John MacArthur opened the Strange Fire conference, and then, for the second session introduced Joni Eareckson Tada as a friend and former member of his church. She was at the conference to share her testimony of living as a quadriplegic who has prayed for, but not received, a miraculous healing. As MacArthur said in his closing comments, if anyone has the faith to be healed, it must be her. In a sweet and spontaneous moment, Joni called MacArthur to the stage and, hand-in-hand, the two sang a couple of stanzas of “O Worship the King” together. I have been to a lot of different conferences, but that will now rank as one of my all-time favorite moments.
-Pastor Tim Challies
“Strange Fire Conference: Joni Eareckson Tada,” October 16, 2013
This is the second part of my Challies Chronicles series, an analysis of Pastor John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference as “live blogged” by Pastor Challies.
I’m also more or less “live blogging,” in that I’m writing as I’m reading, giving you my impressions as they occur. I want to be fair to MacArthur and I feel that, using Tim Challies as my source, someone who, as far as I know, should be sympathetic and supportive of MacArthur’s views, I am avoiding those bloggers and other pundits who tend to be “anti-MacArthur” to accomplish the purposes of this project.
All that said, being fair doesn’t mean I always have to agree with MacArthur or the other presenters at Strange Fire.
Joni Eareckson Tada
I assume that by having Ms. Tada present her testimony that MacArthur was attempting to refute faith healing in the present age. While I agree that there are just a boatload of charlatans out there who claim “the healing power of Jesus,” and who say they can cure anything from acne to brain tumors by the laying on of hands (and giving a bunch of money as a “love offering”), there seems to be more to Tada’s story:
Even today she often has well-meaning charismatics who come up to her and pray for her healing. Though she never says no, she does always ask them to pray for specific things and then highlights character issues. Will you pray for my bad attitude? Will you pray for my grumbling? She means to show them that she is far more concerned with indwelling, remaining sin than chronic pain and legs that do not work.
She went on to describe a trip to Jerusalem and going to the very place where Jesus had healed that paralyzed man so many years ago. And there, in a moment alone, she found herself praying to God to thank him for not healing her, because a “no” answer to her requests for physical healing had purged so much sin, selfishness, and bitterness. That “no” answer left her depending more on God’s grace, has given her greater compassion for others, has reduced complaining, has increased her faith, has given her greater hope of heaven, and has caused her to love the Lord so much more. She sees the joy of sharing in his suffering and would not trade it for any amount of walking.
What do we really want to be healed of, our physical problems or our spiritual problems? Do we need to be healed of cancer or given the “medical procedure” of a circumcised heart?
And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.” And some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.” And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.” And he got up and went home. But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
–Matthew 9:2-8 (NASB)
Only God forgives sins and so I also believe only God can miraculously heal. Even if we say, as I can only believe MacArthur says, that the age of miraculous healing is done and that God does not heal anymore in a supernatural sense, I have a question. Why do we pray for people when they are hurt or sick?
Actually, I have no idea if MacArthur prays for the sick, although I certainly hope he visits them because I don’t think that type of kindness we see in the Bible was ended when New Testament canon closed.
I go to a fundamentalist Baptist church. I imagine MacArthur would be comfortable worshiping there. And yet, in the bulletin they pass out to me as I enter the doors of the church for services every Sunday morning, there is a multi-page paper containing many, many prayer requests.
At the top of the list, we are to pray for our President, our other Government representatives and so on. Then there’s a list of missionaries we should pray for. After that, there are multitudes of requests from people in the church about others in the church, family members, friends, and so on, most of whom suffer from terrible medical situations.
When I go to Sunday school after services, the teacher begins class by asking for prayer requests. Again, usually people’s medical problems are brought up, people facing surgery, people with chronic illnesses, people who are dying.
Why do we pray for them if we don’t, on some level, want God to heal them? Sure, sometimes we pray for someone’s salvation. Sometimes we pray for someone who is in a spiritual crisis of one kind or another, but most of the time, we pray for people who are sick.
I know from my own experience, that most if not all of the terminally ill people I have prayed for have died. I know that’s cruel to say, but that’s my experience. Why did I pray for them? What was the point?
I can see how the whole “faith healing” process has been hijacked and abused and I most certainly don’t advocate for frauds and hucksters who prey upon the illness and weakness of others for financial gain, but I do take exception to the idea that we aren’t supposed to pray for people who are hurt (and I’m not quite sure MacArthur would actually advocate that position). I also take exception to the idea that God can’t or won’t heal someone supernaturally.
