Visiting folks in the hospital always raises the question about God and healing. Does God heal, and if so, why does it seem to occur so rarely? Is God's power waning, or does He just not care? I've prayed for healing over many people both at home and in the church. Why do I not see "miraculous" healing more often?
Jesus once asked an invalid, "Do you want to be healed?" (John 5:6) This may seem like a silly question, perhaps even rude, but maybe it reveals more about both God and us than we realize.
The man responded to Jesus' question, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me" (John 5:7). The man's response reveals three things about him.
This man had some level of immobility that impeded his access to the water. His response indicates that he can move, albeit slowly. Second, the man had faith that getting into the water of the Pool of Bethesda would bring healing. This level of faith was not unusual for a culture that believed there was a personal cause behind everything.(1) Thirdly, he had no identity. The fact that he had "no one" was significant in first-century culture. The culture was collectivistic, and a person's identity was determined by the group to which they belonged. The man belonged to no group. In social terms, this man was dead. He was so alienated that he found no help for a long time while at the Pool of Bethesda.
So, when Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be healed, we can misunderstand the force of the question because of our cultural distance from the situation. Healing was not simply a biomedical issue. Notice that the man did not respond to Jesus' question by explaining his medical history and diagnosis. The man focused on the fact that he had no one to help him. His deeper issue was his loss of identity and kinship.
Healing was about restoration of life and being. Healing meant the man would become part of a group. Healing meant he would gain his identity. Healing meant he would gain his mobility. Healing meant he would gain a new purpose. Jesus did not simply heal this man's body, but his whole life.
This should give us pause. When we ask for healing, are we sure we know what we are asking? Very often, we simply want a biomedical solution to what we perceive to be nothing more than a biomedical problem. The reality is that healing is much more than this in the Gospels. Sickness and disability is much more than a biomedical issue. Biblical healing takes on a larger scope.
Our daughter's condition redefined her life and our family's life. Macayla was seen as a special-needs child and we as a special-needs family. We sometimes felt our life had been put on hold by Battens disease. People in the hospital can feel as if their life has been put on hold. They may even feel their identity has been redefined to that of an invalid, patient, or victim.
So, where is God in this? Notably, the text in John 5 states there were many people who had special needs around the Pool of Bethesda. Jesus healed only one. He did not even speak to the others. Not everyone gets miraculous healing. Not everyone has their biomedical concerns "fixed." In our entitlement-minded society, we are unsettled that Jesus "ignored" the others at the pool that day. Does this mean God ignores our pleas for healing?
If there is anyone in the universe who would know the best time, place, and path for someone's healing, it would be God. We are asking the same question here that Job asked, and God responded to that question with many questions (Job 38-39). Where were we when God laid the foundation of the earth? (Job 38:4) This is not to be trite. We are limited in our knowledge and do not see the big picture. We lack knowledge, whereas God's knowledge is infinite. Who better than to know the best time, place, and path for someone's healing? We do not need to trust in swirling water of a pool, but in the One who made the water. We need to trust in the One who gives living water.
We need to expand our scope when praying for healing. While we pray for healing, we need not limit our expectations on how and when God will heal. God may heal the biomedical issue instantly without the help of a doctor. God may work through a doctor to heal. God likely heals some people before they even know they have a problem. Healing involves much more than our bodies. Healing is about restoration. While God may not always restore a body part or function in this moment, ultimately He will heal those who trust in Him completely, and the healing will be eternal in scope.
When we ask for healing, we need to ask ourselves if we want true healing. Do we truly want to surrender to God and allow Him to transform our lives. Do we want to truly admit our need of the cross and the forgiveness Jesus secured for us there? Saying, "Yes" to this offer means we repent of our sins and ask Christ to forgive us. We are asking Him to be our Lord. Then we gain a new identity. We gain a new purpose. We gain a new life, regardless of what biomedical issue we have. With Christ as Lord, illness does not put our life on hold, but becomes an occasion to see God work in and through us to change lives and bring true healing.
That's the best miracle of all.
(1) The ancient Mediterranean worldview assumed a personal being was responsible for the things that happened. God, gods, angels, demons, people, or animals were the agents behind almost all life events. John 5:4 is footnoted or in brackets in most translations because the manuscript evidence demonstrates it was a later addition, however the verse explains this view. The angel of the Lord would stir the waters at Bethesda, and the first one to enter the water at that moment would be healed. The Lord was the agent behind the water moving and the person's healing. This is not a belief in magic, but an acknowledgement of the spiritual realm's interaction with our realm. Further, the pool was there to provide a place for ritual cleansing before going to the Temple, but it had also become a healing shrine of sorts, similar to healing shrines of Asclepius.