Romans 8: 28). When Paul understood that God would not heal him from his sickness in this life, he said, ‘Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities… for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong’ (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).
“At the same time, we are not to give up. In Paul’s case, God revealed it very clearly to him, leaving no doubt that He would not heal him. But even Paul asked three times for healing before God made His will known to him. We must, therefore, in faith, continue to pray to God for healing when we are sick, never doubting that He can heal us and that He will do so (compare James 1:6–8), unless important reasons prevent Him from doing so. We must never have the frame of mind, ‘I will ask God for healing, but I’m not sure whether He will heal me, since He might not be able to, or want to.’ Rather, we must be convinced that God WILL heal us, and we must ask Him in faith, while making sure that we do everything we can so that God is not prevented from healing us by our conduct (such as lack of faith, refusal to repent of sin, etc.).”
Christ died for us so that we can have forgiveness of sins. He suffered for us so that we can have healing from our sicknesses. His Sacrifice accomplishes both, and because of it, we can have eternal life in God’s Kingdom. When we are born-again members of the Family of God, we will have a new body… a spiritual body, freed from sickness and decay. Some say that applying God’s promise for healing to the “next life” is insufficient as by then, we do not need healing. But we do. It is not self-evident or to be taken for granted or that God owes it to us that we enter the Kingdom of God with “healthy” bodies. We only will do so because of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And even those who die with sickness in this life and are resurrected in the Second Resurrection as physical beings will be resurrected with healed physical bodies. This fact is not self-evident or to be taken for granted either… it is only going to occur BECAUSE of Christ’s Sacrifice and God’s promise that He will heal our physical infirmities.
To conclude, if we are sick, we are to pray to God for healing and avail ourselves of the privilege of calling for the elders of His Church to anoint us with oil and to pray for us. MANY were healed who did this – some miraculously in an instant. Others did not experience immediate healing, or healing at all in this life, but lack of faith or ungodly living or lack of reconciliation with others did not HAVE to be the reason. We must of course make sure that we do our part, and we must then have the unshakable confidence and trust that God WILL heal us—in HIS due time—never questioning Him, and never trying to ”force” Him to do what WE want Him to do, even though it would not be in our best interest and might even prevent us from entering His Kingdom. We might not fully understand all the reasons why someone is not healed right away or at all… but we MUST have the absolute faith and conviction that God knows everything; that He can do everything; and that He will do everything that we ask… in His due time and subject to His Will.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link