Why doesn’t God heal everyone?

Intro to the question

Long ago, a man named Job wanted to have a talk with God.  He didn’t understand why he was suffering, why–from his perspective–God hated him so much, or why he had been selected–again, from his perspective–in the ‘lottery’ draw for pain and tragedy.

Job made some serious injunctions on God.  He accused God of unfair treatment, cruelty, and lording His power over the earth for the abuse of its inhabitants.

Stiff accusations to make of God.

In fact, if Christians served another god, and if that god were actually real, can you imagine such an inditement resulting in anything but grief?  Most other gods of history would either ignore the petition or answer with wrath.

But God did answer Job.  His answer cannot be adequately summarized.  You have to read His response for yourself in Job 38-41.  God’s response to Job’s friends can be easily summarized, however: displeasure.

God’s answer to the friends who tried to ‘patch up’ Job’s relationship with God with what might be termed as popular sayings/beliefs of the day is certainly not what they expected.  Speaking to the central friend, God says (42:7b),

“I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken the truth about Me, as My servant Job has.”

Now what did God mean by that?  Did He mean that He really is malicious, as Job implied at times?  No, but that He really is unfathomable, as Job realized as he voiced his petition against God.  Job knew that using the popular “formulas” to explain God’s behavior simply didn’t work.  God was far more mysterious than Job’s three friends were making Him out to be.

Coming to God out of an honest heart is far less safe than coming to Him with a recipe to explain His behavior to Him.

But God doesn’t need our help to define who He is.  He doesn’t need us to justify His actions for Him, or to hide ’embarrassing facts’ about Him.

Since God is sinless, He doesn’t have behaviors that need justification or concealment.  And since He is an all-eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful Creator, He chooses what to reveal to us about His actions, in His wisdom and in His timing.

God could have chosen to reveal nothing about Himself to us, but rather God has always chosen to openly reveal His character.  From Genesis through Revelation, God’s attributes are revealed freely to us.  God is love, righteousness, truth, justice, mercy, compassion, and more.

Ever since God created the world, his invisible qualities, both his eternal power and his divine nature, have been clearly seen; they are perceived in the things that God has made. So those people have no excuse at all! (Romans 1:20, GNT)

We don’t have to guess about the nature of God.  He doesn’t leave that up for debate.  He teaches us who He is, and through key revelations in our history, such as Creation, the Flood, the call of Abraham, the call of Moses, the miracles given to an enslaved people, His interaction in the life of Joseph, the warnings through the prophets, the Gift of His Son, the Life of His Son, the Sacrifice of His Son, the Resurrection of His Son, the Promise of His Son, the witness of the Holy Spirit, and the prophesy of the Final Judgment, God clearly shows us who He is.

But, there are other times in history where God allows us to live in the mystery of Him rather than the revelation of Him.

Why?  Is it so we don’t become arrogant and deny Him, losing our souls for all eternity?  I’d certainly think that is one reason, since God wants everyone to come to Him for eternal life.

Think of our advances and so-called advances in science, technology, medicine, and psychology.  We are so proud of what we can do.  We want to get to the point where we can dictate everything around us and be in total control of our environment, our health, our relationships, etc.

We want to understand all earthly things, often with little to no regard whether we understand heavenly things.  Why?  God graciously gives us some understanding over earthly things.  We often take this gift and presume that we are capable of figuring out the mysteries of our created world.  But what happens when we try to understand God?  If we really seek Him, we find our arrogance dismantled like a tower of cards.  When we try to “figure out God and predict His behaviors and dictate what He does” we find (unless we stay delusional) that we absolutely cannot do it.

We can’t create a code on a software program that figures Him out.

We can’t predict His behavior the way we predict the weather.  (Not that we’re all that accurate about the weather.)

We can’t manipulate God into what we want He to do for us in the way we can train dolphins to jump through hoops.

We can’t compel God to act in the way we can compel chemical compounds to work together.

As much as we can putter around with creation, we cannot putter around with God.

Why our questions about healing aren’t always easy to answer

I have heard formula thinking and I have thought in formula thinking, and though I haven’t been on the earth as long as some, I observe these two things:

  • People who receive the healing they ask for are more prone to formula beliefs, that they “did something right” that got God’s attention, that God honored, etc.
  • People who did not receive the healing they asked for are more tempted to walk away from God, feel that God doesn’t love them, be terribly confused about God, etc.

Two stories from the Old Testament, one well known, the other not: the story of Abraham and Isaac and the story of Jephthah and his daughter.

