Why God heals sometimes and not other times

John chapter 5 verses 1 to 18

Last week I spoke on the issue of Healing, considering two particular questions: Why do people get sick and suffer? and Why does God heal?

Today I want to consider the issue of 'Why God does NOT heal’? or perhaps more fairly 'Why God heals sometimes and not other times'?

Today's reading from John chapter 5 describes a man who has been disabled for 38 years. He was lying beside a pool in Jerusalem along with a large crowd of sick people, the blind, the lame and the paralysed, who occupied the porches surrounding the pool. It must have been a disturbing sight, rather like a hospital for the disabled. Why were they there?

This pool was fed by an underground stream that occasionally bubbled causing ripples on the surface. The people of Jerusalem believed this disturbed water was caused by the presence of an angel and the first person to enter the water after the ripples would be healed of all their illness. Then along came Jesus and asked this one particular man if he wanted to get well. The man explained that he was too slow to be first into the water and then Jesus simply ordered him to get up, pick up his mat and walk. And the man did so. It is an amazing story! But in our amazement we miss a staggering point. Why did Jesus heal only one person in that whole crowd of sick people? WHY did he, how could he, walk on by and leave the rest?

Then after the resurrection of Jesus, when he had gone to heaven, His disciples (now called Apostles) did many wonderful and miraculous things in Jesus' name (Acts 2 v 43). Peter and John also healed a lame man in Jerusalem. The number of Christians grew rapidly but so did their persecution by the Jewish leadership. In Acts chapter 12 we read that two Apostles, Peter and James (the brother of John), were both arrested by King Herod. James was beheaded and yet God sent an angel to help Peter escape from prison unharmed. WHY?

And here is a similar modern situation from a book by Jack Deere called, 'Surprised by the Power of the Spirit', p.157.

"I once went to pray for a little baby who had been born without a brain. Only a small portion of the brain stem had developed. This baby was born to a Christian family who had already lost two sons to tragic deaths. When I was asked to go into the intensive care unit and pray for the little child, I thought I experienced faith rising in my heart. I remembered a famous, medically documented healing of a baby boy born in Vancouver, British Columbia, with almost an identical condition. The boy's father, Paddy Duclow, had described the healing to me which mystified the doctors in Vancouver and made his son a medical phenomenon in that city. I was thinking of this healing when I went into the intensive care unit to pray for the baby.

I was amazed when I saw the baby boy. He was beautiful! He looked so healthy and normal. The family's pastors and I prayed for the child, and even though we had no sense of God's special divine presence, we thought there was a good chance that the little boy would be healed. Instead, the next day the little boy died. When I returned home to my own city, I found that the Lord had healed a woman in our church of a venereal disease, a woman who had not been particularly repentant. I felt anger rising within me. I asked God why he would heal a woman who did not deserve healing and let an innocent little baby die?"

God doesn't always heal or rescue us from suffering. Jesus did not heal everyone in need. Neither did the Apostles, nor Paul, despite the miracles which God performed thru them.

I believe that we can identify some reasons why we do not experience God's healing power in the church today. Two are negative and two are positive.

I said last week that God heals in response to the faith of the sick person and/or the people praying for healing. We see this in the ministry of Jesus. But I also said that faith does not guarantee healing. God does not have to heal in response to faith. It is also very wrong and very hurtful to blame people for their lack of faith if they are not healed.

Having said all that, it is also true that in an atmosphere of unbelief, scepticism or resistance to the healing ministry, it less likely, although not impossible, for healing to occur. This was the experience of Jesus in his home town: "And so they rejected him. Jesus said to them, "A prophet is respected everywhere except in his home town and by his own family." Because they did not have faith, he did not perform many miracles there." (Matthew chapter 13 v 57, 58)

Why is there UNBELIEF in the church today about miracles and healing?

(i) Wrong modern theology: In the liberal-minded churches, influenced by some modern theology, they have rejected any idea of the supernatural, evil spirits and healing miracles as belonging to a primitive and superstitious culture, a pre-scientific world-view. All this ancient superstition has been replaced by a modern, educated and scientific understanding of the world. So church leadership rejects evil spirits and spiritual gifts like healing.

(ii) Wrong Biblical theology: In some conservative Bible-believing churches there are those who believe that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit died out with the Apostles; that God did miraculous things through Jesus and the Apostles to get the Kingdom established and the church going, but then God stopped. This is called ‘dispensationalism’. So these church leaders reject the miraculous as works of the devil or human trickery. They claim that the Bible teaches this, although I believe their reasoning is more read into the Bible than taken from it.

(iii) No experience of New Testament-type miracles in our modern western church's life. This can be seen as a direct result of points i and ii above, but it is also a direct cause of points i and ii. If we are not taught about the healing ministry and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, then we won't expect to see them or to pray for them. But on the other hand, if we don't experience healing and miracles, we often look for some way of explaining why the New Testament miracles do not continue to occur.

(iv) Negative experiences of the abuse and misuse of spiritual gifts by other Christians and churches can cause a rejection of spiritual gifts. This is understandable and it is important to guard against such misuse; but we must not throw the baby out with the bath water! These factors create a climate of unbelief and unwillingness to seek God's healing. They tend to put God in a box. God usually respects our choices and does not force himself upon us, against our wills. "We have not, because we ask not, because we believe not." We need to be open, learning and seeking after all that God wants to do among us.

