Why Doesn’t God Always Heal?
God has been very good to us at Everyday Church. Across the past eighteen months, we have seen a steady trickle of miraculous healing. We have seen two people healed of cancer at our Kingston venue. Adrian Holloway from the Wimbledon venue has just returned from Newday where he led hundreds of teenagers to receive healing by the power of Jesus’ name. If you are part of Everyday Church then you already know this and are as grateful as I am towards God for his amazing blessing towards us. If you are not part of Everyday Church then rejoice with us. We are advancing in our experience of God’s healing power together.
But God doesn’t always heal. It’s very confusing and very painful. In the early hours of yesterday morning, Sonia Miller from Everyday Wimbledon died of cancer. We have prayed for her, we have fasted for her, we have anointed her with oil as commanded in James 5, and we have pleaded with God for her - but now we are grieving for her.
I heard the news at breakfast with my wife and children. The six of us have been praying for Sonia for weeks, so I immediately had to open the Bible and teach my children how to process their emotions when God doesn’t answer healing prayer. This has been the first time for them but it will not be the last. I’m therefore writing this blog to help you if you knew and loved Sonia, or if you have loved and lost somebody else after praying that God would heal them. How should we respond when God doesn’t heal those we love? I’ll answer more at Sonia’s funeral next week, but in the meantime here are four key principles which I trust may help you as you grieve.
1) TELL GOD HOW YOU REALLY FEEL
The book of Psalms teaches us how to respond when God appears to let us down. One of the reasons I love the book so much is that it is brutally, brutally honest about many of the challenges which we face in our own lives. The Sons of Korah essentially accuse God in Psalm 44 that "You have let us down!" Asaph continues this in Psalm 73 and Psalm 74, accusing God so frankly that it makes your toes curl just to read it. What is even more surprising than Asaph’s language is the way that God appears to be very pleased by the way he prays. Jesus calls Asaph a prophet in Matthew 13:35, and Nehemiah 12:46 looks back fondly to the days when Asaph taught Israel to pray the words they really felt.
We need to learn this. If you knew and loved Sonia then tell God how you really feel about her death from cancer. Tim Hughes writes that "Questioning God doesn’t mean we are disobeying Him. Expressing doubt doesn’t mean we are lacking faith … Expressing anger and pain to God is a beautiful and intimate act … In our everyday lives, the people that we are most likely to share our deepest fears and hurts with are those we love and trust the most. True intimacy can be experienced when we choose to share honestly and vulnerably.”
2) REMEMBER WHO GOD IS
The psalmists are brutally honest about how they feel, but they don’t stop there. They are also very honest about the unchanging character of God. In the midst of his angry accusations, Asaph changes his tune in Psalm 73:16-17. He confesses that “When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood.” His honest prayers took him into God’s presence long enough for him to stop and let God do some of the talking. When he remembered who God is he was drawn back to trust in him. If God is big enough to blame when people are not healed, then he is also big enough to trust when people are not healed. He is perfectly wise as well as perfectly loving.
King David demonstrates this for us in Psalm 62. It’s an incredibly honest prayer about his troubles, and it ends with equal honesty about God. “One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.” Some people never trust for healing because they find it easier to believe that God is loving than to trust that God is strong. Some people take offence at God for not healing because they find it easier to believe that God is strong than to trust that God is loving. David urges us to hold both of these two things together in our hands. It’s real Christianity and it’s what carries us through dark days.
3) REMEMBER THE END OF THE STORY
We live in a world which is obsessed with the moment. Pleasure can’t be deferred, it must be experienced now. Without realising it, Christians can import this mindset into their walk with God. But God’s Story isn’t like that and this attitude ends up robbing Christians of the great hope which is theirs.
When the pagan King Nebuchadnezzar threatens to kill Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego by throwing them into the fiery furnace unless they deny the Lord, they reply to him in Daniel 3: "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it … But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods." They believed God for instant deliverance but they also believed that God would take their souls to heaven and to raise their bodies from the dead for eternity if instant deliverance was not his perfect plan. They trusted God to grant them either instant deliverance or eternal deliverance, and they trusted God to be wise enough to decide which type of deliverance it would be.
On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed to his Father. Hebrews 5:7 tells us that "he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard." Isn’t that a bit weird? Jesus died painfully hours later, so how can the writer to the Hebrews tells us that "he was heard"? Because Jesus prayed for the Father to spare him the cross, accepting in the same breath that the Father knew best what would be the perfect plan for his life. Jesus trusted the Father to deliver him from dying or to deliver him from death after he died, and he trusted the Father to be wise enough to decide which one it was to be for him to play the role in God’s Story which had been perfectly given him.
In the same way, we prayed very hard as a church that God would heal Sonia. We prayed very hard that God would spare her from dying for the sake of her husband Andre and her two-year-old son Reuben. We grieve deeply that she is no longer with us but our grief is tempered by the fact that she is now with Jesus in heaven. We trusted God to deliver her from dying and we trusted him to deliver her from death if she died. Now that we know that his perfect plan for her life was the latter, we still trust him in our grief that our prayers have been answered. As Paul says in Philippians 1: "Now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far." This is how Sonia lived and died. We still trust God, just as she did, now that we know that God’s perfect plan was for her to be with Christ, which is better by far.
4) REMEMBER SONIA’S EXAMPLE
If you were friends with Sonia then you will know that she trusted God to heal her. She talked about nothing but healing until the final week of her life, explaining to her friends that "I can’t pray with faith for healing and at the same time plan to die; I have to do these things one at a time." Nobody who spent any time with Sonia in her final weeks left her presence without growing in their own faith in God. She had such a strong faith in her Saviour that it was contagious. In the last week of her life, when she finally turned her thoughts to preparing to die, it was the only thing which carried her through.
Those of us who are left have much to do. We need to support Andre as he comes to terms with being a young widower and single dad. We need to support Reuben as he learns to grow up without a mum. We need to be there for friends and family at Sonia’s funeral next week. But we also need to do more than that. We also need to learn from Sonia’s life and example. Her death from cancer isn’t a reason for us to trust God less; it’s a reason for us to trust God more.
Sonia reminded us that death comes to us all. Sometimes it comes in old age, sometimes it comes tragically early, but it always comes. There will be a moment when each of us realises that all which we prize in this world cannot help us. Our wonderful family, our faithful friends, our skills and ideas and possessions cannot save us. The only one who can save us is Jesus Christ, the one in whom Sonia trusted while she lived and as she died.
The great missionary Hudson Taylor stared death in the face on his first voyage to China, when the ship on which he was travelling almost sank, the captain taunted him: "We cannot live half an hour now. So what now of your call to labour for the Lord in China?" Hudson Taylor recalled later: “It was a great joy to be able to tell him that I would not for any consideration be in any other position; that I strongly expected to reach China; but that, if I didn’t, then at any rate my Master would be pleased that I was found seeking to obey His command at the moment I died.”
Sonia Miller challenged us all to be found trusting God in any and every situation. She challenged us to trust God for healing. She challenged us to trust God when we are not healed. Her passing from this cancer-filled world to the glories of heaven is not a reason for us to stop believing in God for miraculous healing. Her final actions still cheer us on to believe in the power of God until we see more than a steady trickle of miracles - until we see joy across London through a team of Everyday People who trust in their Almighty God, both in the victory of healing and in the victory of death.