Monday, April 20, 2020

Anonymous Asks (89)

“Is physical healing part of Christ’s atonement?”

There is a sense in which it is. Revelation speaks of the leaves of the tree of life, which are “for the healing of the nations”. We also read that in the New Jerusalem, “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Without the sacrifice of Christ we would have none of this to look forward to. All our hopes for eternity are tied up in him. Everything we have now and ever will have is a direct result of his death on the cross.

But that’s obviously not what’s being asked.

“By His Stripes ...”

Some Christians believe the “healing” Isaiah spoke of (“with his wounds we are healed”) is physical as well as spiritual. The problem is that we have no evidence of this in our Bibles. The passage in question, Isaiah 53, is not about physical healing at all. It speaks of “griefs”, “sorrows”, “transgressions” and “iniquities”, not diseases, injuries or natural decline. What Messiah would do, Isaiah said, would be to make “an offering for guilt”. He is speaking of spiritual problems and spiritual solutions.

Naturally, Christ’s death and resurrection have consequences for our bodies as well as our spirits. The perishable will inherit the imperishable. But there is no suggestion that these benefits are to be experienced generally in this life. They are associated explicitly in scripture with the resurrection of the dead.

The Healings of Christ

The healings performed by Jesus in the first century were a tremendous blessing to those who benefited from them, but their value was first and foremost that they were evidence that through Jesus forgiveness of sins could be obtained.

We see this in the healing of the paralytic. Jesus began by saying, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” That is the primary issue, and if that is all the paralytic had received from Jesus, it would have been an amazing gift. But when the scribes and Pharisees began to grumble and question the Lord’s authority to forgive sins, Jesus demonstrated he possessed his Father’s stamp of approval by healing the man as well. We don’t need to guess about his motive in doing so: he plainly stated that he was doing it “that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”. In this passage we see both the purpose of the healings and the priority of the spiritual over the physical. For the Lord, the healing itself was almost incidental (though certainly not in the experience of the man healed).

Apostolic Healings

The healings performed by the apostles had the same purpose. When Peter told the lame beggar at the temple to “rise up and walk”, he certainly had the physical good of the man himself in mind, but the objective of the healing was to stamp God’s authority firmly on the gospel message he would later preach. Peter quickly disclaims his own power and piety and points to Jesus as the agent through whom the man had been healed. Again, the healing was all but incidental; its purpose was to bring repentance to many.

People who practice so-called “faith healing” today cannot point to anything like the same results. Most modern “healings” are highly questionable, and occasionally are demonstrated to be blatant frauds. For example, in 1986 Peter Popoff was exposed for receiving information about audience members culled from prayer request cards from his wife via wireless radio transmitter. Once the spiritual authority of the apostles and the faith they preached had been firmly established, the legitimate, God-given gift of physical healing seems to have pretty much disappeared, which is exactly what one would expect if its purpose was primarily to establish that authority.

An Argument from Silence

If physical healing were a reasonable expectation for Christians today, what would that look like exactly? After all, we know that eventually, at some point, every one of us must die, Enoch and Elijah excepted. It is appointed. On what biblical basis do we imagine that Christians are entitled to exemption from death or even especially long lives? None whatsoever. The Lord Jesus and most of his apostles died young. If we are following in their shoes, we ought to expect a similar outcome.

This being the case, it is hard to see what spiritual purpose the miraculous physical healing of believers in this life might serve in our present era.


  1. I would say that the purpose is based on God's very personal and intimate love for his creature. He by no means attempts to be a remote and distant God pulling some strings that are incomprehensible to us. Knock and it will be opened, if you ask me in I will sit with you and eat, ...would a father give his children snakes instead of bread? ... and so on. God gives gifts and his constant care and activity of healing, especially in response to earnest prayer is exactly what we can expect from him, and that includes all past, current and future miracles. The fact that we are able to get up every day, do our work, chores, and are living in a livable and stunningly beautiful universe itself is a great miracle. We are expected by our creator to have expectations of life. He wants us to have expectations, same as we expect of our earthly parents. If one of those includes the hope and expectation for a long and healthy life, why not? (If you don't smoke, are a vegetarian, stay physically fit, take care of your spiritual and emotional well being, have faith, etc.). God gave us cause and effect. Let's use it, he does not mind.

    1. I quite agree about living in a beautiful universe and appreciating what we are given by way of God's providential care, but when the word "miracle" is used, that is not normally what people (or scripture) have in mind.