As a pastor, I get a lot of question about miraculous healing. These come in all varieties, from mere academic curiosities to the urgently relevant question on the lips of those in present suffering and pain. By no means do I presume to offer the final word on this matter, but I’ve received the questions enough to have a few thoughts:
Does God still heal today?
Yes. There is nothing in the Bible that indicates that God has stopped healing, sometimes in dramatic and miraculous ways. I have simply heard too many stories from reputable sources—particularly on the mission field—to be able to discount these as frauds.
Why does God heal?
God heals for a number of reasons. Most obviously, he heals as an act of love and mercy to someone who is suffering. But God also heals to validate his servants, which is why miracles crop up so repeatedly in the lives of the apostles. It may also explain why miraculous healings seem more frequent in areas where the gospel is spreading for the very first time.
God also heals as a sign and foretaste of the coming kingdom of God. The Old Testament prophets looked forward to a day when peace—shalom—would reign, when the pain of the present world would pass away. Miraculous healing is a taste of that, the firstfruits of the full restoration that God has promised for the world.
Miraculous healings also serve as a witness to non-Christians, primarily as an invitation to receive spiritual healing, but also as a warning that they are currently spiritually sick and dying.
Lastly, God heals to motivate Christians to worship. This is a common reaction to miracles in the Bible, and it bears out in contemporary life as well.
Should I believe every miracle story I hear?
No. As I mentioned above, I’ve heard a lot of reputable sources telling me about miracles. But I’ve also heard people tell me about miracles that make no sense at all. As C.S. Lewis said, “many stories of miracles are unreliable; but then, as anyone can see by reading the papers, so are most stories of all events. Each story much be taken on its merits.”
I know God heals. But I don’t take on the responsibility of being referee of every story, and neither should you.
Should miraculous healings (like those in the gospels and Acts) be our everyday expectation?
I wish I could just say “yes.” Nothing in Scripture indicates that God has stopped healing altogether. But the sort of power that the apostles had seems unique to their time. Peter didn’t pray for people to be healed; he just said, “Be healed.” And he never seems to have misfired.
But even throughout the New Testament, this begins to fade. Paul, who performs all manner of miracles in Acts, writes near the end of his life, “Trophimus I have left at Miletus sick” (2 Timothy 4:12 ESV). And Paul himself had a “thorn” that God refused to remove. God wouldn’t heal it. Something is shifting from the beginning of the apostles’ ministry to the end.
What is that something? As the author of Hebrews says, “[Our great salvation] was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit.” (Hebrews 2:3–4) Apparently God gave the apostles an unusual endowment of power for a time to authenticate the fact that he really was speaking through them.
That doesn’t mean God never acts like this anymore. He does, and we praise him when he does. But we simply cannot expect the unique circumstances of Acts to be normative for all time.
Should hope of supernatural healing ever replace normal medical procedures?
Never. Nowhere in the Bible do I see any indication that faith in God the Healer replaces prudent action for physical health. When I pray for people in the hospital, I always pray (1) that God will miraculously heal the person, but also (2) that God will guide the doctors and nurses to use them as his agents of healing. Sometimes God circumvents the usual medical process, but that doesn’t mean we abandon it wholesale.
Will everyone who prays in faith receive healing?
Yes. And no. But mostly yes.
Eventually, those who pray in faith will receive healing, spiritual as well as physical, when God restores all things. Then the dead will be raised incorruptible, and there will be no more disease or pain or mourning.
But in the short term, God often has bigger purposes on earth than physical healing. Sometimes he allows us to know him better only through pain (as with the apostle Paul). Sometimes he uses our suffering to reach others. As I’ve heard it said, sometimes God glorifies himself by helping sick people get well; sometimes he glorifies himself when sick people die well.
If we truly understood the greatness of God’s gift to us in Christ, it would make even the worst pain here seem trifling. One test for how firmly we believe the gospel is our ability to be joyful in all things.
What part of the Church’s mission should be focused on healing?
All of it. That doesn’t mean that the Church only goes around performing physical miracles. But we should be known for the healing we bring to those around us. As faithful witnesses, we must warn, and sometimes preach unpopular messages. But that should always be done in the midst of massive outpourings of love and healing.
Our community should say about us, “We don’t believe what those crazy church people believe, but thank God they’re here, because if not, we’d have to raise our taxes!”
The Church should be known as the place where healing can be found for every place the community is broken. Need counseling? We’ll help. Need job training? We’ll help. Need ESL classes? We’ll help. Need a bag of groceries? We’ll help. Need a safe place? We’ll help. Need parenting insights? We’ll help. Need rehabilitation? We’ll help. Need medical care? We’ll help. Need community and friendship? We’ll help. Have questions and doubts about faith? We’ll help. Have an addiction? We’ll help. Have a desire for a fresh start? We’ll help. Have a vision to help others? We’ll help.
We offer help and healing because we have had help and healing showered on us by our gracious God. May God enable us to offer this help to our neighbors, our city, and our world.