Introduction to Divine Healing
A. The Two Types of Diseases
1) Functional disease
A functional disease is one in which there is a change in the function of an organ or tissue yet without structural or substantive damage being done. Examples would be high blood pressure, lower back pain, and most headaches. Whereas there are symptoms involved, such would not appear under X-ray because there is no demonstrable tissue damage.
2) Organic disease
An organic disease is one in which there is a demonstrable change in a bodily organ or tissue. Examples would be broken bones, paralysis due to a severed spinal cord, congenital malformations, coronary artery disease, etc. Evidence for an organic disease often shows up on an X-ray.
* Someone has illustrated the difference between these two types of disease in this way: If a computer showed that two plus two equals five, the problem is probably functional. Someone most likely programmed it incorrectly. However, if the malfunction was due to a rat that had crawled inside and chewed some of the wires, the cause would be an organic disorder.
Skeptics of divine healing make the following points:
1) All diseases in the NT that were healed were organic in nature (e.g., paralysis, leprosy, blindness).
2) No diseases that are healed today are organic. All are functional disorders.
3) The symptoms of functional diseases often disappear due to emotional or psychological causes.
How would you respond to these observations?
B. Alternative Explanations for Improvement
1) Physiological Processes
Often someone's condition improves simply due to the natural physiological processes of the body. For example, if you rest and wait long enough, most headaches eventually go away. In such cases the person would have improved even if they received no prayer at all. This does not mean, of course, that God is not involved in the process. After all, He made the body and is sovereign Lord over all that happens. But we would not classify improvement of this sort as a "miraculous healing".
2) Spontaneous Remission
It is in the nature of certain diseases that they occasionally disappear spontaneously. Cancer in various forms has been known to do this.
3) Therapeutic Response
The healing of an affliction often comes directly as a result of the treatment being given.
4) Incorrect Diagnosis
On rare occasions the disease is misdiagnosed. Thus when the problem disappears it may be erroneously concluded that the person was "healed" when in fact they never truly had the affliction.
5) Psychosomatic Illness
Our emotional and mental state often affects our bodily condition. Fear can speed up one's heartbeat, worry produces indigestion, anxiety can cause bowel irregularity, etc. Some forms of asthma and migraine headaches are believed to be psychosomatically induced. It has been shown that cancers sometimes spread more rapidly in patients who have experienced a traumatic loss such as the death of a spouse. But as Dr. Rex Gardner has pointed out,
"it is worth reminding ourselves that the person cured of a psychosomatic disease -- whether by conventional means or miraculously -- is as truly returned to health and has as much cause to be grateful as the person healed of a 'purely' organic condition" (30).
C. Kinds of Healing
1) There are instances when the otherwise natural healing process is accelerated by God. For example, a broken bone that might normally take 6 weeks to mend is discovered to be fully restored in 6 days.
2) Occasionally someone is either instantly or gradually healed after experiencing spiritual deliverance. The woman of Luke 13 "whom Satan held in bondage for 18 years" is a good illustration of this.
3) Physical healing can often come after inner healing.
4) The most common form of miraculous healing in the Bible is a direct and immediate recovery as a result of prayer.
D. The Definition of a Miracle
Establishing an accurate definition of what constitutes a miracle is difficult in view of the prevailing influence of Deism among Christians.
But: see Ps. 104; Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:17; Eph. 1:11. God is continually and directly in control of everything that occurs! In light of this, several inadequate definitions of miracles need to be rejected. E.g.,
1) Some define a miracle as a direct intervention of God into the world. But 'intervention . . . into' implies that God is outside the world and only occasionally intrudes.
2) Some define a miracle as God working in the world apart from means to bring about the desired result. But God often uses 'means' or 'instruments' in performing the miraculous, as in the case of Jesus' feeding of the 5,000.
3) Others define a miracle as God acting contrary to natural law. But this implies there are forces ('natural laws') which operate independently of God, forces or laws that God must violate or override to perform a miracle. God is the author and providential Lord over all natural processes.
Wayne Grudem has proposed the following definition of a miracle that avoids the virus of deism while seeking to remain faithful to the Scriptures:
'A miracle is a less common kind of God's activity in which He arouses people's awe and wonder and bears witness to Himself.'
Lewis Smedes offers this definition:
"In the biblical view, a miracle is a signal that God is, for a moment and for a special purpose, walking down paths he does not usually walk. A miracle is not a sign that a God who is usually absent is, for the moment, present. It is only a sign that God who is always present in creative power is working here and now in an unfamiliar style."
Should we consider unusual answers to prayer as miracles? Yes, if they are remarkable enough to arouse awe and wonder and to evoke acknowledgement of God's power at work. E.g., 1 Kings. 18:24,36-38; Acts 12:5-17; Acts 28:8. Thus a "miraculous healing" occurs when God, most often but not always in response to prayer, restores health at a rate or to a degree that could not otherwise be produced by normal medical means.
