Why Doesn’t God Heal All the Sick?
by Evangelist Robert L. Sumner
Divine healing is a widely debated subject about which considerable difference of opinion exists – and even greater confusion and misunderstanding. However, it would not be much of a Christian who did not believe in at least some form of divine healing, since the Word of God so plainly teaches it. As a matter of fact, all healing is at least indirectly “divine” healing. Sometimes God heals through natural means, such as doctors and medicines. But sometimes God heals directly and supernaturally in answer to prayer without any human instrumentality whatsoever.
Several years ago – over a half-century, in fact – while preparing a Constitution and Articles of Faith for a church I was pastoring in Texas, I wrote the following for its doctrinal statement: “We believe that sickness is a proper subject of prayer; that God often miraculously heals the body in answer to prayer; that He often, but not necessarily, uses medicine as the means for the healing; that it is not always God’s will to heal.” I believed that with all my heart then; I believe it just as thoroughly today!
In this message, however, I want to center our thinking around that latter statement: “It is not always God’s will to heal. Some devout but misguided Christians have mistakenly thought that all sickness is a form of chastening – the result of some particular sin in the life – and that it is always God’s will to heal. In their reasoning, if the sick one will confess his or her sin, honestly repent and turn from it, then God will heal. But this is definitely not what the Bible teaches! Note with me first,
I. GOD DOES NOT HEAL
ALL THE SICK!
Perhaps the Bible’s outstanding illustration of God’s refusal to heal pertains to the Apostle Paul. In II Corinthians 12:7-10, he testified: “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
What Paul’s “thorn” was we are not told, aside from the fact that it was some trouble “in the flesh.” In other words, it was a physical problem, a crisis in his body. It might have been some form of eye trouble, since he obviously did have a problem with his sight. Writing to the churches of Galatia, he recalled: “Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me” (Galatians 4:13-15). Naturally, if he had 20/20 vision there would have been no need for someone in Galatia to offer an “eye transplant,” of course. Paul apparently was afflicted with opthalmia, a very common eye disease in the East. This may have been his thorn. At any rate, note the confession of his “infirmity of the flesh.” Or perhaps Paul’s thorn was a speech impediment, since we read in II Corinthians 10:10, “For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (emphasis added).
Obviously, we are not told exactly what Paul’s physical infirmity was for the simple reason that God did not want us to have that information. If He had wanted us to know, He would have told us. Perhaps God did not definitely state the trouble so that all of us could find comfort and consolation in our own physical infirmities, of whatever nature they happen to be. The point of the matter is that on three separate, distinct occasions Paul cried to God for deliverance from this thorn. He said, “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.” Each time the answer was the same: “NO!”Paul, who had been used so greatly by God in the healing of others, could gain no deliverance for himself. God refused to grant him the healing others had enjoyed.
Let me emphasize here that Paul was not to blame for that failure. It was not a matter of his weak faith, since few individuals have ever possessed the triumphant faith Paul had. Nor was it a matter of sin in his life. Of all the characters in the Word of God, Paul stands among the top in matters of holiness and purity. Neither was it a matter of being out of the will of God. Paul, the special ambassador of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, was walking hand-in-hand with God in devoted, consecrated service. Neither was it a matter of being made shipwrecked by Satan, as in the case of Hymenæus and Alexander. It just simply was not God’s will for Paul to be healed!
As a matter of fact – and this may surprise you – thank God Paul was not healed! According to his own testimony, if he had been healed, he would have lost his humility and become proud. If he had been healed, he would have lost his strength and become weak. If he had been healed, he would have lost his power and become helpless. If he had been healed, he would have lost that portion of God’s glory which rested upon him in his suffering. Yes, how wonderful it was that God refused to answer Paul’s prayer with divine healing. Trophimus is another Bible illustration of God’s refusal to heal the sick. In II Timothy 4:20, where the Apostle Paul mentions various mutual acquaintances to the young preacher, Timothy, we read, “Erastus abode at Corinth; but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick.” Paul, the flaming apostle, the mighty miracle-worker, the man of God extraordinary, the one who had even raised the dead, left his brother in the Lord, his co-laborer in the ministry, sick at Miletum. He did not heal him. Apparently he could not heal him. It simply was not God’s will.
Timothy himself is still a further example. In I Timothy 5:23, Paul advised him, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.” Without taking time to answer those who find in this statement a justification for booze-guzzling, let me simply say that this medical prescription for a man in the first century is literally, “Drink no longer water alone, but mixed with a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.” (No lover of intoxicating wine would stand for mixing water with his fermented wine, of course! Actually, since the drinking water in that region of Asia Minor was so strong in alkaline content, Paul was merely telling him to add some of the heavy grape syrup, always available in the area, to his drinking water as an aid to digestion.) But our point here is that Timothy had a stomach disorder – and God refused to heal him. Apparently, since Paul referred to his “often infirmities,” he was not only sick, but sickly.
