1687430405You find that you have cancer. Or maybe it’s a member of the family who has been afflicted. And suddenly friends, acquaintances and complete strangers volunteer to help.

First there will be the recommendations of all sorts of herbal preparations, vitamins, and food supplements that are guaranteed to defeat the big ‘C’. Then there is the perennial debate as to the degree one should expect God to heal miraculously.

There will be those who tell you that if you have enough faith, you can ask God and He will heal directly. Indeed you do not even need medical help. Medical help is only for those whose faith is not strong enough.

Another camp will receive such teaching with horror. Miracles are only for special periods in salvation history. The last such period was the time of Jesus and the original apostles. With the passing of the apostles and the completion of the canon, God no longer perform miracles as a matter of course. Instead of asking God for miracles we should pray for strength and use the best that medical science has to offer.

As the debates continue, the patient and his/her loved ones are confused and pained. What then are we to believe?

I believe that the Word states clearly that we are to ask for prayer for healing. James 5:14-15 is clear enough. There is nothing here about apostolic periods of miracles. This instruction is for the ongoing life of the church. Indeed the comparison to Elijah (v. 17- 18) is to underline the fact that this ministry of praying for healing is not for super healers. It’s for regular folks.

That we instinctively turn to medical science without even considering praying for healing shows the degree that the worship of empirical science has undermined the sense of the reality of God in our churches.

However I note that in 1Timothy 5:23 Paul tells Timothy to take a little wine with his water because of his stomach ailments. Paul did not instruct Timothy to claim healing for his stomach and dispense with sound medical practice. Indeed Paul left Trophimus sick at Miletus (2Timothy 4:20). Clearly the bible does not convey a picture of instant healing on demand.

It would seem that God wants us to pray expectantly for healing. At the same time, it appears that healing is not always forthcomimg. Uncomfortable as it may be, we have to hold in tension these two truths without giving up either one.

One thing is clear. The final healing of creation awaits a new heavens and the new earth. And no matter how sound a body we may have, it is still a perishing body that cannot inherit the new heavens and the new earth (2 Corinthians 5: 1-5). There is indeed healing in the cross (1Peter 2:24) but the full fruition of that healing is the world to come.

In the meantime God has broken into history in the person of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In full confidence of this in breaking we obey James injunction and pray for healing.

We need to be on guard against reductionism in its various forms. We cannot and must not imprison God within the boundaries of the scientific laws He has set in place to run His universe. He remains a God of miracles. He is a God of love. He desires wholeness and health.

However we should not see God at work only in dramatic healings. If a person is healed through medical science, it is a science that works only because a merciful God is behind the laws that makes science works. I suspect more lives have been healed through the discovery of antibiotics than through all the miraculous healings in the world combined. Should we not praise the God whose laws allow antibiotics to do its healing work?

All this theologizing still lives us with a very personal mystery. Why are some healed this side of heaven. And why do some succumb to their illnesses? (No, I do not consider death a type of healing. However for a Christian, death has lost its sting and becomes a doorway to God’s presence.)

I do not have an answer. I only know that I Iive between the times. I live in a fallen world that has been corrupted by sin and I cannot escape the realities of this fallen world. But at the same time I also live in a new reality that has already begun in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But it is a reality that will be only be seen in its fullness when Jesus comes again.

Living between the ages I cannot be spared a whole host of ambiguities.

In the meantime I am to show compassion to all who are afflicted. I try as best as possible not to make the sick a political football in my debates about miraculous healing. I can assure the afflicted that the Lord who gave His only begotten Son will not withhold from them any good thing. I will discern on a case-by-case basis what I think the Lord wants to see happen in a given situation rather than applying some dogma mechanically. That usually means I will pray expectantly for healing and I will also be open to the wise application of medical science.

My wife had cancer. The Lord chose to take her home. I had a good friend who also had cancer. The Lord gave assurance that she was to receive miraculous healing. And she did.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

Your brother, SooInn Tan