When Larry and Alice Parker visit a nondescript cemetery in Barstow, California, and stand beside the grave of their son, their eyes mist with tears. They undoubtedly think, If only we had known. You see, their eleven-year-old son, Wesley, tragically died in their home on the warm morning of August 22, 1973, three days after a traveling evangelist, at a Sunday service, had pronounced him healed. In my file is a yellowing article from The Los Angeles Times telling about the family's ordeal.
Having struggled with diabetes for five years, Wesley and his parents had believed that God could heal him. When the evangelist prayed for the boy and asked, "Wes, do you believe you are healed?" he replied, "Yes." "I believe that you are, too," said the evangelist. Then the parents decided to fast and pray for their son and do what proved to be a tragic mistake—no longer give him insulin. They reasoned that if God had indeed healed him, there was no longer any need to continue with the medication.
When Wes died, the world of his parents collapsed. Not only did Larry and Alice deeply grieve the loss of their son, but they were also deeply confused and heartbroken. Their friends severely criticized and abandoned them. Then the district attorney filed charges of involuntary manslaughter against them. The police came and took them to jail. Anticipating this turn of events, the Parkers had arranged for friends to care for their remaining children. The child protection authorities, however, came to their home, took the children, and sent them to juvenile hall with hardened delinquents.
Imprisoned separately in the San Bernardino jail, Larry and Alice wondered if they would ever see each other again. The guards taunted them, saying, "There's no way they're going to let you guys out." The court found them guilty as charged, and they were placed on probation for five years.
Before you get overly critical, realize that at the time of Wesley's death, Larry, then age thirty-nine, had already served three years in the armed forces as an electronics technician. Larry was an electronics engineer with Bendix Field Engineering and was praised by his superiors as "an excellent employee." The Parkers were a typical middle-class family, taking their children to church and living the California dream.
Did Larry and Alice realize at that time that Wesley's dependence on insulin was so severe? No! Would they have withheld insulin had they known of the consequences? Absolutely not! So what, then, had truly caused Wesley's death? Unsound theological teaching and misconceptions about God and healing—convictions about biblical teaching that were sincere but misaligned, convictions held and sincerely believed by many, even today, who teach that because God wants you healed, you should trust Him exclusively and avoid medicine because it is of the devil.
The Parkers eventually authored a book entitled We Let Our Son Die, where they admitted that they had made a "tragic error" in withholding insulin from their son.
The Parkers are not alone in wreaking unintentional suffering and even death on minors. John O'Connor, writing for The New York Times, says, "Over the last 15 years, at least 125 children in the United States have died because their parents belong to Christian Science churches or fundamentalist sects that believed prayer alone could cure illness." What Jesus told the religious leaders of His day aptly applies to these groups: "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God" (Matt. 22:29 NIV).
C. S. Lewis said that when Satan sends errors into the world, he sends them in pairs—extremes. Christians today are confronted with two positions regarding healing that stand in juxtaposition to each other. On the one hand, dispensationalists teach that the miracles of healing wrought by Christ, those we read about in the Gospels, were only temporal displays of His might and power, certifying His divinity, calling attention to His message, but they gradually lessened during the era of the early church. Dispensationalism teaches that after the work of redemption had been completed, after Jesus ascended to heaven and God's Word was recorded in the Bible, to give us a full understanding of His purpose and plan, miracles gradually ceased.
On the other hand, there are segments of Christendom—extreme charismatics and Pentecostals (such as the evangelist who insisted that Wesley Parker had been healed)—who believe that it is God's will that every Christian be healed because healing is part of the atonement. To validate their belief, they point to Isaiah 53:5 that states, "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed" (NIV). These words were affirmed by Peter in 1 Peter 2:24: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." Those who hold to this belief assert that, if you as a Christian are not healed, it is because you have unconfessed sin in your life or you simply do not have enough faith.
