by Anne White
Excerpts from her book, 'Healing Adventure'*
As a one-time "intellectual sceptic" I found it necessary to come through a study of Scripture and much prayer until the Lord guided me to the understanding shared here. To me this is fundamental - for unless God will's healing, it is useless for me to pray for it. It makes no sense to pray one way with our lips and hold a contrary belief in our subconscious minds, hearts or intellects. What I had seen in the experience of healing needed confirmation with my intellect. The Lord led me though many books and many speakers until my intellect was converted from its doubts. In any lay ministry of prayer counselling I have found that these answers that helped me have been meaningful to others also. This Scriptural, balanced, effective ministry is now called VMTC Prayer Ministry.
The Nature of God
Is sickness the will of God? When a man struggling with emphysema asked me this question I reminded him that Jesus described God as a loving Father who will not give us a stone when we ask for bread. The sick man had a most confused picture because he had listened to the many Christians who quickly ascribe calamities as being "sent by the will of God", while in the next breath they call him the Heavenly Father.
To say that God allows people freedom of will is not to say that he wills its misuse. God permits sickness, accidents, and war but he does not intentionally will or cause them. He has to allow us freedom of will or else there would be no true love - it would be coerced. Yet God is always working patiently within circumstances to draw people to voluntary acceptance of his love and of his higher intentional will. He uses our prayers of love and faith as instruments to bring about his ultimate will.
A six-year old child was told repeatedly after the accidental death of her beloved father, "It was God's will, so you must just accept it." Finally in despair she burst out, "Then I hate God!" How could she love a God who was cruel enough to take from her life the loving Father whom she so badly needed and so greatly missed? Such a shortsighted explanation may be the reason why many today hold resentment against God. It is poor theology to explain in this way an airplane crash that was in fact caused by human carelessness or mechanical failure. A friend reading this manuscript commented that as a child she had heard that her father's death was "God's will" - and she carried a resentment against God until at thirty-five she found Him as her loving heavenly Father.
God allows illness but he does not send or inflict it. Job's friends indicated a prevalent Jewish belief that sickness was a mark of God's displeasure and that health was a clear sign of his favour. But Job said that the thing he feared had come upon him [Job 3:25]. The Jews asked Jesus whose sin (the man's or his parents') had caused him to be born blind [John 9:1-4]. They indicated their belief that affliction or disease was God's punishment for sin, but Jesus replied that the man's suffering was not sent by God to "chastise" him. This belief that God chastises is reflected in many of the Psalms but in Psalm 103:2-3 we read: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits - who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases" [NIV].
When a little child in ignorance puts his hand on the hot stove he is burned, not because God is seeking to chastise him, but because a physical law of heat has caused this effect. If it were truly God's intentional will to punish an innocent child, he could hardly be called the loving heavenly Father and giver of good gifts!
Could we ever conceive of God looking through a list of suitable diseases to ascertain which would be fixed on one of his so-called beloved children? No earthly father would deliberately will his son to be an imbecile or to be tortured by epilepsy or cancer. How can anyone ever attribute such a sinister will to our heavenly Father? In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus is recorded as having said: "If you then, as bad as you are, know how to give your children what is good for them, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him!" [7:11]
Jesus is God Incarnate
Set beside this the very clear gospel pictures of Jesus, healing the sick of every known disease. Surely our Lord was not interfering with God's purposes or working contrary to the will of his Father in heaven. His healings were certainly too numerous to be mere exaggerations. He deliberately and ruthlessly attacked the causes of the disease whether they were of physical or spiritual origin. Never did he tell any sick person that it was good for him to bear his suffering or that it was God's will for him to suffer.
On the contrary, Jesus healed them, every one. Consider the case of the leper, who bowing to the ground, begged: "Sir... if only you will, you can cleanse me." The leper was instantly healed. And many in the crowds that gathered to hear Jesus were cured of their illnesses [Luke 5:12-15]. Is it so impossible to believe that a leper can be healed by the touch of our Lord? Will it not be rather difficult to explain away the gospel accounts of his healing ministry inasmuch as they comprise two thirds of the records of his life, excluding the events of the last week? If we try to dismiss them, we shall find ourselves with very little left.
If It Be Thy Will
At no time did Jesus or his disciples pray a prayer of "If it be thy will" in connection with healing. The prayer in the garden of Gethsemane was not a prayer of healing.
To many this concept that healing (wholeness) is the will of God may seem too radical - because in Medieval times the "If it be thy will" clause became well entrenched in the prayers of the Church, lingering to the present in some churches. That this was not always so can be proved by a study of prayers of faith handed down from the early Christian church.
While living in London, I found a book by the English layman who pioneered the modern restoration of the healing ministry in both England and America. He wrote that about 1000AD a monk named Reginald inserted this clause as he copied the prayers of ages past. It was easier for the church of the day to cover failures with this clause than to admit lack of faith in God's healing power. Jesus healed all who were brought to him - individually and in the multitudes: the lame, the blind, the deaf, the demented, the paralyzed, the lepers, the sick of varying diseases.
