So this morning I came upon an interesting quote by Craig L. Blomberg, a New Testament professor at Denver Seminary:
Miraculous healings can and do occur today. They are perhaps most prevalent in areas into which the kingdom of God is advancing for the first time, or for the first time in a long while. Exorcisms tend to occur most in conjunction with the preaching of the gospel in lands and areas in which Satan has long held sway and in which Christianity has not flourished. To the extent that Western societies continue to become more paganized, one may expect a continued revival of healings and exorcisms there as well. As Christian individuals and congregations mature, it may well be that the need for such miracles, as a testimony to a non-Christian culture of the truth and power of the gospel, will diminish. But Christians of all theological persuasions must scrupulously avoid dictating to God what he must do or what he cannot do. Ultimately, God’s Spirit blows where it wills, and no one can unerringly predict where his gifts of healing will break out.” (“Healing,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 306)
On one hand, I love that a leading NT scholar concludes an excellent article on the subject of healing by making it clear that the Holy Spirit still powerfully works through what Paul calls “gifts of healings” (1 Cor. 12:9) for the cause of the kingdom. No arguments on that issue from this convinced “Charismatic Continuationists (p)entecostal” (I guess the best term that describes me is “Vineyard” on this issue).
And in one sense, I want to agree with the connection between gospel proclamation with gospel demonstration in that I see throughout the New Testament ample evidence that one of the ways in which God confirms the preaching of the great news about Jesus is by giving confirmation through what we call “miracles.” I love what Tim Keller says in The Reason for God about these “miracles”:
We… think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order.”
Or, as Jordan Seng writes:
In heaven, miracles would seem totally natural. Only on earth does it make sense to talk about things being supernatural. It’s precisely because supernatural things are coated in earthly grit that they seem other-than-natural to us. By definition, they’re out of place. They’re like heaven in a brown paper bag. They’re messy.” (Miracle Work, 5).
So these messy experiences, where “heaven is contained in a brown paper bag,” are often the very means by which God confirms the message of the kingdom. It’s like God is saying, “Hey, you want to know why you can trust the things my people are saying about Jesus? Because the things they are doing prove it. The lame walk and the blind see.”
But is that the only purpose of, for example, healing?
Healing as an Expression of God’s Love
So imagine that you are sharing the gospel with someone and somewhere in the midst of the conversation, you notice that they seem to have some discomfort in their right shoulder. When you ask them what’s wrong, they explain to you that they’ve had chronic shoulder pain and that according to their doctor, there are problems with the ligaments. So you offer to pray for their shoulder and along the way, the Holy Spirit heals them. This, in turn, creates in them an awareness of both God’s presence as well as God’s love and they make a decision to respond to God’s presence (holiness, love, grace, and mercy) and begin a relationship with the Lord.
I think many of us would agree that this is both a common way that the Spirit works to reveal God’s love to people desperately in need of that love. Who can argue that this is what we read in the Gospels about the way that Jesus ministered?
But is healing primarily about expressing God’s love to non-Christians? I’m not convinced that we should use the word “primarily” in relation to God’s work of healing if we’re looking to determine who God wants to heal, either Christians or non-Christians. After all, throughout the Gospels, Jesus often healed people who were part of his religious “family” (i.e., Israel) and it seems rather anachronistic to read back into the 1st century world of the Gospels the idea that Jesus only healed post-modern skeptics. Jesus healed people who loved and served Yahweh, of this we can be sure.
So maybe we need a better understanding of why God heals if we’re interested in the subject of healing.
Why Does God Heal?
By the time I was 22, I was pretty apathetic and cynical about spiritual gifts. It wasn’t that I hadn’t seen the Holy Spirit do some pretty amazing things; the problem was I’d seen a lot of the other stuff too (manipulation, terrible exegesis/hermeneutics, etc.). So I resigned myself to be a theoretical Continuationist, because I knew that the arguments against the continuing work of the Spirit through gifts such as healing, prophecy, and tongues simply didn’t work, while simultaneously being a practicing Cessationist. It seemed easier to just not deal with or focus on “charismatic stuff” because… well, it was complicated.
And then I read Dr. Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. Deere’s work literally saved my connection with what some have pejoratively called “charismania.” Until that point, I had never read something as exegetically rigorous while being simultaneously practically helpful. That book was (and is) incredible.
Deere offers a number of reasons to answer the question, “Why Does God heal?” He provides four explanations:
- God heals out of compassion and mercy.
- God heals to glorify himself and his Son.
- God heals in response to faith.
- God heals in response to his own promise.
For each reason, Deere provides excellent biblical and theological support and insight. For the purposes of this post, let’s just ask a couple questions:
- Does God have compassion and mercy for both Christians and non-Christians?
- Is it possible that God’s healing of both Christians and non-Christians glorifies himself and Jesus?
- Does the faith of Christians for both other Christians and non-Christians have the ability to be a contributing ingredient in their healing?
- Aren’t God’s promises for God’s people?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
So I think that the Spirit’s mission of sharing God’s love via healing is for both the world around us as well as our sisters & brothers in Christ.
And this is why I will continue to pray for God to heal both Christians and non-Christians. Spiritual gifts are given to both encourage the Church as well as point the world to Jesus. It’s both/and, not either/or.
- What is one remarkable story that you can share where God healed someone that you or someone you know prayed for someone?
- How important is experiencing God’s love? Why?
- Have you read Jack Deere’s book and if so, what are your thoughts? If you haven’t… buy it!!!