Just like Paul, Trophimus and Timothy, there are some today that God has refused to heal. This does not mean that they are more wicked than some who enjoy good health. Nor does it necessarily mean that God is chastening them, although He sometimes – yea, oft-times – does chasten through sickness. To put it bluntly, the reason God doesn’t heal all the sick – even the Christian sick – is because He does not want to! He has a purpose in that sickness and He means it for the afflicted one’s good. As Romans 8:28 conveys it, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
II. GOD’S BLESSING OF STRENGTH SOMETIMES
COMES THROUGH SICKNESS!
Remember what Paul said in II Corinthians 12:9, 10: “And [God] said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities … for when I am weak, then am I strong” (emphasis added). Paul was happy in trouble because his physical infirmity afforded an opportunity for divine strength. He discovered that the weakerhe became, the more powerful in Christ he could become. He testified that it was through this infirmity that the power of Christ rested upon him. That is, it covered him like a tent. The marginal note of my English Revised Version of 1881 states that the Greek for the phrase, “rest upon me,” is “spread a tabernacle over me.” Thus, with this complete baptism of God’s power upon him, he could triumphantly exclaim, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities!”
Paul opened this epistle talking about this very thing. He wrote: “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer, or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. . But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead” (II Corinthians 1:5-7, 9). There is something about it: when you get down to the place where you are helpless in yourself, you find yourself in a position where it is mighty easy to trust the Lord and seek His divine strength!
In Philippians 3:10 Paul wrote, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (emphasis added). Do not murmur or complain if God sees best to make you conformable to the fellowship of His sufferings. Instead, follow the example of the Word of God and rejoice. Romans 5:3-5 puts it this way: “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
Tribulation – no matter its form, even sickness – works patience. The idea of patience in this particular passage is that of steadfastness. So, as Paul and others have discovered, God’s blessing of strength frequently comes through sickness.
III. GOD’S BLESSING OF FRUITFULNESS SOME-
TIMES COMES THROUGH SICKNESS!
How greatly the world has been blessed through the influence of suffering saints. I think of Fanny Crosby, who penned literally thousands of gospel songs and hymns, hundreds of which are still enjoyed around the world at this hour. It is entirely possible that no one would have ever heard of Fanny Crosby if it had not been for the fact that she became blind when only six months old and remained in physical darkness until her eyes were opened in Heaven’s brightness. I think, too, of Martha Snell Nicholson and the pages of beautiful verse which flowed from her pen. Yet she was bedridden much of her life, crippled for years with painful arthritis. The same was true of Annie Johnson Flint, another gifted saint whose pungent stanzas of Christian verse have blessed so many hearts and lives. She, too, like Martha Snell Nicholson, was afflicted with a bitter and painful arthritic condition.
The truth of the matter is that some of our greatest hymns, poems and choicest pieces of Christian literature dropped from the pens of those who suffered most. Paul Hutchens, who discovered he had an advanced case of tuberculosis just as God was beginning to use him in great evangelistic campaigns, expressed it: “If blind Milton could write Paradise Lost; if John Bunyan in Bedford jail could writePilgrim’s Progress; if Luther imprisoned in Wartburg castle could translate the entire New Testament in the German language; if Robert Louis Stevenson, tubercular, suffering with sciatica, one arm in a sling, sentenced to absolute silence and darkness, could produce The Child’s Garden of Verses ; if Paul, confined to a Roman prison and chained to a guard twenty-four hours a day, could still proclaim the gospel – if these men under such mighty handicaps could and did dare to make progress and history, why should not we?”
Remember the truth set forth by our dear Savior in John 15:2, namely, “Every branch in me that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” The husbandman does not prune the tree to hurt it with his knife, but to help it in becoming more fruitful. Unpruned vines and trees are not nearly as productive as the pruned. The same is true in the Christian realm. Dr. Walter Kallenbach was accidentally wounded in a Virginia hunting accident. Both eyes were shot out; pellets penetrated his skull and lodged in his brain, the latter resulting in seven months of complete paralysis. Pellets that penetrated the region of his gall bladder caused peritonitis and gangrene. The shots that went through his lung necessitated a rib resection. Lockjaw was another complication. For years the dear brother was confined to numerous hospitals where he underwent many operations, including several on his brain. Later he testified that the “why” of his sufferings – as he tried to minister the Word and serve his Lord in blindness – was a source of constant perplexing to him. But one day, in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, he learned the answer.