Unforgiveness and bitterness towards others, fear and anxiety about getting ill, ongoing/ unconfessed sin, unhealthy lifestyle (abuse or addictions), occult involvement, demonic influence or oppression, generational curses (unhealthy or demonic activities in ancestors), enjoying your sickness (“God will only deliver you from your enemies”), rejection of medical help.

These are then two negative reasons why we don't experience God's healing in the church today. Now the two positive reasons.

We all know that hard times and tough experiences can help to make us better people, sometimes. Most of the New Testament references to the positive value of enduring suffering are about Christians enduring persecution because they are followers of Christ. 1 Peter 1 v 6 and 7 say, "Be glad about this, even though it may now be necessary for you to be sad for a while because of the many kinds of trials you suffer. Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine. Even gold, which can be destroyed, is tested by fire; and so your faith, which is much more precious than gold, must also be tested, so that it may endure. Then you will receive praise and glory and honour on the Day when Jesus Christ is revealed."

"My brothers, consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way, for you know that when your faith succeeds in facing such trials, the result is the ability to endure." (James 1 v 2 & 3)

Certainly some suffering can build character and aid maturity, more readily than if God always rescued us from troubles. That would only cause us to become spoiled, slack and complacent.

Sometimes God may be teaching us, or discipling us, by allowing or causing some temporary suffering.

And sometimes God allows suffering to continue unrelieved or illness to continue without healing, but gives us the grace to endure it and blesses us with a special experience of his presence.

Paul's 'thorn in the flesh' is one example "But to keep me from being puffed up with pride because of the many wonderful things I saw, I was given a painful physical ailment, which acts as Satan's messenger to beat me and keep me from being proud. Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked him to take it away. But his answer was: "My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak." I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ's power over me. I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinths 12 v 7-10)

David Watson, a famous English Anglican and international evangelist with a significant healing ministry, wrote of his deeper experience of God through a year of terminal illness when aged 50.

"Drastic changes had to be made. Virtually all speaking engagements for the future were cancelled immediately, including major events in California, Norway, Sweden and Vancouver - which had been carefully planned for anything up to two years previously. My team would have to be disbanded by the end of April at the latest. I was now literally fighting for my life. 'God hasn't done anything for David,' people are now beginning to say. 'We've prayed and prayed, and nothing has happened at all." Medically speaking, that seems to be true.

However God has been far from inactive in my life. At about one am on Advent Sunday morning, I had a bad asthmatic attack. In my helplessness, I cried out to God to speak to me. I'm not very good at listening to God, but between one and three a.m. God spoke to me so powerfully and painfully that I have never felt so broken before him (and still do). He showed me all my preaching, writing and other ministry was absolutely nothing compared to my love-relationship with him. In fact, my sheer busyness had squeezed out the close intimacy I had known with him during the first few months of the year after my (cancer) operation." (from 'Fear no evil', p170)

A person who is suffering or sick may experience God's blessing in a special way and God may use that situation to reach out to other people.

But this ‘refining value of suffering’ can also be used as an excuse for not seeking healing; to claim that this sickness is 'my cross to bear'.

It seems to me that the best approach is to pray for healing and relief from suffering unless you or the sick person clearly believe that God has indicated that he will not remove it; or unless you have prayed consistently without any sign of healing. Then we need to try to trust God's loving purposes, and to ask God for his grace to cope and to use our situation for his glory.

The fourth and primary reason why God heals sometimes and not at others is…

Remember the story involving Dr Jack Deere that I started with?

"I asked God why he would heal a woman who did not deserve healing and let an innocent little baby die. It was as though the Lord said to me, "So who does deserve healing? Are you going to be the one who decides how to dispense my mercy?" That rebuke was enough for me. God didn't explain to me why the baby died and why he healed the woman, but he did remind me that he truly is sovereign and he does not have to explain himself to anyone." (p156)

God is sovereign; God is the Lord; God is in charge. And as Isaiah chapter 55 v8 reminds us: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts & neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.

God acts according to his purposes which we often cannot see or understand. God's timing may not be what we would choose; and there are three possible answers to our prayers: "Yes", "Wait" and "No". We tend to think of ‘Yes’ as the only real answer.

Then there are different forms of healing: physical emotional, spiritual, relational. The final stage of healing, for those who trust in Christ, comes through death itself as the door into God's heavenly Kingdom, where there is no more death or grief or crying or pain. (Revelation ch 21 v4)

We cannot see and understand the eternal purposes of God. But we have seen and can understand the eternal love of God. "The things that I have seen, teach me to trust the Creator for the things that I have not seen."

Its easy to ask the question 'WHY':

  • Why some people suffer while others don't?
  • Why some people are healed & others are not?
  • Why some people are healed at one time in their lives and not at another?

But in the end we will never discover a satisfactory answer to that question on this side of heaven. Instead, David Watson suggests that we need to ask the question: 'WHAT?'

What are you saying to me/them, God? What are you doing in my/their life? What response do you want them/me to make? What is the best way to approach our lives and the future from now on?

With the 'WHAT' question, we can expect an answer.



Steve Jourdain 19.11.06