Yes, healing is “in” the atonement, like every biblical benefit. So why not 100% healing?
What about his kingdom coming and his will being done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10)? Why doesn’t that prayer–part of the Lord’s Prayer!–guarantee healing all the time without one exception?
Those are questions that have plagued Renewalists (Pentecostals and Charismatics and Neo-Charismatics) for decades. Teachers and preachers, particularly the Word of Faith teachers, have not been effective in answering this harsh reality–healing simply does not happen 100% of the time. Why not?
Here is my attempt to answer the question. It is an essay (meaning “attempt” or “try”). It is my best tentative answer, at this time in my understanding of Scripture and in my practical theology of actually praying for the sick. Yes, I believe healing is still going on today.
This post is divided into three main parts:
First, let’s ask a question as it is commonly phrased: Is healing in the atonement?
The question is not worded correctly because every biblical benefit is “in” the atonement, like salvation and authority over demons and redemption. Every item in the long list in another article flows out of the atonement, even healing.
The question people should ask is this: Is healing guaranteed in the atonement? Or, will people always get healed in the atonement?
And the answer is no, in the here and now. This is upsetting to many, but hear me out.
Let’s take an analogical or comparative example. Does everyone who professes salvation get saved? Matt. 13:1-23, the Parable of the Sower (or Soils), teaches us that an individual can have the word planted in him, but the evil one, persecution, or the worries of life rob or choke it. In modern terms, he heard the word, prayed the “sinner’s prayer,” something may (or may not) have happened, but then later on he walks away from it all. Salvation is “in” the atonement, but it is not guaranteed. There are too many factors for why the seed of the word did not take hold.
Likewise, healing is “in” the atonement, but it is not guaranteed 100% of the time. We cannot figure out why some people are healed and others are not, for there are too many factors in the life of the sick person, the lives of the people praying for him, and God’s sovereign will.
In other words,
Saving Faith ≠ Healing Faith
Why not? Because the needs differ and the purposes differ. Yes, Jesus often said, “Your faith has made you well” (or literally “saved” you), but in this specific context, it is usually about healing the body, so the Greek verb sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh) is the standard word for “to save,” but in these contexts it means bodily healing. And in other contexts the verb means “to save” the soul (with subsequent ramifications in the body to be sure, but total healing can happen only at the Second Coming or on our passing away and shuffling off this mortal coil or body). Therefore the meaning of the verb is determined by the context and by the need of the person receiving it. Therefore the needs and purposes differ. Remember: Jesus did not heal everyone who had a disease, because of their lack of faith (Mark 6:5-6), and not everyone in Israel converted to him or got saved after they heard him teach and watch him perform miracles.
For a fuller explanation of the word group related to “salvation” and “saved,” please click here:
And as noted, just because someone prays for salvation does not mean he received it–just as the Parable of the Sower (or Soils) says. So divine healing of the body is “in” the atonement, but there is no guarantee of total and perpetual healing throughout one’s life. There are simply too many moving parts to understand why people do not get healed down here on earth, just as there are too many moving parts to understand why people do not get saved even after they hear the gospel and pray.
However, what about Matt. 4:23? “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. ”
To reply: in context, that is a summary verse. Here’s another summary verse in the same section of Scripture. Matthew wrote: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matt. 4:15). Fulfilling the rest of the prophecy (vv. 13-15), Jesus moved to the town of Capernaum. He did mighty miracles there: “At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them” (Luke 4:40). But did everyone living in his adopted hometown respond to the light (Jesus)? No. Here he denounces it: “And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you” (Matt. 11:23-24; see Luke 10:15). Even his adopted hometown did not receive the kingdom and salvation. And so we should not over-interpret summary statements that characterize his ministry overall. And overall his ministry included healing, and he was very successful at it.
However, he did not heal everyone in his hometown where he grew up, Nazareth: “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mark 6:5-6). Yes, yes, they did not have faith, but that only shows there are too many moving parts in needy people. It’s too complicated for us to answer thoroughly the larger question of why no 100% healing. Next, Jesus healed only one man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15). So if the mighty Son of God, God manifested in the flesh, did not heal everyone, then how can we guarantee 100% healing?
In the big picture, God’s Redemptive Global Project is to rescue his groaning, weak creation from its present degraded condition, ranging from the planet itself to our puny bodies (Rom. 8:18-22). Everything will be put right, at that time. In the here and now, the Project is going on gradually, as the kingdom of God and his redemptive work surge forward, person by person, life by life. In this present age, our bodies will have to give out, because we all die. It’s a gradual process of decay and aging. Upon our death, however, we will be with Jesus in a sort of spiritual form, until on the Last Day we shall reunite with our glorified and transformed bodies, which shall never get sick or experience decay or suffer death.
So healing is “in” the atonement, but the total and 100% guarantee of complete, nondegradable health awaits the full manifestation of his kingdom. That’s where we’re all heading.
Let’s explore kingdom theology more thoroughly.
How does the theology of the kingdom impact the harsh reality that healing does not happen 100% of the time?
In the first post in the kingdom series, I said that the kingdom of God means his rule or reign, his kingship, his sovereignty. It encompasses both his realm over which he exercises his rule and his authority and power by which he exerts his kingship. He is the monarch—the sole ruler—with absolute power.
His kingdom is universal and everlasting. “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations” (Ps. 145:13, NIV). By his mighty acts (already here), his kingdom is proved to be glorious and splendid (Ps. 145:9-12). “The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19, NIV).
