When God doesn’t heal, and what it says about faith

Often I hear a particular narrative that bothers me. I just heard it again from a respectable pastor in a conservative, Bible-believing church.

The scenario goes something like this. A man we will call Daniel gets very sick. He goes to the doctor and discovers that he is full of cancer. Now Daniel loves Jesus and has read his Bible over and over, and remembers how many times Jesus both healed people and instructed his disciples to heal people.

Daniel very logically thinks If God can heal in the New Testament, He can heal me today. Daniel isn’t believing this in a selfish way; he truly believes that God is working in the same way today as He did in the past.

So Daniel decides to forego treatment. He and his family cling to the promises of the Bible that God will heal him. They cry and pray and listen to God’s voice. God is very close to them, as close as the air they breathe, and they know He can do what seems humanly impossible.

Daniel’s community doesn’t understand it at all. In fact, they can hardly stand that he won’t go to the doctor for treatment. Daniel says he doesn’t have a problem with doctors, he just feels like God will heal him this time. But the people around him can see his condition is worsening, and they feel panic. When will Daniel come to his senses and get treatment? Why does Daniel insist on believing something that clearly isn’t working?

As the weeks pass, Daniel weakens and finally dies. His family continues to pray after he dies that God will raise him from the dead. It doesn’t happen, though, and they sadly bury their beloved father and husband.

Meanwhile, tongues click and heads shake. If only Daniel would have done the sensible thing and gone to the doctor, he might not have had to die. How could a man be so stupid?

A preacher who has heard the story tells his congregation. He uses it as an example of how foolish and futile it is to think God will heal you instead of going to doctors. Certain verses in the New Testament were not meant to be taken so literally. How the preacher knows that is a bit nebulous, but somehow he knows.

The people listen, and think, Daniel really was stupid. He should have gone to the doctor. We shouldn’t pray for healing, because God might not want to heal. We should only pray for His will, whatever that happens to be. They listen and think, and as they do so, their faith shrinks.

And shrinks.

Soon there is little to no expectation that God wants to heal at all.

This is so wrong.

SO WRONG.

A fallen world is never God’s will.

A faithless life is never God’s will.

Not knowing what God wants is not God’s will.

I’d like to propose a different approach to the above story of our imaginary friend Daniel.

I’d like to look at it from this angle: Daniel might be wrong in what he thinks God is telling him, but whether or not he has it right, his faith is amazing!

Who of us, when faced with death, would follow what we sense as God’s call out of a deep faith in His goodness instead of reverting to human efforts in fear?

Whether or not Daniel dies is quite beside the point. The point is that he is reading the Bible and believing what he reads. Belief in God is never stupid. Faith in the face of insurmountable odds is never stupid. Trusting God to take care of the future is the bravest thing a Christian can possibly do. It is most definitely not stupid.

And following Jesus doesn’t have to make sense. When has God’s call to His people ever made sense? Abraham moving to a strange country and living in a tent? Gideon fighting a battle with three hundred men? Mary conceiving as a virgin?

I think we are interpreting these “failed” attempts at healing all wrong. We are judging and building a theology based on our faulty perceptions and experience rather than seeing an incredible faith and humbly asking God to increase our own faith in Him. Perhaps we aren’t seeing more miracles because we have cultivated a culture of unbelief.

And he {Jesus} did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Matthew 13:58 (NIV)

I would rather die in faith, in the warm glow of God’s presence, than live in cold and lifeless fear.


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…blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

John 20:29b (NIV)


 

10 thoughts on “When God doesn’t heal, and what it says about faith

  1. I love this because I have been chronically ill for many years, even decades and my recovery and healing has been gradually in God’s own time.

    We often pray away circumstances when in fact it is those very circumstances that help us recognize our need of and for God. I still struggle today with processing the world and delayed recall of audio and visual information but it has caused me to lean heavily on Jesus, the Word, the family of God and has sensitized me to the plight of others and made me a better listener.

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    1. Bless you, Heather. I’ve been deaf all my life, and I would love to have that healed, too! But I also see how close God has become to me through it all. We won’t all be healed here on earth, but God is so good at redeeming the hard and painful places in our lives! Becoming a better listener and sympathizer, as you described, is surely one of the ways God redeems the difficult things we encounter.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Darren Miller

    I believe that God primarily works in the world in non-supernatural ways. In the wilderness, God provided manna the Israelites needed to physically eat. God provided manna in the wilderness when the Israelites needed food to eat. When the Israelites were in the Promised Land, God no longer intervened supernaturally to provide the Israelites food. I’m not convinced that God is pleased when we ask him to supernaturally intervene in the world when he has already provided for us in physical ways.

    I don’t think we should criticize people like “Daniel”. At the same time, I’m reluctant to put someone like that on a pedestal, and anyone who seeks medical care is less spiritual and faithless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The point of this article was that believing in Jesus is what is truly important, not coming up with a pat doctrine that explains away everything that doesn’t make sense to us. As a “medical” person who works as a nurse at a hospital, it’s very hard for me to see people refuse medical treatment. At one time I would have been very judgmental of that. But now I’m seeing that I have much to learn from some of these people who have incredible faith, trusting in Jesus in ways that I never have been brave enough to. God is the same God today as He has always been, whether working in supernatural or physical ways.