E. The Importance of the Body in the Bible
There are some (perhaps many) in the church today who disregard healing because they disregard the body. They believe that to focus on the health and well-being of the body (at least to the degree that you would regularly pray for its healing) is misguided. Our attention is to be more "spiritual" as we focus on the condition of our souls. This is little more than a modern version of ancient Gnosticism.
* Among the many beliefs of ancient Gnosticism was that the physical body is not the creation of God. It is evil, as is all matter. The body is a temporary prison-house of the soul, from which all of us will be delivered at death. Gnostics tended to one of two extremes as a result of this belief: 1) some were inclined to deprive the body, to punish it, to treat it harshly through ascetic disciplines such as extended fasting and self-flagellation; 2) others went to the opposite extreme: they would indulge the body in all forms of sensual pleasure (sex, food, drink, etc.).
The biblical view of the body is, on the other hand, quite positive.
1) God created us as physical beings. We are both material and immaterial. See Gen. 2:7.
2) The body must be distinguished from the flesh.
3) The importance of the body is seen in the fact that:
a. Our bodies were redeemed by the blood of Christ no less than our souls (1 Cor. 6:20).
b. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19).
c. Our bodies are designed "for the Lord" (1 Cor. 6:13).
d. Our bodies are members of Christ himself (1 Cor. 6:15).
e. Our bodies are capable of being sinned against (1 Cor. 6:18).
f. Our bodies are to be used to honor God (1 Cor. 6:20).
4) Our bodies will be resurrected and glorified. In other words, we will spend eternity as physically glorified beings. See Rom. 8:11,23; 1 Cor. 15:35-49.
5) At the judgment seat of Christ we will have to give an account for what we have done in our bodies.
F. The Laying on of Hands for Healing
There is no escaping the fact that spirituality is physical. Although God is spirit, He created the physical, material world and pronounced it good (Gen. 1:4,12,18,21,25). When God created us in His image He gave us bodies. C. S. Lewis put it this way:
"There is no use trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.
I know some muddle-headed Christians have talked as if Christianity thought that sex, or the body, or pleasure, were bad in themselves. But they were wrong. Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body --- which believes that matter is good, that God Himself once took on a human body, and that some kind of body is going to be given to us even in Heaven and is going to be an essential part of our happiness, our beauty, and our energy."
This truth is nowhere better seen than in the biblical emphasis on "the laying on of hands".
1. The meaning of the "hand of God" in Scripture
This is obviously a metaphor (more technically, an anthropomorphism; God is also said to have eyes, a nose, face, a heart, etc.). But of what is it a metaphor?
a. God's sovereign purpose, plan, will
b. God's sovereign power, strength in carrying out that purpose
c. God's protection and deliverance and blessing and saving of His people
Thus, for God to "extend His hand" is for Him to act in power on behalf of His purpose or His people.
See Ex. 7:4; 13:9; 15:6 (cf. Deut. 6:21; 7:8; 11:2-4; 26:8); Joshua 4:23-24; Neh. 1:10; Isa. 48:12-13; Acts 4:28,30; 7:35 ("help" = hand); 11:21; 1 Peter 5:6.
But with Jesus, what was only a figure of speech became a literal fact! With Jesus, what was only a metaphor became material reality. God, who is spirit, now really does have a hand (two in fact!).
2. The laying on of hands in the ministry of Jesus
On several occasions Jesus healed people with the spoken word alone. But in most instances he did so by laying his hands on them or by touching or making physical contact.
See Matthew 8:15; 9:18-25,27-31; 14:36; 17:7; 19:13-15 (Mark says he "took them in his arms"; cf. Gen. 48:8-20, esp. v. 13); 20:29-34; Mark 1:40-42; 5:21-24; 6:1-6; 6:56; 7:31-35; 8:22-25; 9:27; 16:18; Luke 4:40; 13:10-13; 22:51; 24:50.
3. The laying on of hands in the early church
See Acts 3:7; 5:12 (contra NIV); 6:6; 8:17-19; 9:10-17,41; 11:30; 13:1-3; 14:3 (contra NIV); 19:11; 28:7-8.
See 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim. 1:6 (cf. Deut. 34:9; Num. 27:15-23); Heb. 6:2 ("leave" does not mean despise or abandon or cease to practice, any more than a first-grader abandons the alphabet when he/she learns to read; rather, the "laying on of hands" is a basic, fundamental, elementary part of Christian practice; the point is: don't stop with that, there is much more to Christian experience).
4. What the laying on of hands produces and portrays
a. representation (cf. Lev. 1:4; 16:21)
b. unification (of two or more believers in some purpose or practice)
c. authorization (commissioning, endorsement)
d. impartation (of the power/gifts of the HS)
e. restoration (healing)