My friend Alex is dying from brain cancer. He has received twice the recommended dosage of radiation, and his brain tumor continues to grow. In fact, the amount of radiation to his brain has caused serious paralysis to his right side. There are no more medical treatments available. Without a miracle, Alex will not make it to his 40th birthday.
During a phone call, Alex shared a personal story with me. He described how parents from the Christian school where he worked came over to express their concern that Alex wasn’t getting better. More than that, they expressed concern about why he wasn’t getting better. They told Alex and his wife that he could be healed if he only had enough faith. They told him that it was his own fault—his lack of faith—that was preventing his healing.
Furthermore, they described how immediate physical healing is guaranteed in the atonement. Just as there is spiritual healing—forgiveness and justification—in the atonement for all who believe, there is also immediate physical healing in the atonement for all who believe.
God has done His part (they said). Our immediate physical healing has been bought and paid for in the death of Christ. Now it’s up to us to receive that healing through faith. So, the problem isn’t on God’s end; rather, it’s on our end.
This false teaching is rampant in the church. This is the message of many so-called prosperity preachers. For example, televangelist Kenneth Copeland states, “Healing always comes. The problem has been in our receiving, not in God’s giving.”
On this view, my friend Alex has already been given physical healing, but he hasn’t received it by faith.
In an article titled Does God Want Me Healed? Copeland writes,
God does not play favorites. It is His will and desire for you to be healed. Period. God’s Word says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge....” (Hosea 4:6). They do not have the knowledge of God’s Word that it is His will for them to be healed.
Some people accept sickness as God’s will. Yet the same people will take medicine, be operated on or do anything else they can in order to get well. Many have forgotten God’s benefit of healing for their bodies. [Emphasis mine.]
Theology has consequences. And bad theology always produces bad consequences. My friend Alex experienced those cruel consequences firsthand. Sadly, there aren’t enough people correcting and rebuking this false teaching.
The false idea that God desires to always heal in every circumstance produces a tsunami of destruction by all who believe it. If you are sick and not getting healed, who is to blame? You are. If you are suffering and not getting a reprieve, who is at fault? Again, you are.
Think about the logic of this view. If you just had enough faith, then you would be healed. But you are not healed; therefore, you must not have enough faith.
Do you see how debilitating this idea is? Not only is the sick person’s body failing, but—on this view—so is his faith.
Now let me say it as plainly as I can: If you believe it is God’s will to always heal in this life, then you have misunderstood the Bible and you have a false view of God.
Over the next few weeks, I’d like to offer a biblical theology of suffering. We need to begin with a foundational biblical principle: In a fallen world, we should not be surprised by suffering.
The first three chapters in Genesis set the stage for the great drama of history—the story of reality. God begins by creating a perfect world. Genesis 1 uses the word “good” seven times to describe the world that God made. Genesis 1:31 closes the chapter by stating, “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”
The original creation contained no sickness, no tears, no conflict, no suffering, no evil. Adam and Eve had a perfect relationship with God, with each other, and with the creation.
So, what happened? Well, just keep reading! Everything changes in Genesis 3. Because of human rebellion against God, the creation was subjected to corruption and decay. We call this “the Fall.”
The apostle Paul connects our present suffering with this cataclysmic event. That is, he looks back to the cause of suffering, and he looks forward to our hope through suffering.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us [looking forward]. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God [looking forward]. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Rom. 8:18–22)
When you think of the pains of childbirth, what passage of Scripture comes to mind? I think this last phrase is a reference to Genesis 3:16: “To the woman He said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.’”
Paul takes the present suffering in creation—which includes sickness, disease, cancer, death—as a given in this fallen world. There is no hint that Christians are immune to this, or that this doesn’t apply to them. In fact, Paul teaches just the opposite. The Fall touches the “whole creation,” which includes you and me.
In light of all this, we shouldn’t be surprised when suffering comes. But some of you might be wondering, “Okay Tim, I guess that makes sense, but why would a good God permit suffering for those He loves?”
Fortunately, we are not left guessing. The Bible gives us some insight into this. God permits suffering because God has a purpose for suffering. We will address this issue next week.