Only in Nazareth does the Biblical account indicate some limitation: "He could work no miracle there, except that he put his hands of a few sick people and healed them; and he was taken aback by their want of faith" [Mark 6:5-6].
Obviously Jesus was not disobeying the will of his father in healing the sick.
Some say that physical suffering and disease are intentionally sent by God for "purification of the soul" or "developing character". If this were true, then the victim would have no right as a Christian to seek relief through medicine, for this would be thwarting the alleged "will of God!" Indeed, if such were the case, doctors, nurses and all who engage in medical research for alleviation and cure of disease would be sinners since they would be aiding the victims of God's alleged will to escape from its rigors. It is appalling that many intelligent and devout Christians believe such rubbish. The pity is that so many sick persons in need of their prayers for healing and wholeness are denied this most necessary help. Poor logic and lack of faith masquerade behind this travesty of the clearly instructed and demonstrated will of God, as manifested in both the teachings and actions of Jesus Christ, his Son our Lord.
Bearing The Cross
"This is her Cross" is often piously said. It seems absurd to identify arthritis with the Cross of Jesus who healed the paralytics of his day and in one case clearly set free (to use his words) the "woman whom Satan bound" [Luke 13: 16 RSV]. In other words, Jesus said that disease is part of the work of Satan and the sin of the world. Are we the Church following in the footsteps of our Master, waging the fight to deliver sufferers from it? In many cases (including my own) it has been found that a critical, self-righteous spirit was reflected in the rigidity of the body; and that humility, confession and deeply experienced thanksgiving opened the way to instantaneous healing of medically diagnosed arthritis. My doctor had told me that it would never get better but rather would grow worse in time.
The Cross of Jesus was never his own physical suffering, for Jesus was never sick. The Cross he bore was the sin of the world, and the Cross he admonished his followers to bear was Christian suffering.
If a man is nagged and persecuted by his wife because of his faith - especially the time, money and love given in his Lord's service - he too, is bearing the Cross. The wife's sins of unbelief and self-centredness are part of the sin of the world.
A minister may make himself unpopular with members of his congregation (even risking his own dismissal) because he will not allow them to whittle the Church's ministry down to their own proportions, or limit God's Love to the size of their prejudices. He too is bearing the Cross. Someone once said, "Too many people have roast preacher for their Sunday dinner."
Obviously, any kind of suffering (physical because of disease, or "Bearing the Cross for the sins of others") may be used by God to develop patience, gentleness and many other fruit of the Spirit. Unfortunately, physical suffering seems more often to develop bitterness. But to say that God can and does bring forth the fruit of the Spirit, that He does bring good out of evil, is not to say that God intentionally wills the suffering! As Paul says in his letter to the Romans, "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose" [8:28 RSV, underline mine ].
The Thorn In The Flesh
Finally, we come to Paul's now famous 'thorn in the flesh' behind which I have found many hide in defence of the 'faith' that disease is God's intentional will. I believe that the words refer to a harassing opponent in the sense that they appear in the Old Testament and in modern usage. Preceding Paul on his journeys, a silversmith named Demetrius deliberately stirred up trouble for him. Others say that the thorn referred to a nagging wife. Paul himself described it as "Satan's messenger to bruise me" [2 Corinthians 12:7-10]. Then how could it be a visitation by God? If it were punishment for the sin of spiritual pride, we wonder why Paul himself claimed it to be sent (‘messenger') of Satan.
My feeling is that Paul prayed only three times for its removal and thus failed to obey the teachings of our Lord who gave us two parables to emphasize the importance of persistency in prayer [Luke 18:1-8; Luke 11:5-10]. Indeed, Jesus made the Canaanite woman wait until she persevered in prayer for the healing of her child - probably to show that God allows the testing of human faith [Matthew 15:22-28]. My inference then is that Paul should have prayed more than three times.
Some of us have patiently prayed many years for the victories God has finally been able to work in our lives - and during the long painful interim, his grace has been sufficient for us! In our weakness his strength has been perfected while the situation was being healed.
In the meantime we can go on in faith, knowing that our responsibility is to obey our Lord's commission to his church through his Apostles "to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick" [Luke 9:1-6]. Jesus gave the same commission to the seventy (the laity, one might say) as to the twelve and they also became his channels of healing of mind, body, spirit and soul. He promised us: "Be assured, I am with you always, to the end of time" [Matthew 28:20].
We may not know all the answers, but we can pray in faith.
"May the healing mercies of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, who is present here with us now enter into your soul, your mind, your body, and heal you from all that harms you and give you his peace."
This prayer was used by the Rev George Bennett during laying-on of hands at my first healing service in London. At that altar rail began the English chapter of the adventure with Christ which led to my desire to write my book, 'Healing Adventure': to share with fellow-seekers at home and abroad my experiences and insights in the healing ministry of the church on both sides of the Atlantic.
*Excerpts taken from Anne White's book, chapter 3 ‘Healing Adventure', (1969), Sovereign World. VMTC USA holds the copyright. Used by permission.