This week brings us to Acts 3:16.
16By faith in His name, His name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. So the faith that comes through Him has given him this perfect health in front of all of you.— Acts 3:16 (HCSB)
This is Peter speaking to people who had assembled after he and John had healed a lame man (Acts 3:1-16). This type of healing, along with many other things described in the book of Acts, can be a bit contentious among Christians. Is God still in the healing business? Does He still use people like Peter and John to speak His healing? And what role do doctors play in healing - if I took a pill and got better, it must have been the doctor, right? The short answers to these questions are yes, no, and no. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at some miraculous healings at other places in the Bible.
In 1 Kings 17:8-24, we read about Elijah and the widow of Zerephath. This is during the time when Elijah had declared to Ahab and Jezebel (through direction from the Lord, of course) that it would not rain until he said it would. There was a famine, and Elijah was hungry. When he arrived at the widow’s house, she was about to make the last of her food; once she and her son ate it, they would be completely out with no prospect of any more. Elijah asked her to make him some food first, and she did; from that point on, her flour and oil never ran out for the duration of the famine. However, the widow’s son became sick and died. Elijah prayed over him, that the Lord would raise him.
22So the Lord listened to Elijah’s voice, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.— 1 Kings 17:22 (HCSB)
Elijah was succeeded by Elisha, and Elisha had some pretty radical healing experiences himself. In 2 Kings 4:8-17, he passed through a town called Shunem, and when he did, a woman prepared food for him every time he came by, and even set up a room in her house for him to stay. When questioned about why, she said that she recognized him as a man of God. Elisha asked what she would like in return for her hospitality, and she said she didn’t need anything. When he pressed her, though, she said that she had always wanted a son, but had been unable to conceive. Elisha told her “At this time next year you will have a son in your arms.” (v. 16) She was incredulous, but a year later, she had a son.
Fast forward a few years (2 Kings 4:18-37), and the boy is growing. Suddenly, one day he complains of severe head pain, and quickly dies in her lap. She immediately calls for donkeys to travel to see Elisha. Elisha tries to send an assistant to hold his staff over the boy’s head to bring him back to life, but the mother is insistent that Elisha come himself. Once they arrive at her house, the assistant goes in as Elisha directed, but nothing happened. What Elisha does next I’m pretty sure isn’t in any medical textbooks, but it worked!
32When Elisha got to the house, he discovered the boy lying dead on his bed. 33So he went in, closed the door behind the two of them, and prayed to the Lord. 34Then he went up and lay on the boy: he put mouth to mouth, eye to eye, hand to hand. While he bent down over him, the boy’s flesh became warm. 35Elisha got up, went into the house, and paced back and forth. Then he went up and bent down over him again. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.— 2 Kings 4:32-35 (HCSB)
(While these examples are of times that God chose to heal, He does not always make that choice. Both the Old and New Testaments have plenty of times where people died, and were not raised back to life; and, even these people did eventually die “for good.” Don’t at all think that because someone prays, even someone who is “right with God” or “spiritual” or a “great prayer warrior,” that God is bound to heal. He alone knows the plans He has for each of us. The remainder of this will focus on times when God does heal, but I wanted to address this before we continue.)
Returning to my questions from the beginning… Is God still in the healing business? The answer to that is an emphatic yes! One of the names of God in the Bible is Jehovah-Rophe, meaning “The Lord Who Heals.” This was used in Exodus 15:22-26, where God provided purification for the undrinkable water at Marah so His people could drink. In Luke 5:30-31, Jesus even used the picture of a physician when explaining why He spent so much time with sinners rather than with those who already practiced religion; if He can fix our sin, can’t He also fix our health? Also, over this past year, I have known people who have defeated cancer and overcome a drowning. God is definitely still in the healing business.
Does God still use people, like Peter and John, to walk up to someone and heal them just by speaking? This is where some of the contention comes in. I’m not interested in a deep theological debate, but I will say that I have not see this in my lifetime. While God could still use men (or women) in this way, He has generally used different techniques for different times. In our day and time, could you imagine the international storm that would be created by someone who did this? It is highly unlikely that this attention would point people towards God, which is the goal of everything God does. Besides, I don’t think He needs to, which brings me to the next question.
Don’t doctors heal more people than God these days? No. God has revealed medicine and the human body to physicians; He has granted drug makers the knowledge that they have, and the doctors the knowledge as to when their application is appropriate. He created the earth and everything on the earth; even if a drug is synthesized, it’s synthesized using material He created. This reminds me of a joke that I heard a while back - a group of scientists gets together and decides that they’re now smarter than God. So, one of them goes up to God and says, “You know, with human cloning and all the things we can create, we don’t really need You anymore.” God replies, “Then why don’t we have a man-making contest - and let’s do it old-school, like I did with Adam.” “No problem,” says the scientist, and he bends down and picks up a handful of dirt. “No, no, no,” said God, “get your own dirt!”
So, then, we see that all healing does come from God, whether He chooses to make cancer disappear, or whether He uses ibuprofen and a physical therapist, or whether He uses a replacement limb. Recognizing Him as the source for all healing, not just the miracles, enables us to more greatly see His hand at work in our lives, and in the lives of those around us.