When we pray for healing, God sometimes cures someone; but sometimes he doesn’t, and we’re left with the question, “Why?”
When my father started college, he was still an unbeliever. He swung by his dorm room only to find a skinny guy on the other bed, reading a massive Bible that had so many highlighted passages that it looked like a stained-glass window.
Ignoring the “weirdo,” my father settled into college life.
Shortly after, he came down with a horrendous eye infection. “I’ve never seen pink eye this bad,” the doctor said and told him to start taking antibiotics immediately. “Absolutely do not touch it, if humanly possible.”
My father glumly headed back to his dorm, and his roommate saw him. “Let’s pray.” Then he stuck his hand on the inflamed eye. “Thank you, God, for your healing. You are so good.”
My father tried to insist that he wash his hand. The next morning, though, he woke up and found his eye was completely clear.
Bemused, he returned the antibiotics to the doctor who stared at him incredulously.
Shortly afterwards, my father became a Christian. Decades later, he would be an elder at a church when a family approached the elder board. The young wife had a serious and invasive form of cancer. Her husband desperately asked that the church leadership pray for healing.
The elders prayed intently for her to be miraculously restored. After a few months, however, she died, leaving her husband a widower and their two toddlers without a mother.
Why Then but Not Now?
Divine healing can be a difficult topic even—perhaps especially—in the church.
“Polarized views on the topic abound,” Andrew Wilson points out in an article for Christianity Today.
This debate is one he knows all too well as the pastor of a charismatic church that sees many bodily healings and as the parent of two children with regressive autism that is slowly causing them to lose basic motor functions.
“On one end are preachers who promise health and wealth for everyone who follows Jesus,” he explains. “On the other are skeptics who think most people claiming to have experienced physical healing are either lying or delusional. Even Christians who agree God heals sometimes, but not always, face confusion.
“Does God heal if we simply have enough faith? Should we assume sickness is a gift from God, designed to teach us about suffering, perseverance, and God’s mysterious sovereignty amid evil?”
Questions about why God doesn’t cure illness come up in situations like with Andrew Wilson’s children or the young lady my father met.
In cases where a child is chronically ill or a young person dies, it would appear that only a cruel, capricious or indifferent God would allow such suffering or a life to be cut short prematurely. We can’t see any logical reason for God to heal in one case but not in another.
The Bible repeatedly emphasizes that our Father is good and loving, though.
If we believe the Word of God, then we must believe there is a reason when prayers for healing are not answered.
One Potential Reason Why
Co-founder of Desiring God, Jon Bloom carefully explains that “healing, like other spiritual gifts and fruitful labors, can be inhibited by our lack of faith (Mark 6:5–6; Matthew 9:22, 9:29; Luke 17:19).
However, he’s quick to add that “’Lack of faith’ is not a club with which we beat afflicted people with shame. It is primarily a diagnostic question to ask ourselves.”
Those of us who are hesitant to pray for healing may find that we’re not asking for this gift because we’re afraid. If God doesn’t answer, we don’t want God to look bad or look powerless ourselves. Perhaps it seems too embarrassing to pray for someone else and potentially have nothing happen. Or, worse yet, if we have a Bible study group pray for a miraculous cure and then have to report that we weren’t healed, we risk people questioning our faith.
Those reasons that we’re frustrated with an unanswered prayer for healing or that we’re avoiding praying for healing are little warning flags pointing to deeper issues between us and our Father.
This question of faith, though, should never be used to humiliate, discredit or discourage other believers.
No matter how God choses to respond, healing and prayers for healing are an important part of our faith. Not only because it’s an instance of God restoring his will for the world and our beings, but also because it’s commanded in scriptures.
As Jon Bloom points out, “…the New Testament teaches that the Spirit gives this gift (and others) to the church (1 Corinthians 12:8–11) and instructs me to desire to exercise it (1 Corinthians 14:1). I believe that God occasionally answers prayers for healing, such as mine, when it accords with his sovereign will (Hebrews 2:4).” If we’re hesitating to ask for or pray for healing, we can cry out to our loving Father to give us more faith.
That said, issues of faith are not the only reason God doesn’t answer prayers for healing.
These Thorns in Our Flesh
Paul discusses one more reason prayers for healing may be denied when he brings up his thorn in the flesh which tormented him.
“Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9 NLT).
Clearly, Paul’s faith was not an issue here, but God had plans for how to use his infirmity—whatever it was—for glorious purposes.
In 1 Kings, we have another odd-sounding story about a lack of healing. King Jeroboam’s wife goes to a prophet to find out if their sick child will recover. The prophet’s response sounds awfully counter-intuitive.
“Go on home, and when you enter the city, the child will die. All Israel will mourn for him and bury him. He is the only member of your family who will have a proper burial, for this child is the only good thing that the Lord, the God of Israel, sees in the entire family of Jeroboam” (1 Kings 14:12-13 NLT).
Wait a minute.
Why did this kid die if he was the only good thing in the family? Why didn’t God just kill everyone else, if they were so terrible, and let him become the next ruler?
In his booklet Ultimate Healing, David Wilkerson discusses a revelation he had while conducting a funeral for a family who had lost their five-year old to leukemia. “More than ever in my life, I believe in divine healing.
“We should pray for every sick or lame person to be healed. And the only people who are not healed are those who are chosen by God for His ultimate healing. Some are not given restored organs and limbs. Instead, they are given the perfect healing: glorified, painless, eternal bodies. And what miracle is greater than resurrection from the dead?”
“The battle is over. Only the broken shell remains. The delivered soul has taken flight into God’s holy presence.”
When God chooses not to heal, we must always assume it is in our best interest, no matter how strange or painful our circumstances in the moment.