In the first story, God asks Abraham to give his son as a sacrifice on a mountain.  As Abraham takes his son up the mountain to sacrifice him before God, he is paralleling the work of God through His Son Jesus Christ, the work that will start the New Testament/New Covenant.  But Abraham, of course, doesn’t know this.  However, Abraham has the faith to believe God will somehow make this right.  And on top of the mountain, as Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac, as he holds the knife in his hand, God stops him and provides a ram.

In the second story, Jephthah makes an oath to God that he will sacrifice the first person or animal who comes through the doors of his house to greet him when he comes home from war, if God gives him victory over war.  God never speaks to Jephthah about his vow, but He does give Jephthah the victory.  When Jephthah arrives home, his only daughter rushes out of the house to welcome him.  Distraught, Jephthah sacrifices his daughter.

Wait a minute!  Why is God so vocal in the first story, and so silent in the second?  It’s a question that I’m sure has caused plenty of seminary students to talk.  Did God agree with Jephthah?  Why didn’t He intervene?  Was it to teach us not to make rash vows?  Even more puzzling, in the hall of fame of faith in Hebrews, Jephthah’s name is recorded.  Is he listed for his faith in leading Israel into a victory in war, or is he listed for sacrificing his daughter and honoring his vow?

Why on earth would God be so quiet here?

In the same way that God is quiet in this second story, God is still sometimes mysterious to us now.  Sometimes we can clearly see His plan.  Sometimes, we don’t understand Him at all.  Whether we would like it or not, God gifts us the opportunity to have faith, to not fully know Him.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV)

Do we like that answer?

Maybe not.

But before we get angry about the mystery of God, let’s ask the question: Why do we receive the answer of faith at times instead of response?

Why do we receive the answer of faith at times instead of response?

1.  The first man on earth walked alongside God in a garden.  Can you imagine that?  Any questions he wanted to ask God?  He could ask them.  God was right there with him, to answer any questions he had.

But since we’ve chosen the path of sin, the lens through which we see God are blurry and distorted.  We see God through our faulty understanding, inappropriate pride, depravity, and confusion.  Only by His direct revelation in history can we know who He is at all.  Otherwise, we’d all be worshiping bird idols or wealth or whatever equal trash we’d find to try to replace God in our lives.

2.  We are limited, finite, created.  God is unlimited, infinite, Creator.

Early on, when I first met Ben, he tried to explain his job and computer coding to me.  It was too abstract and complex for me.  Ask me how my computer works and expect a primitive response.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t benefit from computer coding (I couldn’t be using this website if someone hadn’t coded it) or that I never turn my computer on.  Even though I don’t really understand how a computer works, nor does my brain enjoy trying to process the unfamiliarity of it, I still benefit from the computer.

There is much about God I don’t understand.  I’m not able to understand not only because of my sin nature, but also because of my limitations as a finite human soul.  But there is so much God has revealed to me about Himself.  The best revelation of God is through Jesus Christ.  That revelation is so easy to understand that a 5-year-old can understand it.  God didn’t leave His greatest work as a total mystery to us, but rather chose to come and atone us in a way that is exquisitely simple to understand.

Now I have a choice.  I can receive what I know do about God by faith, and delight in the mystery of knowing Him better as I grow in His walk with Him, since I already know He is good.  Or, I can live in apprehension, fear, and distrust of how He works.

A look at the question

So why would God ask us to pray for the healing of those who need to be healed?

Sometimes it helps me to eliminate what I know is wrong (not the answer) and affirm what I know is right, even when I don’t know the answer.

What I know from Scripture:

  • God doesn’t need to wait on man to act.  God isn’t limited to what we do.  He can choose to make something contingent on our commitment, but He doesn’t have to.
  • God does sometimes wait on us to act.
  • God doesn’t want us to repeat the same prayer over and over.
  • God isn’t fickle.
  • God desires to give believers good gifts.
  • God has an eternal vantage point.  He sees more than the sixty years, or four years–however long or short it may be–that someone has on earth.
  • God doesn’t desire the death of people.

It’s not too hard to believe in a simple formulaic healing theology if you or the one you loved became well.  If your parent recovered from cancer, if your spouse pulled through the car accident, if your child was saved from drowning, if your baby came home from the hospital, it’s not hard to believe God has somehow favored you over your friend whose parent didn’t recover from the stroke, whose spouse died in the car accident, whose child wasn’t saved from leukemia, whose baby didn’t come home.

Whatever you did that you think worked, you want to tell others.  You want them to follow the simple formula too, so that their loved one can be healed.