I don’t say these healings occur regularly or we can predict when they will happen. If they happen at all, they probably do so infrequently and without any way to know when a person will or won’t be healed. And yet we hope. And yet we pray. And yet we rely on God to have mercy, and beg Him to heal, if not the loved one who we know is about to perish, but our grieving soul when we are left behind and alone.
Yes, as we read Matthew 9:2-8, above all, God desires to heal the soul, to forgive sin, to bring about redemption, to circumcise the heart of stone and give the sinner a heart of flesh.
None of that means we like to see our loved ones suffer physically. None of that means we aren’t compelled to pray for them, to ask and even to beg God to cure a four-year old little girl of leukemia or some other horrible, life-threatening ailment.
Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
–2 Samuel 12:21-23 (NASB)
It’s a terrible thing to think that God would cause a newborn baby to die because of the sins of his father. I’m not sure how else we can interpret the events about the child David and Bathsheba conceived together in the shadow of adultery and murder. But while the child was alive, David prayed and fasted and wept, but the child died anyway.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed by the name of the Lord.
That has to be one of the most bitter prayers recorded in the Bible, and yet it is reflected in the grief of David and in the grief of anyone who has lost a loved one.
How can I not pray from the “brokenness” of my heart?
I think Ms Tada’s point was well made. I know that living with a long-term and severe medical problem can actually bring a person closer to God, can make the relationship stronger and more intimate. I’ve seen such a thing happen to a man I know. But it’s still a bittersweet thing. That doesn’t mean God doesn’t want to heal the injured or comfort the grieving. That doesn’t mean that sometimes, in accordance with His will, God doesn’t provide us with what we need, and even what we ask for out of His abundant grace, power, compassion, and pity.
I don’t know what MacArthur was trying to accomplish by presenting Ms. Tada on stage at his conference. What he accomplished, at least for me, is to remind me of how fragile life is and how we all rely on God to help us when our problems are so much bigger than we are. If MacArthur meant to indict the Pentecostal church for false advertising, I missed that part of the message.
35 thoughts on “The Challies Chronicles: John MacArthur and Joni Eareckson Tada”
This has been a very interesting progression of articles……Why do we pray for a person to be healed? Is it not, more often than not, prayer for a person we know..a person we love and we do it because we are fragile and do not understand ‘death’. But still…how many people do we REALLY know who have been healed? I have experienced the death of a sister who was prayed for many many many times in her battle with brain cancer. In the end..she died, as her doctors said she would within a three day period of the date they earlier had ‘predicted’. Now the part of this story that angers me is having been told……there must have been sin her life or she would have been healed. The pastor had a ‘healing’ ministry.
…there must have been sin her life or she would have been healed. The pastor had a ‘healing’ ministry.
Now that is an evil that must be resisted. Blaming a person’s illness or death on their sin. Only God knows the heart. I don’t see any correlation between illness and sin, otherwise murders and rapists would all get cancer and all those to love God and give abundantly to others would live long lives.
James…this ‘conversation’ if continued.. in love and filled with love … could address a lot of hurtful situations. Here we are though…ALL filled with G-ds love but unable to have a conversation. Strange, isn’t it?
When we stand in opposition with each other, it’s difficult to communicate through the barrier, even though we all desire to serve God. I sometimes think that Christianity is over-designed and too complicated. All of the competing priorities of the different Christian streams get in the way. I was wondering during my lunch hour today where we mislaid our basic identity as a disciple of Messiah. Shouldn’t that be what unifies us?
In speaking about healing or lack thereof, MacArthur may have touched on the answer, when in this presentation, Ms. Tada emphasized that it was the healing of her spirit that was God’s most precious gift. What we need, as the body of Messiah, and I say that in the broadest possible sense, is the ability to heal as well, to be brought together under one Master, one King, and to surrender ourselves and realize it is he who rules our life, not philosophies, doctrines, and dogma.
I have read bits and pieces regarding Ms. Tada … she seems accepting of the place in to which G-d has placed her. She is a real ‘testimony’ to the love of G-d working in HER life. Why do others insist she must be healed? (I quickly add….if I found myself ‘in her shoes’ I’d want to be healed….but we really do not know, do we?)
When biblical evidence is lacking, many will resort to personal testimony to prove a view. MacArthur can’t provide biblical evidence that God no longer heals, so he produces a well-known example of someone who has not been healed and presents her as “proof” of God withdrawing healing gifts from the church.
