January 12, 2019, was just another day in pain. For nearly four years, my body had betrayed me. Unexplained headaches. Numbness. A broken metabolism. The need for a two-hour nap every afternoon. And worst of all, significant digestive problems that made it impossible for me to stand up for longer than twenty minutes. I was forced to alter local travel plans, stop preaching, stop coaching youth sports, and a whole lot more.
Resist the urge to play armchair doctor. I went to doctors and chiropractors and nutritionists. I tried a lot of different approaches. People who knew me best wouldn’t ask if I felt well but how much pain I was in.
I had preached once in the previous twelve months and almost collapsed. Yet here I was, in Texas on a Saturday evening, visiting a small group at the church where I was going to preach the next day. During dinner, I shared how I had been in bed all day and was not feeling well. I had cut a meeting short that morning because I just couldn’t take the pain. They decided to pray. Nothing fancy. No formula.
I preached the next day and went home. But a week later, I noticed something. I had no pain. I had not missed a meeting. I had not pulled the car over suddenly to try to gather myself. I had not taken a nap. Had I changed my diet, my workout routine, my supplements? Was I experiencing less stress? No.
God had healed me with almost no fanfare. Unlike so many Jesus healed who could not keep the news to themselves, I have been reluctant to share because I just haven’t been sure. But it’s been over a year and a half now, and I continue to feel healthy.
Suffering causes pain, both physically and socially. Here I was, the strong and proud leader of a growing missions organization, and I couldn’t lead a meeting or speak in public. I had to stop traveling. And when I came home to my wife and five children — exhaustion and pain. Two-hour naps. I felt useless.
“Poor in spirit” doesn’t mean defeated or resigned; it means dependent (Matthew 5:3). I knew I had nothing a good resurrection couldn’t fix (to paraphrase D.A. Carson). I knew that no purpose of God could be thwarted (Job 42:2). I knew Jesus had all authority (Matthew 28:18) and that he understood my pain (Hebrews 4:14–16). Physical pain could lead in only two directions: to bitterness or to humility. We have all seen this both in ourselves and in others. I could complain and compare, like Peter asking Jesus about John (John 21:21). “What about that guy?” is a question that comes without effort. The pain made it impossible to boast about the future when I had a difficult time mapping out the day (James 4:13–17).
I wish I could say I had perfect obedience and faith through it all, but I fell quite short. My pain often led me to focus simply on the pain and annoyance. I complained. I couldn’t mask my frustration. Patience was out. Prayers beyond my own predicament were hard to come by. Suffering can give us tunnel vision, causing us to miss the ten thousand ways God is at work. Even after the fact, I do not always feel gratitude for being humbled through physical pain. I could agree with Paul that this thorn in my flesh was keeping me from being conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7), but it was not a welcome gift.
Craig Keener, in his defense of miracles, spends a considerable amount of time reporting on healings from blindness, the lame walking, and people being raised from the dead. I have seen many such miracles in the context of my missions work. None of them has come from healing ministries, but from church communities and gospel-advancing work where God displays his power over idols. Miracles have become so regular for some of my friends that they hardly mention them in conversation.
So, why the hesitation to talk about my own healing? A few reasons come to mind. Many Christians probably pray for healing more than for the salvation of loved ones who do not know Christ. Charlatans also steal money from God’s people, claiming the ability to heal. In addition, while we certainly pray for healing, we are hesitant to acknowledge it when it happens, fearful of being like the false teachers we all know. But there are also two other, more complicated reasons that warrant at least some caution as I celebrate this work of God.
The healing was not from everything.
Lazarus was raised, but he died again later (John 11:43–44). Same with Eutychus (Acts 20:9–12). Healings in Scripture are often limited in focus. For example, Jesus healed a fever (Matthew 8:14–15), leprosy (Matthew 8:1–4), blindness (Matthew 9:27–31), and a withered hand (Matthew 12:9–13). Sometimes the afflictions were demonic, sometimes not. But there is no indication that the healings were total; they were just a taste of things to come.
My body has been restored, and I have been able to work without interruption. But in the past year, I’ve had the flu, been tired, and had a bad reaction to food. In this life, all physical healing is temporary. We all will be buried and raised. I will get sick again, maybe even with the same illness that plagued me for years. Future glory is coming. It is better that my sins are forgiven than that my body is working.
Faithful friends have been sick in the meantime.
Another reason I have felt so cautious is because some of my friends have suffered and even died over the past few years. Some struggle with constant pain, and I don’t know how to tell them I am well and no longer share ongoing pain with them. Jesus has the authority to heal them, and he has not done it. Many of them possess faith much stronger than mine. They had more people praying for them. And yet, sickness and pain persist. Why? I don’t know.
The mysteries behind suffering are often a stumbling block for those who refuse to believe. I understand the pull of the prosperity gospel. I understand the hope that is created when you believe escape can come by the strength of your own belief. But that is a shallow understanding of the complex and multifaceted ways in which God works.
The good news of the birth of the Messiah led to the slaughter of children. Lazarus was raised, but surely Jesus passed by other funerals and kept walking. There were certainly more blind and lame in Israel than those who came to Jesus. Stephen was stoned and not brought back.
Precious, Temporary Healing
The Christian answer to the problem of suffering does not answer every question people have, but it is still a better answer than anything else. Jesus Christ experienced suffering in the flesh, is able to relate to us, and took the burden of the wrath of God on himself (Hebrews 4:14–16). Because of his sacrifice, we have an inheritance laid up for us that is imperishable (1 Peter 1:3–4).
These truths enable us to rejoice in temporary healing and be certain of a complete and total healing in store for those of us who are known by the Son of God.