Healing– Already But Not Yet by D.A. Carson

Another issue is that of immense abuses in healing practices. These abuses are often nothing more than a corollary of the last problem, the love of sensationalism. But the two are differentiable; and either one can be found without the other. The most common form of abuse is the view that since all illness is directly or indirectly attributable to the devil and his works, and since Christ by his cross has defeated the devil, and by his Spirit has given us the power to overcome him, healing is the inheritance right of all true Christians who call upon the Lord with genuine faith. The entailment, of course, is that if someone is not healed, the failure reflects inadequate faith, since the promises of the Lord are not to be called into doubt. The toll in shattered lives, deeply wounded and defeated Christians, and immense burdens of false guilt is simply incalculable. Almost as distressing is the fact that so much religious energy is expended on the relatively peripheral, at the expense of what is central and focal in all Christian godliness. Evenhanded biblical exegesis will not support the view that all sickness among Christians will be removed unless there is a personal failure in faith. Some of the argumentation used to advance this position is tortured. No one who approached Jesus for physical healing went away without a cure, we are told; and since Jesus “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8), the same must be true today, unless we approach him the wrong way. Observe two failures in the reasoning. First, Hebrews 13:8 is not in context talking about Jesus’ healing ministry, and its alleged continuity into the present age. One cannot legitimately conclude that the verse covers every facet and feature of Jesus’ life, for counterexamples are easy to come by (e.g., Jesus’ determined commitment was to obey his Father by going to the cross, and since he is the same yesterday and today and forever it is still his determined commitment to go to the cross). I am not of course arguing that Jesus does not heal today, only that the argument as stated is false. And second, if Jesus healed everyone who approached him in the days of his flesh, but not all who call on his name are healed today owing to their false approach, are we therefore to assume that everyone who approached him two thousand years ago had the right approach, but that somehow this right approach was lost to the generations after Pentecost who enjoy the Spirit? It is also argued that because “there is healing in the atonement,” as the slogan puts it, every believer has the right to avail himself or herself of the healing benefit secured by the cross.413 Sadly, noncharismatics have sometimes reponded to this by denying that there is healing in the atonement—a position that can be defended only by the most strained exegesis. Of course there is healing in the atonement. In exactly the same sense, the resurrection body is also in the atonement—even though neither charismatic nor noncharismatic argues that any Christian has the
right to demand a resurrection body right now. The issue is not “what is in the atonement,” for surely all Christians would want to say that every blessing that comes to us, now and in the hereafter, ultimately flows from the redemptive work of Christ. The issue, rather, is what blessings we have a right to expect as universally given endowments right now, what blessings we may expect only hereafter, and what blessings we may partially or occasionally enjoy now and in fullness only in the hereafter. As Packer puts it, “That total healing of the body, with total sinless perfection, are ‘in the atonement,’ in the sense that entire personal renewal in Christ’s image flows from the cross (see Romans 8:23; Philippians 3:20, 21), is true, but it is a potentially disastrous mistake to expect on earth what will only be given in heaven.” In other words, this is another form of the overrealized eschatology so rampant in the church in Corinth. The apostle Paul experienced illness, illness that was prolonged enough for him to change his venue (Gal. 4:13-14). This illness may have been malaria, contracted in the swampy lowlands and prompting a move north to the high country around Pisidian Antioch (about thirty-six hundred feet above sea level). But whatever the disease, Paul does not reflect any guilt because he was not instantly healed: far from it, he saw it as a providential arrangement to bring him into the Galatian region where he proceeded to plant churches. Illness could also afflict members of the apostle’s team: according to the pastoral Epistles, Paul had to leave Trophimus behind in Troas to recuperate from an illness. One must suppose that Paul prayed for Trophimus; but his prayer was not answered with healing, at least of the instant variety (2 Tim. 4:20). Timothy apparently faced frequent bouts of illness, for which Paul prescribes a little wine, not a healing miracle (1 Tim. 5:23).

Carson, D. A. (1996-08-01). Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians, 12-14 (Kindle Locations 2960-2975). Baker Book Group – A. Kindle Edition.

Some of my thoughts on this:

How much healing will God grant to us, as believers, in this life? We don’t know, so, we trust that in Christ we have perfect healing; however, we also recognize that God has planned for us to suffer (1 Pet. 3:17) and he has promised us that even though we are shortsighted and unable to see all of his plan, that he is working all things together for our good (Rom. 5:1-3; 8:28-39). Wether we have little or have plenty; whether we are healthy or we are sick; we are called to be content with Christ regardless of circumstance, and to look with hope for the consummation of our inheritance. A believing family who dies of starvation in a desert is healthy wealthy and prosperous if they truly trust in Jesus and love him.

We must remember the true criteria of health and prosperity; it is not the size of an account, or the present state of the body, ultimately. Health and prosperity are gauged by this: the degree of trust in Christ present in the soul. This is why Paul can say because of Christ’s work on our behalf “shall he not with him give us *all things*” which is shortly followed by “we are like sheep being led to the slaughter all day long!”

What is Paul thinking? God, in Christ, will give us all things; but soon after Paul says “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Rom. 8:35-37)

How are we more than conquerors? Through being killed like sheep all day long! Through suffering for Christ. Through being left naked to starve; through having your head cut off like Paul did.

I will post a follow up post to this. Feel free to comment or disagree.