How is this approach any different from that of some charismatics whose doctrinal foundations rely on personal experience more than God’s revealed truth in scripture?
One possible reason (though not the only one) that genuine healings are rare could be that we have been conditioned NOT to expect them by teachings like those of John MacArthur. If we are convinced they no longer happen, how can we have the required faith to BE healed when scripture makes it clear that faith is necessary to receive from God?
sorry for the almost duplication James – please delete my most recent comment. I thought I lost my first comment during the posting process.
Faith healing can be a touchy subject because a person may sincerely want to be healed and possess great faith, and yet not be healed.
This is an example that sometimes we won’t know why a person is disabled or injured and why they are or aren’t healed. I don’t want to be so arrogant that I’d say something as dippy as, “this person wasn’t healed because they didn’t have enough faith.” That’s crazy. Healing is in the sovereign hand of God. Supernatural healing isn’t something we can control by a “magic” combination of prayer, what kind of “anointing oil” we use, or anything else.
That said, I can’t say supernatural healing doesn’t happen at all in an absolute sense. How many long-shot cures have happened that the doctor and patient attributed to a statistical fluke or something else that was God working in a person’s life? We’ll probably never know. I don’t want to put God in a box that says He can’t or won’t heal, because we have no power to contain God.
However, we also need to remember that we have no supernatural power to heal and we can’t put God in that box, either.
Got it, Tim. No worries.
Yes, healing is in the sovereign hands of God. However, there are many scriptural references to the need for faith when we want to receive from God.
I just wonder how people can have faith to receive anything (like healing) when they have been consistently taught that God no longer provides it. Such teaching is a faith-killer. Those who are convinced by it can NEVER have faith to receive what they don’t expect God to provide.
See James 1 about the importance of steadfast, unwavering faith in relationship to receiving from God
My major concern is playing the game of “blaming the victim.” I think that, for whatever reason, there are believers of great faith who also suffer tremendously and even die. I can’t make it so simple as everyone who is healthy has tons of faith and everyone who is sick does not. Even as far as healing goes, there may be people of great faith who God chooses not to heal for His sovereign reasons. I can’t blame people who were not healed simply because that was God’s choice.
There are great mysteries involved and we cannot expect to apply mere human reasoning and figure them out.
James, I don’t see it as a case of “blaming the victim”. There are probably many reason why people aren’t healed, but a major reason is that no one can have faith to receive something that they don’t believe is available to them.
To me, saying that healing is no longer available seems worse than “blaming the vicitm” it is blaming God.
When we recognise that God is willing and able to heal we are then able to go that step further to seek healing. If healing doesn’t eventuate then we can seek God for the reason (if we need to change something in our lives first), and we can trust God that He’s using our situation for another purpose – possibly temporarily, or possibly long term.
The important thing is that scripture shows us the reality of God’s ability and willingness to heal and does not indicate a withdrawal of healing as a continuing blessing.
I’m not saying you would ever “blame the victim” but I’ve heard more than one Christian say something like, “She wasn’t healed because she didn’t have enough faith,” as if the person saying it would have any way to know. I also don’t think we can always do anything in our own lives to make or prevent Him from healing or manifesting Himself in any other way. I think that He sometimes manifests Himself without anyone even asking, just because of His sovereign grace and mercy. I also believe that, for whatever His reasons, He chooses not to heal or intervene in situations where faithful people are praying mightily. We cannot know the ways of God and we can’t blame the sick or God for the outcome.
I have to wonder how many of our beliefs and expectations regarding healing have their origin in scripture and how many of them originate with the teaching we’ve received. In the past, like MacArthur, I also used Joni as an escape clause for the healing issue: until I relaised that I shouldn’t base my beliefs on experience (mine or others) but on the revelation given through scripture. Our faith should stand on God’s word, not on man’s teachings, experience or opinions.
I don’t think it’s up to anyone to “blame” someone else if they are not healed. It is up to us individually to be honest with ourselves about our own health needs. I am responsible for my own relationship with God and therefore responsible for an honest assessment of my own faith. Too often we can overestimate our faith and get offended if it is questioned. I suspect for most of us, our faith is no where near as complete and established as we like to think.
ps to above.
The further I go in this Christian life the more I realise/recognise how much my faith falls short of the confident “faith” I was so sure I had years ago. And yet I my faith is now much more secure because of that recognition.I no longer take what I have for granted, knowing that there’s always room for improvement.
