Some years ago we hosted Carl & Ilna and their kids at our place. They were visiting in Cape Town briefly from their mission in Zambia. It was a great time to connect with a missionary family that we had not seen for quite some years. They joined us for home church that Sunday and in the meeting I referred to Isaiah 53:4-6 speaking about the propitiation of God’s wrath by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
In discussion Ilna asked me what my view was on Isaiah 53:5 “by His stripes we are healed” where this phrase is taken as reference to physical healing that Christ purchased on the cross for us. More especially and specifically a common idea in some Christian circles that we should experience full and complete healing in Christ for every ailment we experience in this life. And often included in that interpretation is the view that any failure to experience healing is a lack of faith. What would you say?
This was not an idle question for Carl and Ilna, they carry in their family burdens of much suffering and sickness. It was not mere intellectual curiosity that prompted her question…
Certainly Christ was a healer. A veritable flood of miracles accompanied his short years of ministry. Christ instructed his disciples in healing and exorcism. In Mark 16:18 Jesus clearly includes in His commissioning the same, saying of “those who believe” that they “will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover”. So this should reasonably be expected to accompany the discipling of the nations wherever Christ is preached. Is the healing universal? Is it the inheritance of every believer who exercises faith? No sickness for Christians?
As best I recall, I answered her question by asking her to read Isaiah 53:5 again. “Did Christ die for your transgressions and iniquities?” I asked. She responded in the affirmative. “Did Christ fully and completely deal with your sin on the cross, or was it only partially effective?”. Completely effective was her response. “Do you still sin?” I asked. “Is there any sin your life?”. “Yes.” she replied. And I had the same experience. Indwelling sin in my life, all while profoundly knowing that Christ had dealt with my sin on the cross. Then I answered her original question by saying, that as free from sin as I was right now, due to the death of Christ on the cross and His resurrection, that was as free from sickness as I was now in Christ. I am as ultimately free, and I am as temporally beset.
Christ died to set us free from sin and death and sickness and suffering. We are free from all four of these apocalyptic horsemen of doom. But I still sin, I get sick, and there will be more suffering in my life, and then I will die. The last enemy is death it says in 1 Corinthians 15:26. Death clearly has an end that has not yet come. It will get me, but it has no sting.
When Jesus freed the paralytic from his sickness as a sign that his sins were forgiven, which was greater? The power to heal or the power to forgive sins? Greater is the power of Christ to forgive and deal with sin than mere physical healing. That was the very point Jesus was making. Jesus had authority over sin and over sickness. And yet today, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, as a new creation in Christ, I had already failed to love the Lord my God with all my heart before I sat down to breakfast! I have sinned, missed the mark, fallen short.
I carry in my body the corruption of all creation as it groans longing for the revealing of the sons of God. One day, that will no longer be true. In considerably less than one thousand years I will be undying, sinless, and in perfect health. Right now? Right now is “the vale of tears”, the “Via Dolorosa”, the way of suffering. All directed to a good end, a supremely good purpose in the secret counsel of God (Romans 8:28). But my life is nonetheless marred with real sin and real sickness and real death and real suffering. Our lives are to be lived in groaning hope, knowing that the “already” in Christ assures us of the “not yet” to come — the redemption of our body. Romans 8:23-25
23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?
25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
If I am mistaken, then Christ has dealt more perfectly with disease and illness than with sin and suffering and death. One should be experiencing healing in its fullness now already. One does not need to live in hope of perfect health (“why .. hope for what he sees?” Romans 8:24), that is done, one only needs to live in hope with respect to sin, death and suffering, but not in hope of healing. Some might employ a doctrine of perfectionism to extend this current and complete victory to sin aswell. Then all that remains to hope for is deliverance from suffering and death.
But I just can’t see this view in the scriptures. It is the error of “immanentizing the eschaton”. It is an over realized eschatology. That is the error of applying things that are properly ours in resurrected glory, now to our current fallen bodies and lives on earth. But here we are given only a taste of heaven, a deposit of the Holy Spirit, a glimpse of the glories to come, eager expectation of full health in the spectacular miracles of Jesus. We are not yet there. We are both seated in heavenly places, AND we are standing in the midst of this groaning creation subjected in hope.
What is a proper attitude to sickness then, and death and suffering? Do we make light of them with permanent sunny dispositions? Do we seek them out becoming a kind of Christian masochist? Do we stoically endure them as the inscrutable decrees of God?
Well again, I ask, “what should our view of indwelling sin be now?”. Surely we fight them all! We mortify the sinful flesh (Colossians 3:5 & Romans 8:13) and sanctify ourselves (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Similarly, we fight disease, with all means at our disposal and in Jesus name. We work to end suffering in Jesus name. We stave off death as a defeated foe for as long as we have the strength to fight the good fight. We should do all of this in hope. In the good Christian hope of the redemption of our body in the midst of the tears.
One day, in the eschaton, no more tears – Revelation 21:4.