During an outbreak of the bubonic plague nearly five hundred years ago, the no-nonsense leader of the German Reformation, Martin Luther, wrote a practical letter of advice to Johann Hess, a pastor in the city of Breslau. Many of his words relating to Christians’ response to sickness have stood the test of time. To those who “tempted God” by recklessly rejecting available measures to counteract the disease, Luther wrote:
They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are. They say that it is God’s punishment; if he wants to protect them he can do so without medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting him. God has created medicines and provided us with intelligence to guard and take good care of the body so that we can live in good health.
In contrast to such brash folly masked as bold faith, Luther counseled:
I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above.2
Those words are as relevant in the twenty-first century as they were in the sixteenth. We have wrestled with these matters of sickness, plague, death, faith, healing, and medicine since the fall of humanity, when sin and suffering intruded on a good creation (see Genesis 3).
Some questions about healing are easy to answer.
“Can God heal?” Yes, of course. He can do anything, and the Bible testifies to many miraculous healings. “Yeah, but can God heal in the twenty-first century?” Absolutely. He can and does. In fact, every time you recover from an illness, you’ve experienced healing. Every time a physician diagnoses a disease and prescribes a successful treatment, you’ve been healed.
I know what you’re thinking: That’s not God healing. That’s nature doing its thing. Now’s a good time to introduce a couple of important categories to help us better understand how God heals: special grace and common grace.
Special grace refers to God’s special work in the lives of some people, at specific times.
Special grace includes salvation, the indwelling of the Spirit, and other unique special blessings. It can also describe miracles like the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt or the supernatural healing of a man born blind. Only by God’s sovereign will does anybody receive the blessings of special grace.
On the other hand, common grace refers to “grace extended to all persons through God’s general providence; for example, his provision of sunshine and rain for everyone.” We see common grace through the acts of God’s goodness, mercy, and love woven into the very fabric of creation itself. That includes God’s generous provision of natural remedies for sickness, scientific discoveries resulting in medicines, and the body’s own healing power and intricate immune system for fighting infections. All of these come from God’s common grace—His fatherly care for all.
Every time you recover from a sickness, every time a vaccine wards off an infection, every time a broken bone heals, you’re experiencing God’s grace. These healings may not be miracles, which are manifestations of God’s special grace, but they’re still demonstrations of His goodness and mercy toward you.
Let me be clear.
It’s not that sometimes God heals by supernatural miracles but other times nature heals us apart from God’s power. Whenever we’re healed, we’re healed by God’s power. Period. Yes, sometimes God heals through miracles, but most of the time He heals through a strong immune system, effective medicine, a skilled physician, or a successful medical procedure.
Remember, God isn’t obligated to heal us, either by miracle or by medicine, by special grace or common grace. You may know of cases in which two people received the exact same treatment for a disease, but only one recovered. Nobody is healed apart from the grace of God.
We must remember that if it’s God’s will, He will ultimately provide the healing—not the oil, not the medicine, not the physicians, not the elders, not even the prayer itself. Praying in the name of the Lord (see John 14:14) always means praying according to His will, not ours. Then we must leave the results to Him.
Of course, it’s not God’s will for everyone who is suffering or sick to be healed in this life. Those last three words are important. They anticipate a future when all believers will be raised in glorious, resurrection bodies to live eternally with their Creator in a new heaven and a new earth. I cling to that promise with hope and longing. One day—perhaps today—the Lord will ultimately answer centuries of prayers for healing with a complete banishment of sin, sickness, suffering, and death. Hear these words from the throne of God and rejoice in them: “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:3-4).
What a magnificent promise to claim!
Adapted from Clinging to Hope: What Scripture Says about Weathering Times of Trouble, Chaos, and Calamity by Charles R. Swindoll. Copyright ©2022. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
Pastor Charles R. Swindoll has devoted his life to the accurate, practical teaching and application of God’s Word. Since 1998, he has served as the senior pastor-teacher of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, but Chuck’s listening audience extends beyond a local church body. As a leading program in Christian broadcasting since 1979, Insight for Living airs around the world. Chuck’s leadership as president and now chancellor emeritus at Dallas Theological Seminary has helped prepare and equip a new generation of men and women for ministry.