Paul had his thorn that God refused to heal. God said His grace was sufficient. Let it be so for us.
There is no indication that the thorn was a health issue – the scriptures describe it as a messenger from Satan sent to buffet Paul.
Paul at least had the understanding that God COULD remove it and would be willing to remove it and therefore was able to ask for it to be removed. The same would not be the case if Paul heeded J Mac’s teaching.
And Paul was open enough to God’s Spirit to seek and hear God’s reason for the non-removal. He didn’t merely assume God wasn’t in the thorn-removal business.
2 Cor 12 spells out God’s reasoning and the nature of this “thorn in the flesh”.
Like most, I’ve seen the gammut. Worked in a funeral home in a small community for six years. Watched friends fade, then helped bury them.
During that time I witnessed a miracle! I know first hand, God’s plan may not always be healing, be there are time He definitely heals, against ALL odds.
Long story short, my wife wound up in ICU with multiple organ failure. A team of mystified doctors from across the state, after weeks of battling, said it was ‘over’ and specifically told me to plan a funeral while I still had it together.
The whole family had been called in. A ‘friend’ dropped by to tell me my prayers were blocked because of her sin… I totally rejected that and kicked him out. (Speaks to the hurtful comments some hear, previously mentioned.) A couple elders asked if they could go back with me and pray and anoint with oil. We did. Very simple prayer placing all in the Father’s hands, but asking for mercy and healing. Quoted James 5:13-16, sang a hymn and left it in Father’s hands.
Two hours later the lead doc shows up in the waitng room and said, I don’t know what happened, but everything has changed and everything seems to be working fine. Two days later she was out of ICU.
Still had a long recovery, but months later, the head pulmonary doc, a self professed agnostic said, ‘That was a miracle. I’ve never seen anything like it. She was dead, but here she is…’ And, she is still here, four years later, this month!
So, we all know, miracles do happen. God still moves in mighty ways, though maybe at least part of MacArthur’s message is that He is not a cosmic bellhop.
Personally, I’ve seen other stuff and reject cessassionism, but also recognize the Spirit is not available for marketing as many charismatics seem to do….
There is a balance.
I saw someone miraculously healed of MS about 20 years ago. She was a bedridden mother of young children and several people had been praying for her for a number of years. As she was on the phone with a sister in the Lord, they were praying and reading scripture, and she was healed. When she walked into church (an Episcopal church) there was a thunderous explosion of applause for the awesome work of the Lord.
I was saddened within just a few weeks that spiritual pride seeped into those involved – including the young woman who was healed. Yet this served as a warning to me over the years any time I experienced a victory in the Lord or instant answer to pray.
At the same time, I’ve prayed for many to be healed, including my parents. My father, a believer, died of pulmonary fibrosis. An avid diver all his life, I couldn’t understand how the Lord allowed him to suffocate in a room full of oxygen. But I have to trust in God’s righteousness and love.
James, I think my biggest problem is the way John MacArthur went about this whole thing. Could you imagine the uproar in Christendom if those of us who follow a Jewish Messiah, and believe obedience to Torah is the fruit of belief and trust in Him, suddenly declared that those who do not honor Sabbath can’t possibly be believers; or that those who choose to worship on Sunday rather than Sabbath are worshiping a false god?
But I don’t think we would do that (or I hope we wouldn’t) because it would not be showing the love of the Master.
I think we are all going to be quite surprised by the things we’ve gotten wrong – every single one of us. Sometimes, I can just see our Father’s head shaking in disbelief that we are such silly little children.
I don’t know why, knowing what we know already about the Jewish Messiah, we still are thinking of faith in Greek terms, and not in Hebrew terms. Faith is not about believing something will be or will be not done by G-d. Faith (Emunah) in Hebrew’s thought is about trusting G-d in whatever He is doing in our live. It also goes by understanding that G-d has all the power for doing whatever He has decided to do with us. It also means trusting G-d as He being our Abba, our Daddy… remember when we were toddlers? It means that we should (as our Master Yeshua taught in the parable of the widow and the judge in Luke 18:1-8) ask our Abba for something constantly until He says either yes or no. Either answer from our Abba should satisfy us.
PS. Have you ever read the story of Choni?
@Onesimus: All I’m saying is that God can heal if He so chooses but He doesn’t have to.
@Pete: That’s an amazing story, my friend. I’m glad your wife made a full recovery. Baruch Hashem.