I remember when my father was diagnosed with ALS, for which no cure has been discovered, an acquaintance prompted him to try the healing power of magnets.  Allegedly, someone with ALS had been cured by magnets.

When you’re that sick, no matter how little it makes sense, you are so tempted to try it.  For weeks, my father wore heavy magnets in his shoes that encouraged him to stumble and made his feet heavier to lift.  Finally, he gave them up because of the difficulty he had walking around.

If the magnets really did work for someone, they didn’t work for my dad.  With magnets, that’s not so bad.  After all, the magnet didn’t choose for one person to be healed and another not.

But, what about when it’s God?  What about when God chooses to heal one person and not another?

That’s much harder to cope with than a set of magnets.  If chemotherapy or experimental drugs or surgery fails, it’s one thing.  But when God doesn’t seem to come through with the miracle you are longing for, it’s another thing.  When God, who you read in His Word is loving and caring, doesn‘t extend His hand to offer a simple touch, one touch, to radically heal the body of someone you most love, it’s heartbreaking.

The God who Sees

She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

(Hagar, the mistreated runaway slave, Genesis 16:13, NIV)

God sees.

In human terms, I picture God beside me and those who suffer in ways I understand.

He is the one kneeling by the bedside.

He is the one kneeling beside the toilet of the vomiting chemotherapy patient.

He is the one offering His finger to the tiny infant trapped in the wires of the ICU unit.

He is the one with arms wrapped around the screaming child.

He is the first one on the scene of the accident, and He is sitting in the car as the teenager rasps out the last breaths of life.

He heard the diagnosis; He was sitting in the chair as the doctor spoke what He already knew.

He is the one who sat in the nursing home visitor’s chair when no one else visited.

And He is the one standing in the empty nursery in the loneliest hours of the night.

Why is His Presence so quiet sometimes?  Why does His hand often stay at His side when He could instantly heal?  Why does He not always visibly make His Presence known?

I don’t know.  But to these truths I hold:  He is there.  And He is love.  He sees.

When the ‘formula’ didn’t work

If only we understood God as personal rather than a lottery machine or vending machine.  If only we understood that it is not our ‘formula’, but His graciousness, in either healing us or denying us.

Those who the ‘formula’ doesn’t work on are left feeling rejected, grief-stricken, morose, embittered, and/or jealous.  And as such, we have those who stay cautiously on the outer circle of Christianity, too hurt by a failed reply to healing to get any closer to God, but too fearful of Him to stray away altogether.

And we have others who hate God and stay far from Him.  They see Christianity as a hoax, ‘proved’ by the lack of miracles.

And then there are those who, quietly, timidly, brokenly . . abandon formulaic thinking . . and sidle up to God’s side.

They simply take the hand He has opened for them.  They run their thumb in the hole of His hand.

They walk alongside Him in the still silence of broken communication that a cursed, sin-flooded world creates.

They try to look up to see God’s face, but the fog of separation is too dense.

In the silence, they stare down at their own feet, as tears blur their eyes.  They stare at the feet of God, too, scarred with the mark of ancient nails.

They walk beside Him . . walk beside Him . . walk beside Him.  They are not super-Christians.  They are walkers.

They wait for the day.  Not the day when He will answer fully, but the day when they will see Him fully as He is, the day when Satan will never again be able to whisper to them that God is not love.

They hold their pain-laden, wearisome, heavy questions out for the Father, and He picks them up in His other hand and carries them on His scarred back.

As they walk, they never find the answer they originally sought, the answer that would make for a fine blog, a best-selling book, a magnificent infomercial.  The answer that would explain why God doesn’t heal everyone, or, even better, the right formula to convince God to heal their loved one.

But what they do find is their understanding of God’s love for the unhealed person grows exponentially.  That the same God who wept at the death of a friend hasn’t spared the expense of tears for them.

That He sees.

“Am I a God who is only close at hand?” says the LORD. “No, I am far away at the same time.” (Jeremiah 23:23, NLT)

. . the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,

and no mind has imagined

what God has prepared

for those who love him.”

(from 1 Corinthians 2:7, continuing to verse 9)

Tiny Tim

“Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

–Bob Cratchit, A Christmas Carol

Jesus made the lame walk and the blind see.

As the sun went down that evening, people throughout the village brought sick family members to Jesus.  No matter what their diseases were, the touch of his hand healed every one. (Luke 4:40, NLT)

There is something unsaid in Tiny Tim’s statement, something we are left to wonder.  Why isn’t Tiny Tim healed?