And yet the kingdom is not yet here in its visible and full display, for all to experience and submit to. Jesus prayed, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10, NIV). The kingdom of God is in process and in progress.
Some critics have rebuked teachers for saying that people can call down the good things of heaven to earth. The critics say that evangelism, salvation of souls, demon expulsion, death, sex and marriage are not in heaven, so how do we call them down? How does that make sense? Therefore, don’t call down the kingdom and his will in heaven on earth (even though Matt. 6:10 says we should!).
This criticism, however, fails to understand the already-and-not-yet aspect of the kingdom. We are permitted to call down those things we need the most, like harmony in marriage and evangelism and salvation and healing and demon expulsion, all done through the power of the Spirit. We have plenty of Scriptures to support those things, besides one verse (Matt. 6:10). Immediately, at the Second Coming, there will no longer be the need for evangelism, salvation, demon expulsion, healing, and sex and marriage, and so on. Death will be defeated. But that time is not yet here. Therefore at this time in the history–the Church Age–we need the kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. And there is nothing wrong with praying for those listed and other things.
All of this sums up the already-and-not-yet-fully aspect to the kingdom. Let’s clarify it further, if we can.
Sequential Diagram of the Kingdom of God
Theologians see three stages of the kingdom of God: (1) Preparation, (2) Establishment, and (3) Completion. We can call it the Grand Kingdom Narrative in three acts, from Genesis to Revelation:
Preparation Establishment Completion
Creation ——————–——Jesus ——————– Consummation
As noted above, God is king over his creation. Further, much of the Old Covenant Scriptures reveal a monarchy, both by God and an earthly king. This prepared the soil for King Jesus, the ultimate descendant of David, who in fact fulfilled the Davidic Covenant. Jesus inaugurated the kingdom during his ministry at his first coming, but it will finally arrive in its fullness when he comes back the second time. Its completion awaits fulfillment. In the between time, we have only its incomplete and partial glory and power.
So this theology of already-and-not-yet of the kingdom explains to a large degree why healing does not always happen 100% of the time. We live in the kingdom that is already here in part, but not yet fully manifested. When it is fully manifested, we will no longer need evangelism and sex and marriage and demon expulsion and the other good things. We will have complete and total healing in our new, glorified body.
Right now, we live in the shadowlands (C.S. Lewis), and we will never get a complete answer down here, when our prayers are not answered.
For a fuller explanation of the already and not-yet of the kingdom, see the post:
Practical Guide to Prayer
After all that theology, let’s get practical. We should still pray for healing and not use the “not-100% thing” as an excuse. Let’s pray for God to grant us the gift of faith (1 Cor. 12:9), so that we can then pray in faith for healing.
14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. (James 5:14-15)
Verse 15 says the prayer offered in faith or literally “the prayer of faith.”
Faith ≠ Doubt
Faith ≠ Skepticism
Faith ≠ Mild Skepticism
Faith ≠ “Maybe yes, maybe no, who really knows?”
Faith ≠ Paralysis of Analysis
Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed → Results
The arrow means “leads to.” Jesus never said, “Your skepticism makes you whole!” If you fit in the other items of the list, don’t spread your unbelief around in the presence of the sick person. But I like what this man honestly told the Lord: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark. 9:24). Pray silently with an open heart for God to give you faith and overcome your unbelief.
Personally, I pray this way for the diseased in body.
A.. I pray until healing comes. (I’ve been praying for a vital organ in my body since January 2010, and I will never stop. Why should I? It doesn’t cost me any effort to pray for it: I put Matt. 7:7-8 in the present continuous tense).
B.. I pray for medicine to be effective and the doctors to be successful. (I exercise and eat healthily.)
C.. I pray until God reveals to me that it is time to stop praying for healing because God is using (not causing) the sickness to take the sick person home to be with Jesus, forever. No, I don’t tell the sick person my new conviction or belief, because I could be wrong. Instead, I shift my prayers for spiritual healing and strength and peace and faith in the ill person. (I pray this in the other lettered points, as well.) Heaven and a new body are the ultimate healing.
God wants to heal in so many situations; we see this in the ministry of Jesus, who never put diseases on people, but lifted them off of people. He wants us to ask for healing with faith.
Yes, God wants to heal, but he is also sovereign. We can trust him when we do not get our healing right now. He still loves us and wants us to come home. And going to his heavenly home is no punishment!
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18, ESV)
Yes, our bodies really are wasting away right now, little by little. But our momentary light affliction “ain’t nothin'” in contrast to eternity–the eternal weight of glory. We are headed for eternity, so let’s not weep and wail when someone we prayed for dies. He or she just got crowned!
Final verses for our growth in Christ
In the next chapter in 2 Corinthians, Chapter 5, the very next verses, Paul writes that while we are in this body or tent (or tabernacle), we groan, implying that it is wearing down:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 2 Cor. 5:1-5, NIV)
So in vv. 1-4 he says that our bodies or tents will be destroyed one day, whether by decomposing in the grave or in the sea or somewhere else. However, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven. We long to be clothed with it. Our mortality will be swallowed up in by life (eternal). We wish to be clothed with our eternal dwelling.
The best news is v. 5. The Spirit lives in us and is the down payment or deposit of what is to come. Which is what? It is heaven and eternal life or living in our new tents or bodies. Until then, our earth-tents wear out and die. So it is impossible to get healed one hundred percent of the time, until we die; then our healing is 100% and forever!
At that link, see Williams, vol. 3, p. 290 for his sequential diagram.