Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
During a sermon I was watching one day, the pastor brought up a very interesting point. He quoted Psalms 103:2-3, which reads,
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all his benefits-
Who forgives all your sins
And heals all your diseases…
There’s more verses in that sentence in my Bible (hence the ellipsis), but apparently not in his. Anyway, after the quote he asked the congregation if they really believed what it said; they of course said yes. So he tried a different style of asking. He read the first part, about forgiving, and then said, “If you believe this, say amen.” His church resounded with amens. Then he read the second part, about healing, and again asked for the amen- it was slightly quieter the second time (my amen too). Then he asked rhetorically, “Which one is more difficult for God?” Right away the Holy Spirit lit up my mind with a story from Christ Jesus’ ministry on earth. Let’s check it out.
It was a normal day for Christ; he was out preaching to the people and trying to teach them the glory of God. We start in Mark 2:1-2,
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.
But then the scene shifted away from Jesus, “Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them” (Mark 2:3). Impressed by their faith, Jesus forgave the man: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). As with most of Jesus’ acts and preaching, this caused the Pharisees to lose their cool. Mark 2:6-7 records, “Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus knew what was in their hearts and so he asked the same question as the pastor: “Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?” (Mark 2:9). Before anyone could answer, though, Jesus healed the man:
“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:10-12)
…But he didn’t actually answer the question since the man received both forgiveness and healing.
So what is the answer? Which is harder for God? The pastor from earlier quietly noted that it’s the same and that forgiveness and healing are both wrapped up in salvation for the believer. God is all-powerful and almighty. This is why Jeremiah noted, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17). There is no harder for God, for he is above all things and has mastery over them. But here’s where it gets cool. Check out what Peter had to say about healing: “He himself bore out sins on his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). First we find, as the pastor pointed out, that healing and salvation are wrapped up together. Secondly though, check out how he says we’re healed; Peter uses the past tense. This means that your healing (assuming you’re saved) is already a done deal. But it’s not just the act of healing that occurred before you even got sick. Salvation is still wrapped up in this too, so check out how Paul addresses that; “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is great because Paul first introduces the present tense of God loving you (that means you, the reader) but his (current) love’s demonstration was through the work of Jesus’ crucifixion in your place in the past. The message is that the work of healing (spiritual [forgiveness] and physical [bodily fixing]) has already been done through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on a cross. Although through a different path, we find that the pastor’s message is proven correct and that both kinds of healing are wrapped up together and we also see that they’ve already occurred (even if we have yet to feel it).
The next logical question then is, “Why do I get sick?” The answer is that our bodies are earthly and frail. Jesus noted this when he said to his disciples before his arrest, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. This spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Mark 14:38). It’s very easy to relate this to our inability to fight sin, but the actual context of the verse is that Jesus’ disciples kept falling asleep while they were keeping watch (what with it being late at night). They didn’t have a sin problem, but a body issue. Since our bodies are weak, if we don’t take care of our health a little (like getting sleep, oddly enough), then we’ll hurt our body’s condition. Even if you do take care of your body, there’s a high likelihood that something will crop up (like a cold or even cancer). Such is our life on earth. So Jesus taught,
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:44-45).
Unfortunately you can’t Christian yourself into a perfect life with no obstacles, that’s not how our world works. Good things happen to everyone, and bad things happen to everyone (though possibly in different amounts). Health is no different; follower of Christ or not, you will get sick or injured at some point. This is why Paul wrote,
For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Corinthians 5:4-5).
Our earthly bodies are weak and we know it, so we strive for something more- something better. This has always been the Lord’s will, so that we would reach out and take hold of the salvation laid before us so that one day we could have new bodies in heaven.
So then, what do we do when we get sick? First of all, pray. There’s a great story from the Old Testament that shows how well prayer works when we get sick. Scripture records,
In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”
Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, O Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life’” (Isaiah 38:1-5).
But this isn’t only an Old Testament thing, James also recommended going for spiritual healing. He wrote,
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven (James 5:14-15).
Again we see that forgiveness and healing are tied together in the Lord. But prayer isn’t enough, we must also believe that those prayers will be heard and answered. Jesus taught, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22). But what about doctors? Never forget, my friend, that doctors are called by God to heal people. Even Paul’s constant traveling companion Luke was a doctor. It comes out in Colossians 4:14: “Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.” Paul was probably getting constant care from Luke as they traveled around. God has different answers for different people and situations. Do not neglect general care and going to the doctor if need be, but prayer should come first. After all, according to the Bible you’re already healed; so it should be no problem for Jesus to heal you!