Unbelief is the major reason some Christians don’t see healings and miracles today. Some unbelief is based on a theology that teaches God has withdrawn the gifts of healing and miracles. That’s the form of unbelief I’ve been addressing in my book, Why I Am Still Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. But those who believe God still heals are susceptible to other forms of unbelief.
People in the Pentecostal tradition tend to believe it is always God’s will to heal. They maintain that anyone who has enough faith will be healed. They use Isaiah 53:5 as a basis for this: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” They feel this proves that the cross of Jesus guarantees healing to all who have faith. They point out that after Jesus spent a whole evening healing all the sick and demonized people who were brought to him, Matthew wrote that Jesus’ healing ministry fulfilled Isaiah 53:4: “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering” (see Matthew 8:17).
It is not only healing that comes through the cross, but all of the blessings of God come through the cross. All of God’s family will be completely healed and perfected in heaven. The question is whether the cross guarantees healing to all in this life. I cannot find this promise in Scripture, but I can find examples that seem to disprove this idea.
Next to Jesus, the apostle Paul is presented as the most gifted healer in the Bible. Paul was imprisoned in Rome at the end of his life and needed Trophimus, but he had to leave him sick in Miletus because he could not get him healed (2 Timothy 4:20). Before he went into prison for the last time, Paul wrote this to Timothy: “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23). The apostle whose handkerchiefs healed the sick and who sent demons flying out of people back into the darkness (Acts 19:11) could not heal his spiritual son who was plagued by frequent illnesses and stomach problems. If Paul believed that anyone could be healed if they had enough faith, he would have encouraged Timothy to “fan into flame” the gift of faith. This is what Paul said to Timothy when his faith had so weakened that he was not using the spiritual gift Paul had imparted to him (2 Timothy 1:6). Instead, Paul writes as though he knows what most of us know as well: not everyone will be healed in this life.
Pentecostals also point out that in Scripture everyone who came to Christ was healed, so they conclude it is always Jesus’ will to heal. I think they underestimate the uniqueness of Jesus. He was given the Holy Spirit without limit (John 3:34). No one in the New Testament, not even the apostles, healed like Jesus.
If it really was Jesus’ will that everyone should be healed, then why hasn’t he raised up healers like himself who can bear the power of the Spirit without limit and inspire the necessary amount of faith in people for them to be healed?
There is a pastoral problem that is difficult to avoid if we tell people that God will heal them if they have enough faith. This puts the burden for healing on the sick person rather than on the wisdom and mercy of God. It can force a person to “whip up” psychological certainty for a healing that God may not be giving.
I spoke at a conference long ago in Missouri and I remember two things about the conference: it was a healing conference, and I was sick the entire conference. I had a miserable case of pink eye, a cold, and terrible insomnia. I can only remember one person I prayed for—a beloved man in the church, bedridden, in the last stage of cancer. He was lying on a hospital bed in his den, and a bunch of young people and I surrounded his bed.
We laid our hands on his body. I prayed something like this: “Lord, would you heal our brother. Strengthen his immune system. Kill every cancerous cell in his body . . .”
After we prayed, I stood outside in the yard to talk with the young people.
One of them said, “Wow! That is the first time that’s ever happened.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“That’s the first time anyone has ever mentioned cancer in his presence. He forbids people to say ‘cancer’ because he believes that God has healed him,” said the student.
The man’s skin and eyes were yellow. He was too weak to sit up. He had embraced a theology that forced him to live in denial and call it faith. I have heard it said to unhealed people, “God has the power. I have the faith. You didn’t get healed, so there must be unbelief or sin in your life.” Some have called this response “tough love”; I call it cruelty.
The responsible people I know in the Pentecostal tradition would never say anything like this to an unhealed person. They demonstrate that it’s possible to believe that God wants to heal everyone and still treat the unhealed with kindness and sympathy. Many, many people have been healed and are being healed in the Pentecostal movement. I am grateful for this move of God, though I think there is a better approach to healing faith.
Doubting God’s Power
For Christians, unbelief is doubting God’s power, wisdom, or goodness. When I first began to pray for the sick, one of my church members brought a relative who had a large tumor next to her esophagus. It was thought to be malignant, but she hadn’t had a biopsy. She was the wife of a local judge who had come to the church with her that night. Seven of us gathered around her to pray, while the judge stood off to the side, his back to us, enduring our prayers for his wife. I prayed silently, asking God what to do. She doesn’t believe I can heal her, was the sentence that popped into my mind. I stopped the prayer.
“Do you think God has the power to heal you?” I asked gently.
“Well, I suppose God can do anything. He’s God, right?” she answered.
“Yes, that’s true, but do you think he has the power to heal your tumor?”
Tears welled in her eyes, and she said, “Not really. Maybe if we’d caught this sooner, he could have healed me.”
I told her some recent healing stories and explained that God could heal at any stage of an illness. I saw a little light come into her eyes, and we prayed again. I think the outcome was good, but this happened more than thirty years ago, and I can’t be sure. The reason I remember the story at all is that it is one of the few times I prayed for a person who doubted that God had the power to heal her.
Doubting God’s Goodness
For those of us who believe God heals, the most common form of unbelief we struggle with is doubting God’s goodness. When someone prays for us to be healed, we begin to think of our sins, all the reasons why God shouldn’t heal us. This happens even in our private prayer times, especially when we lay a big request before God. The bigger the request, the faster our sins besiege our minds.
The Holy Spirit took John the Seer, the author of Revelation, to heaven and showed him the key to this attack against our minds and hearts:
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.”
Satan accuses us “before our God day and night.” He doesn’t stand before God pointing out my failures. That would have no effect on God. He accuses me directly when I go before God to pray. Anytime I pray, a demonic power assigned to me points out my sins. Every time I stand before a group to pray for healing, I hear a voice saying things like, “You should have prayed more before this meeting. You don’t care about people. You just want people to think you’re awesome. Why didn’t you fast? Why didn’t you fast more? If you really cared about God’s people, you would have . . .” That nasty voice will continue to speak as long as I’m willing to listen to it.
Some of the things the accuser says are true; some are partly true. Who has ever prayed enough or loved purely enough? When have our motives ever been completely pure? What the accuser is attacking is the goodness of God. He wants us to believe that God’s goodness is contingent on our goodness. The accuser doesn’t care if we believe that God heals, as long as he can get us to think that God only heals good people, not weak, immature, inconsistent people like us. The truth is that every time we ask God for anything, we are asking for something we don’t deserve. We are asking for a favor that we can never pay back.
We overcome the accuser by placing our confidence in the blood of Christ. I can ask God for anything because I am a blood-bought child of God, and I am loved by him, regardless of the quality of my performance. When we come before God confident in the blood of his Son, he will often give us good things, because that’s the kind of God we believe in.
This is an excerpt from Why I Am Still Surprised by the Power of the Spirit by Jack Deere. In this revised volume he demonstrates that the Scriptures teach that God is healing and speaking today just as he did 2000 years ago. He tells documented stories of modern miracles. He explains the nature of spiritual gifts, defines each spiritual gift, offers sound advice on discovering and using the gifts in church today. He shows how all of this part of God’s way of deepening our friendship with him. There are many new stories of God’s power, even walking on water and multiplying food. Deere also introduces the newest literature defending and explaining the gifts of the Spirit. All this and more continues the book’s legacy for a new time. Get the book from our store here.