Rosemarie said: “I was saddened within just a few weeks that spiritual pride seeped into those involved…”
I sometimes wonder if that’s why God doesn’t do more miracles in our age. The instant He does, the people involved get puffed up. I’ve heard similar stories about such folks.
Could you imagine the uproar in Christendom if those of us who follow a Jewish Messiah, and believe obedience to Torah is the fruit of belief and trust in Him, suddenly declared that those who do not honor Sabbath can’t possibly be believers; or that those who choose to worship on Sunday rather than Sabbath are worshiping a false god?
Actually, there are a lot of Hebrew Roots folks who say exactly that, and the response from the Church is to paint all of Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism as a cult and “under the Law.” Boaz Michael once said (I’m paraphrasing) that you can’t convince the Church of the merits of the Torah by hitting them over the head with a Torah scroll.
@Alfredo: Faith and trust. Reminds me of one of my favorite Jewish parables.
Yes, I’ve read about Choni the Circle Maker before. Well-known parable.
The ultimate healing for all of us no matter or physical or natural circumstances, is the healing we receive from our sin-sickened souls through Yeshua. Our bodily temples will ultimately be replaced with the uncorruptible glorified bodies that will have for our eternal life. This is true health “assurance”…the promises of YAH…and not man’s very limited and short-sighted understanding we have apart from the truth of His Word. So let’s us rejoice and meditate on His promise to complete the Good work He alone has begun in each of us…pressing towards the high mark of our calling, laying aside those things that will easily ensnare us and distract us from being conformed into the Messiah’s image (in obedience), that we might “be holy as He is holy.” Selah.
James, of course God doesn’t have to heal anyone. That suggestion is the complete reversal of the suggestion that God no longer heals.
But many people are being led not to expect healing because the latter is being taught and therefore tehy can not believe God may heal them. Scripture makes it clear that faith plays a significant part in our ability to receive from God.
“Faith in God” relates to trusting what He has revealed of His nature and character through His Word. When people are led by teaching that opposes the revelation God has given, then faith is compromised. Their faith is in something other than God.
If miracles were commonplace, who would know what a miracle was?
@Steve — Actually, there is no reason to think that miracles must be rare to be recognized as miracles. The word in Hebrew is “nes”, referring to a sign that immediately lifts up or raises one’s consciousness of higher realities. This can occur even with so-called “everyday” miracles. Of course, the existence of everyday miracles is not a justification to demand every kind of miracle every day.
Tim, I don’t want to have an endlessly circular discussion on the merits of faith and healing. I can agree that we have many Biblical examples of people with great faith being healed, and often the Master would say, “your faith has healed you, go in peace.” On the other hand, I have to believe that there have been many people in our world who, even possessing great faith, have not been healed. I also believe that God is capable of and willing to heal others, even if their faith is small, for His own glory among men.
Steve, I think I read a commentary about that once. We have the mechanics of how the natural world works, which is in one sense, a miracle, because our world is created and it’s amazing that all of the little bits and pieces of our world are able to work at all. If the Earth were just a little closer to the Sun or a little farther away, life would not be possible at all. But of course, we take all that for granted, even though our very existence is a revelation of God.
On the other hand, the commentary I read says that occasionally God does supernatural (as opposed to natural) miracles to get our attention, to inspire, to elevate His glory among men, and to reveal Himself in an indisputable manner, one we cannot take for granted.
Regarding faith and its part in our relationship with God.
What should inform our faith? Personal experience, the testimony of others, teaching of “theologians”? Or maybe God’s own revelation given through scripture…
There is a view (linked to the Calvinist ideas of sovereignty and predestiny) that God will always do what He wants in our lives, and if we are to receive from Him we will receive anyway regardless of any response from us. Scripture gives a different picture, showing that faith plays a vital role in opening the way for us to receive what God desires us to have.
The whole point of my comments on this topic here, is that the cessationist views promoted by MacArthur effectively kill faith and thereby deny access to those things received by faith. If someone is convinced that Spiritual gifts are no longer given by God, then they will not seek Him for those gifts. Even worse, they are led to believe that examples of those gifts are effectivley Satanic – and therefore they would actually RESIST the gifts.
I can’t argue with your last paragraph and I’m certainly convinced that whether or not we have faith and trust in God makes a difference in how He reacts to us, I just don’t want to put God in a box and say that He will never do such and thus unless we do such and thus. I think God’s motivations are infinitely complex and sometimes He does something and we really don’t know why. God doesn’t have to be bound by the rules He imposes on us.
