Divine healing

  • Question 168, from Allan

    What is your perspective about the Holy Spirit and Divine healing?

    There are several perspectives on healing in contemporary Christian thought. A stereotypical protestant liberal view would be that healing, like any miracle, will have a scientific explanation behind it (or be a ‘myth’ with a secondary meaning to reveal a theological truth). In more conservative traditions, such as Roman Catholicism and many Protestant churches, the possibility of Divine healing is held, although such events are regarded as rare.

    Evangelicals in a ‘dispensationalist’ tradition would hold a view that healings and other supernatural signs and wonders belong to a previous ‘dispensation’ (period of time / revelation), and would be sceptical of any contemporary accounts of Divine healing. Pentecostal Christians and those in the charismatic traditions that arose in the late 20th century (such as the Vineyard movement) would hold a view that expects miracles to occur as proof of their beliefs.

    The Scriptural precedents for a belief in healing generally associate them with a call to repent and believe the gospel. Miracles validate the teaching of Jesus, and his followers, including the apostle Paul (see e.g. Romans chapter 15, verse 19).

    There are also occasions where Jesus enacts a miracle and the gospel-writers describe his motivation as compassion, and there are some occasions where Jesus enacts miracles to broker a discussion. For example, in Luke chapter 13 he heals on the Sabbath to start a theological discussion about religious rituals.
    Healing then when it occurs in the New Testament is used as a means of verifying the gospel, reveals God’s compassion for people, and challenges people’s preconceptions and prejudice. Those are three useful starting points to use when assessing contemporary accounts of miracles.

    There are some theological issues with a contemporary belief in Divine healing. The primary one being that often healing does not occur. Explanations for this include a lack of faith, or other unsatisfactory reason why the healing has not happened. Anecdotally, the claim that a ‘lack of faith’ prevents healing occurring has caused considerable hurt to many people.

    Scripturally there are plenty of arguments against this view. Some of Jesus’ healings are done at a distance, following the pleading of a representative, for example the servant of a Roman centurion (Matthew chapter 8). It is also hard to make the case for healing being reliant on the faith of the recipient in the accounts of resurrections. In Acts chapter 3 a crippled beggar requests alms from Peter and John; Peter responds by healing him unexpectedly. It would appear the man did not know the disciples or express a request to be healed.

    Christians with a view that miracles no longer occur, or never did, do not have a theological issue with miracles not occurring. This viewpoint was quite prevalent early on in Christian History. St John Chrysostom (c. 349–407CE), Archbishop of Constantinople, explained to his congregation that miracles no longer happened because the words of Jesus no longer needed to be validated – the real miracles were the transformed lives of Christians.

    Later evangelical and dispensationalist thought connected the passing of the age in miracles with the compilation of the canon of Scripture. The replacement of revelations of God’s person through miracles with the revelation found in the Bible has long been a position in evangelical theology, and may explain much of its biblio-centric theology.

    Perhaps ironically, the resurgence in a belief in miracles was also fuelled by the growth in literalist interpretation of the Bible. The assumption in this segment of the Christian church is that miracles, along with other ‘signs and wonders’ like speaking in tongues, are Biblical fact and should be expected to happen now. This divergence of opinion is the main cause of disagreements within the evangelical stream between charismatic and non-charismatic churches that often have identical theology except on this point.

    It also seems likely that many stories of miracles could be explained in another way. There is little hard and fast evidence for some of the wilder stories that have emerged in popular Christianity in recent years.

    Genuine ‘healing’ is difficult to define. If pain is eased but not eradicated, then has healing fully occurred?

    Sometimes ‘miracles’ occur outside the Christian faith – unexpectedly people recover form terrible illnesses. These are very rare events and cannot always be explained by current medical knowledge.

    In addition, the positive psychological benefits of being prayed for and cared for may stimulate physical improvement. Medical studies of the effect of placebo pills show patients taking them do improve – belief in healing, receiving prayer and so on may have a similar psychological effect.

    There is also the ‘regression to the mean’ to take into consideration – basically a person will become ill then improve naturally over time, eventually returning to a state of normal health. However, if they have received an intervention, like a prescription drug, or prayer at a healing service, their natural ‘regression to the mean’ may be attributed to that ‘cause’.

    Of course it may be difficult to request medical or scientific validation of a miracle. Such a request may be regarded as doubt or unbelief. However, the Christian faith has a long history of individuals committing fraud and chicanery and it is not unreasonable to ask somebody to offer proof of their claims. It is discernment.

    While many Christians are wary of overblown claims of miracles, there may still be a reluctance to dismiss the possibility of Divine intervention if illness strikes. Caution must be exercised – it is cruel to promise healing that may never occur. But equally, the God who is revealed in the New Testament is the god who intervenes, to save the soul and heal the body, and therefore there is a place in the Christian faith for belief In Divine healing.

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  • 1 comment

    1. allan Sep 19

      Thank you for your exhaustive answer.
      Stay blessed

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