The caretaker of a large apple orchard called attention to one of the most profusely laden trees in the orchard, one so heavily burdened with fruit it forced the propping up of all its branches for support. How surprised was Kallenbach when the orchardist told him he had deliberately split the trunk of that tree wide open. Upon inquiry as to his motive for so doing, the husbandman replied: “We have learned that when a tree has nothing but branches and leaves, nothing but beautiful foliage and lumber, and no fruit, that if it is hurt, and wounded, then it will bear fruit.” Kallenbach then concluded: “Now I know why I have had to suffer and bear so many crosses, for how could I comfort you if I had never been comforted by God myself? Salvation is the source of my greatness; my sacrifices are my tests; and my service shall be my fruit.”
Someone, I have no idea whom, wrote:
“The vine demands strong purging
If fruit is to be seen;
The husbandman is urging
That branches be kept clean.
He to the wall may pin us.
The vine may oft be bled:
‘God will kill nothing in us
That is not better dead.’
“Have courage then my brother,
Though sharp may be the knife;
The flesh may shrink and quiver,
And thou despair of life.
God is at work within thee,
He will lift up thy head;
‘God will kill nothing in thee,
That is not better dead.’”
The thought that purging prepares for service is seen again in II Timothy 2:20, 21. There we read: “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” Yes, God’s blessing of fruitfulness often comes through sickness and trouble.
IV. GOD’S BLESSING OF PURITY SOMETIMES COMES
We said earlier that sickness was not necessarily a result of chastening. On the other hand, sometimes it is! And, in cases of sickness which are the result of chastening, note the truth of Hebrews 12:10: “For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” Chastening through sickness is intended only to make us “partakers of his holiness.”Peter was emphasizing the same truth when he wrote, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (I Peter 4:12, 13).
He wrote again, “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you” (I Peter 5:10). The suffering is to make us better Christians, more settled, mature, established, strengthened. Job, whose name is almost synonymous with suffering and trouble, had the same testimony. He wrote: “But he knoweth the way that I take; when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10, emphasis added).Jehovah taught this same truth to Israel. Through His prophet Isaiah He said: “I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin … Behold I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 1:25; 48:10, emphasis added). In Psalm 119:67, the psalmist testified, “Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I kept thy word.” Many today have the same testimony about how physical affliction brought them back from the folly of sinful straying.
As the poet expressed it:
“He sat by a furnace of sevenfold heat,
As He watched by the precious ore,
And closer He bent with a searching gaze
As He heated it more and more.
“He knew He had ore that could stand
And he wanted the finest gold,
To mold as a crown for the King to wear,
Set with gems of price untold.
“So He laid our gold in the burning fire
Tho’ we fain would say Him, ‘Nay’;
And watch the dross that we had not seen
As it melted and passed away.
“And the gold grew brighter and yet
But our eyes were dim with tears;
We saw the fire – not the Master’s hand,
And questioned with anxious fears.
“Yet our gold shone out with a richer glow
As it mirrored a form above,
That bent o’er the fire, tho’ unseen by us,
With a look of ineffable love.
“Can we think it pleases His loving heart
To cause us a moment’s pain?
Ah, no, but He sees through the present cross
The bliss of eternal gain.
“So he waited there with a watchful eye,
With a love that is strong and sure,
And His gold did not suffer a bit more heat
Than was needed to make it pure.”
V. CHRISTIANS CAN GLORIFY
GOD THROUGH SICKNESS
There is an abundance of Scripture teaching this truth. Jesus, in explaining to His disciples about the man who had been born blind, said: “Neither hath this man sinned nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (John 9:3). His blindness was for the glory of God. When Jesus received word from Mary and Martha of Bethany that their brother Lazarus was sick, He said: “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (John 11:4). That this sickness was for the glory of God – as was the subsequent death and resurrection – is evident from the forty-fifth verse of the same chapter, where we read, “Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on Him.” The sickness of Lazarus resulted in the salvation of many, many precious souls.
Death, like sickness, can bring glory to God. After Jesus had told Peter how he would die, John 21:19 says, “This spake he signifying by what death he should glorify God.” Do not despise physical affliction! Wise Solomon wrote, nearly three millenniums ago, “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small” (Proverbs 24:10). God has some good purpose in your trouble, you may be sure. If you are on a bed of affliction, take comfort in God’s promise: “For I reckon that the sufferings on this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us … And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:18, 28).
It may be that you cannot see any good in your present trouble. Nonetheless, the words of Peter are still pertinent: “Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (I Peter 4:13).Andrew Murray, a dear old saint of a past generation, wrote: “In times of trouble God’s trusting child may say: First: He brought me here; it is by His will I am in this strait place; in that will I rest. Next: He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child. Then: He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends me to learn, and working in the grace He means to bestow. Last: In His good time He can bring me out again – how and when He knows. Say: I am here – (1) By God’s appointment. (2) In His keeping. (3) Under His training. (4) For His time.”
In closing, let me ask again: are you troubled with physical infirmities? Thank God for them! “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (I Thessalonians 5:18).