James, there is no question that God can and does act unilaterally at times – the sending of Jesus and His crucifixion and resurrection are clear examples, and also the meeting with Saul on the Damascus Road.
But these tend to be exceptional cases and are not generally day to day things. It is in the day to day world that we are living and God has made provision and given promises related to His day to day relationship with us and that all comes with the condition of trust (faith).
It is a serious thing when a teacher undermines that trust by casting doubt on what God has promised to provide; and that includes the Spiritual gifts He gives to equip His people.
Yes God’s motivations are infinitely complex, but they should not be made to seem more complex though ignoring or denying those things that He has made known.
James thank you for posting this blog…I was raised southern baptist, went to Christian school my whole life and ended up being licensed in the Assemblies of God. So let me just say I’ve seen it all! The good, the bad and the ugly! The granola gatherings: fruits, nuts and flakes. But in all my life in whatever denomination I was in I was taught God sits enthroned in the heavens and can do whatever he pleases. Let us never fall into a category where healing is about a person or a preacher. Have I ever seen anyone healed? Yes. Have I ever seen anyone not healed? Yes. The question isn’t, “does God still heal?” The question is, “does God still heal all the time?” And to that answer we must give an honest, NO. No God obviously chooses not to heal everyone in this life. We will all be healed in heaven. Joni is right. Sometimes God says “no,” and that has to okay. God has told me “No” many times in my walk with him. Maturity is accepting that he knows best and giving him the glory anyway. Do i personally believe that the church age and the gifts of the Holy Spirit in that age are still operating? Yes. But it doesn’t matter what I believe. In closing, I have found it funny that over the years I’ve had some great bible believing pastors have sick people in their congregations, and they have sent them to our services to be prayed for because they know we pray for the sick. That’s wonderful, but I wish that my pastor and church friends would really lift the ban on praying for the sick and just trust God for the outcome. It’s not us anyway! It’s HIM!!! And I will never stop pointing people to Jesus for the right answer! Thanks for allowing me to share and God bless you all!!
Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Pastor. Bless you and yours as well.
Clearly haShem has done miracles in MacArthur’s life and the lives of those around him. He himself has spoken of events in his own life that could have proven fatal. His wife Patricia was nearly killed in an horrific car accident that could have left her a quadraplegic, yet she was spared and her health restored. The working of the Spirit is still very much undeniably in evidence.
To be fair, I don’t think MacArthur denies that the Holy Spirit is active in our world today and that the Spirit even does miracles. His main issue is that the Spirit isn’t “channeled” thought human beings endowing people with the miraculous abilities we see in scripture.
James thanks for the thoughtful and honest article. I would like to suggest that, for every instance of someone like Joni or your friend who was sanctified and grew closer to God through physical suffering, there are several others who become bitter, angry, and estranged from God. It does not seem that physical sickness and disability are an automatic boon to spiritual growth.
I’d also like to suggest that just because we do not see everything that we pray for healed, does not mean that it is not God’s will to heal all. We know from Scripture that God wills that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9), yet people do perish. Nor is it God’s will that a Christian should ever sin, yet we can think of many instances that Christians do sin.
This topic requires much more than a discussion in the comments to a blog post, but I would encourage you to re-read the Gospels keeping in mind that Jesus is the exact image of the invisible God (Hebrews 1:3). God’s will is invisible (or only partly visible) to us except by looking at Jesus.
I speak from personal experience. I had a terrible injury that left me barely able to walk, and it did not build character in me until the I realized that Jesus NEVER put sickness on anyone or counseled them to keep sick “to build character” or “for God’s greater glory.” Anytime a sickness is related to God’s glory in the New Testament, it is always in the context of God’s miraculous healing.
I realize that which lens someone finds more comforting (that “if a sickness is not healed, then God had a higher purpose in choosing not to heal,” or, “God’s will is ALWAYS healing, but sometimes healing does not happen and there is real risk that His will will not get done in this situation”) depends in part on one’s temperament. However, I do believe that God’s unequivocal will to save (the Greek word for “save” is often translated “heal” in the gospels) is thoroughly Biblical.
I am not healed yet. Many people who are sick are not healed yet. But that does not change who Jesus is. Paraphrasing John Wimber, “if we lower the Word to our level of (in)experience, we will always be right; but if we let the Word lead us, then our experience will rise to God’s Word.”