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  3. A German brother once said: “Man stirbt nicht an einer Krankheit, sondern an Gottes Willen.”
    “You do not die from a disease but by God’s will”.
    I like your thoughts about this subject.

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      1. Browsing

        That’s basically the teaching of Islam, not the Bible. If your neighbor has a bad day and chooses to stop and have drinks after work, and then drives and accidently kills your child, it was not God’s will. We are allowed to disobey God to the point of killing others, even though God has stated his will regarding murder. Manslaughter from inebriation is still not something orchestrated by God.

        We also need to be careful not to decide all disease is God-ordained in this fallen world, full of accidents and pollution. God allows things he does not orchestrate. And he is able to work all things for the good of those who love him. Redemption of tragedy is not orchestration.

        I am weary of people intimating that child abuse, rape, etc., is God’s will. Believing that everything is “meant to happen” is Fate/determinism, and has much in common with Hindu beliefs, but is NOT Christianity.

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  4. I think, when God wants to call someone home he can do it e. g. through a disease or an accident. On the other hand he can send a disease when he wants to heal us and thus glorify his name.
    In my opinion you cannot say “Daniel” died because he did not see the doctor. I rather suppose he would have died anyway, even if he had sought medical help. I cannot prove this from the Bible – these are my own thoughts.
    I think it is okay to see the doctor if you feel to do so. But it is also okay to stay at home and pray. This should be led by the holy spirit.
    Example from my life:
    Last year a tumor was discovered in my abdomen (douglas). It caused severe pain. So I called the bishops to anoint me and pray. From this day on the pain was gone (praise the Lord!), but the next sonography showed that the tumor had moved a little but not disappeared. The doctors advised me to have it removed by laparoscopy (I was pregnant at that time). I prayed about this, but as the tumor did not disappear I understood I should go to the hospital. Surgery went well and the tumor turned out to be a haematoma. Today I am holding my baby in my arms and a I am feeling well!
    Why did I have to go to the hospital? First of all it was a lesson for myself. I read many Psalms which comforted me and I learned to trust in God whatever should happen to me. Secondly, I met several people in hospital whom I could tell about my faith and, as I was in the same situation, my words were more credible. Third, several unbelievers who I know heard about this and how God helped me and so God’s name was glorified.
    I hope there are not too many grammar mistakes. I am no native speaker!

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    1. “I think it is okay to see the doctor if you feel to do so. But it is also okay to stay at home and pray. This should be led by the Holy Spirit.”

      Yes, yes, and yes! I agree with you! Thank you so much for sharing your story. I work in a hospital and love to see God at work there, too. You are right that trust in God is the most important thing, along with sharing His love with others!

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  5. Browsing

    Your fictional Daniel is said to be a husband and father. Did you picture him with financial dependents? Or are his children grown, and his wife has a job with benefits?

    I would say this should make a difference when choosing whether or not to seek medical care. Luke was a physician, and there’s no intimation that God told him that was not a relevant profession as a Christian. The woman who spent all she had on doctors was not faulted by Jesus for doing so. A single Daniel who wishes to forgo medical care and put his life in God’s hands alone leaves behind grieving parents and possible siblings, but not orphans and a destitute widow. A married man with dependent children needs to think and pray carefully about what constitutes faith in such a situation, and should only forgo all medical care if his wife is in agreement, and everyone else in his community is willing to support his family if he dies. Otherwise, he should seek the help of doctors, etc., along with asking God for healing. It’s not the time for an experiment–God doesn’t disapprove of medical care.

    I met my biological father when I was 20, and he invited me to spend a few days with his family. Unfortunately, he went to a “health and wealth/ name it and claim it” church. He refused to wear his glasses or wear seatbelts, due to his “faith.” He was actually endangering us all as he drove badly, not being able to see properly. I wore a seatbelt, much to his disgust. He said “faith,” but what I saw was pigheadedness and pride.

    It’s dangerous to make an equation that says, No medical care=Faith. Amanda Smith told the story of a couple she knew. The husband was experiencing some hearing problems, and kept praying for healing. His wife kept urging him to go to the doctor, and he kept refusing. Eventually he went, and the doctor discovered a build up of wax. Her conclusion? “Some people would tease God to clean their ears for them.”

    Yet cancer is not earwax. Only a fool would refuse to brush his teeth, claiming dental health is his in the Lord, so why bother? We know how to brush our teeth, but we don’t know how to pull them. In the same way, we can’t reach inside ourselves and remove a tumor. If a doctor is able to do so, why refuse a tumor’s removal if we wouldn’t refuse to have a rotten tooth pulled? In both cases we should pray for recovery, but we shouldn’t assume God wants us to leave tumors to him, and rotten teeth to dentists.

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