Tiny Tim has no doubt that Jesus can heal.  And from the story, we can guess that he loves Jesus very much.  Yet Tiny Tim is not healed.  At no point in the story does he receive a miraculous touch from Jesus and go running through the streets, shouting his good news.  As a matter of fact, according to Dickens’ story, Tim recovers because a transformed Ebenezer Scrooge pours money into doctors and he improves little by little over time.

I thought it was very interesting to see a Christian adaptation of the Christmas Carol that had Tiny Tim’s family praying for Tim’s healing instead of Scrooge intervening.  Tim’s father then says that he is sure God has answered their prayers and will heal Tim.  In the next scene, Tim is able to take off his crutch and walk and run.

Why was this adaptation made?  Clearly to give God more honor, to give God credit for Tim’s healing instead of Scrooge.

But is this what actually happened?

To answer this, I have to go back to the difference between who I might want God to be and who He is and why, when I try to mislead people into believing my story about God instead of the true story, however much I mean to do good by it, what I actually shield is the love of God I am trying so hard to manufacture.  The love of God does not need to be manufactured.  It does not need to be altered.  It does not need to be added upon.

For the entire approximate two-year span after my father’s diagnosis with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, our church prayed for him.  And not just our church.  His boss, a deeply godly man, fasted one day every week to spend in prayer for my father’s healing.  If it’s a matter of needing faith, my father had it from all appearances I could see.  He was sure God would heal him.

But my dad died in 2004.

Now, this is an easy story compared to others.  What about the preschooler who dies of cancer, or the baby born with AIDS?  What about the kindergartener with cerebral palsy or the teenager without limbs?  Why doesn’t God heal them?  Surely it is not because He’s waiting for the right prayer to “unlock” His mercy.  God doesn’t play “Mother May I?” with us.  There is no formula of words or concoction of “good works” that gets our prayers answered.

So why doesn’t God heal all the Tiny Tims of the world?  Well, when we ask that, why not ask why anyone gets sick in the first place?  And when it comes to it, why does anyone die?  Why doesn’t God just sustain us forever on this earth?

Well, first of all, would I want to be sustained forever here?  Even if God did not allow anyone to ever be sick or die, what about all the violence?  People could go to war and repeatedly shoot and stab each other, never to die.  People could beat each other without ever killing them.  Is that a world I want to live in?  Certainly not.

The heart of the problem isn’t disability or disease or even death.  The heart of the problem is sin.  As long as we sin, we’re doomed.  And God has put in place natural consequences for our sin–an imperfect world–and unnatural consequences–death.  God can do that because He’s God, of course, but beyond that, He is perfectly right to allow us to live in the life we have chosen.  And He can in absolute justice curse us with death for our disobedience to Him.

But God’s will goes way beyond that.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18, NLT)

God uses even disease, disability, and death to draw people to Him so that they may be saved.  I believe that with all my heart.  How does He know who to choose for what circumstances?  God knows every possible outcome of every possible circumstance.  And I believe He allows disease and disability and takes us in death in the full brilliance of His plan.  I believe that plan is for as many people as possible to come to salvation through Jesus Christ.  Here is what I know for sure:

For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!

For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?

Who knows enough to give him advice?

And who has given him so much

that he needs to pay it back?

For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. (Romans 11:32-36, NLT)

Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol is pretend.  But does it insult God by laying Tim’s recovering health on Scrooge rather than on God?

Well, wait a minute.  Why does Scrooge want to help Tiny Tim, anyway?

The story is pretend, but if it was real, the only way Scrooge could have been transformed that Christmas Eve would be through Jesus Christ, no question.  Jesus is the only true change that can happen in our lives.  So if Scrooge was saved by the love of Christ that night, and then he poured a little of that love out on Tim so he could see good doctors . . . who would really get credit for Tim’s recovery?

I don’t believe Christ would get any less credit for working through Scrooge than if He had instantly healed Tim with the touch of His hand.

And Christ doesn’t get any less credit if He doesn’t heal our bodies, either.

“He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

Tim didn’t say this because he felt sorry for himself, or because he was bitter with Jesus.  He said this because he loved the God who, by the touch of His hand, healed the sick . . . the same God who, by the piercing of His hand, took upon Himself our eternal sickness . . so that our souls could be healed forever in Him.

He was despised and rejected by people. He was a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. He was despised like one from whom people turn their faces, and we didn’t consider him to be worth anything.

He certainly has taken upon himself our suffering and carried our sorrows, but we thought that God had wounded him, beat him, and punished him.

He was wounded for our rebellious acts. He was crushed for our sins. He was punished so that we could have peace, and we received healing from his wounds. (Isaiah 53:3-5, GWT)


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