In her book A Place of Healing, Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic as the result of a diving accident, tells of one incident after a church service when she was wheeling herself across the parking lot toward her van. A young man stopped her and asked, "Are you Joni?" He explained that he was visiting her church and was hoping that he could personally pray for her healing. "I can't tell you how many people I've met over the years who've done the same thing," she told him. Assuring him that she never refused a prayer for healing, she listened as the young man brought up an obviously scripted statement:
"Have you ever considered that it might be sin standing in the way of your healing," he began, quickly adding, "or that you've disobeyed in some way?" Before Joni could answer, he opened his Bible to Mark 2, to the story of the paralytic brought to Jesus by four men. The four companions had broken through the roof and lowered the paralyzed man into the room where Jesus was.
After reading the brief passage, the stranger pointed out that if Joni would only confess her sin and have faith, then she, too, like the paralytic, would be healed. Clearly he was putting the blame on the one who was in need of healing. He said, "Joni, you must have a lack of faith. I mean, look at you. You're still in your wheelchair." Explaining that it was not the faith of the paralyzed man but the faith of the four companions that Jesus honored, Joni bounced the ball back in his court, suggesting that if he had the faith he thought she should have, then God would heal her.
Then Joni writes, "Does He always heal? Does He heal everyone who comes to Him in faith? Does He miraculously intervene in the lives of all who pray for release from migraine headaches... multiple sclerosis... prostate cancer... a bad case of the flu... or in my case, chronic pain? And if not, then why not? And why does He heal some and not others?
These questions echo the heart cries of many people who also ask: "Is the Great Physician still in business? Does He keep office hours? Is Jesus Christ really the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow? If Jesus healed when He walked the earth two thousand years ago, can He not do the same thing today?"
We are confronted with an issue: If the dispensationalists expect too little of God and the charismatics expect too much, where is God in relation to my need, my pain, and my need for healing in my broken life?
What you believe about God profoundly affects your life, your marriage, your morality, your purpose in life, your worldview, and certainly your view as to whether or not you can count on God to walk with you through the dark valleys of life, take you out of the pit when you fall, and be your Healer in the time of need.
While nature, history, science, or philosophy tell us little about God—who He is, what He does, how much He cares about us—there is a trustworthy source of knowledge about Him: the Bible. In my book Why You Can Have Confidence in the Bible, I make the case for its authenticity, credibility, and trustworthiness. I cited the abundance of manuscript evidence, the fulfilled prophecies that defy human explanation, the compelling testimony of archeology, the collation of what the Bible says with the facts of science, and the remarkable manner in which this book changes the lives of people.
I, therefore, accept at face value what the Bible tells us about God, about ourselves, and about Jesus. He walked the shores of Galilee, teaching as no other person has ever done, healing the sick, the lame, the suffering, even raising the dead on three occasions, among many other acts of love and power. I believe the four biographers—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—who wrote about how Jesus Christ was crucified at the hands of Roman soldiers, placed in a tomb for three days, but rose again and showed Himself alive beyond reasonable doubt.
Accepting the fact that God is God puts Him in a category above humankind, above time and space, and certainly above all the human logic that defines what He can do and what He cannot do. If God is God, then you and I can accept the fact that He is supernatural—period!
I also acknowledge that this book, the Bible, which countless numbers of individuals have died for rather than repudiate, tells us much about God that has been borne out by human experience down through the centuries. If God is God, then you can accept the fact that He is supernatural—period! What He does cannot always be defined in terms that I can either understand or explain; otherwise, God would simply be a reflection of ourselves—not the divine Creator who placed the stars in the firmament, the planets in orbit, and created Earth and those who live on it.
The supernatural, of course, embraces miracles, something many scientists and even a few theologians deny. What is a miracle? If you need a definition, you haven't seen one; if you have seen one, you don't need a definition.
Nonetheless, I like Lewis Smedes's definition. He wrote:
In the biblical view a miracle is a signal that God is, for a moment and for a special purpose, walking down paths he does not usually walk. A miracle is not a sign that a God who is usually absent is, for the moment, present. It is only a sign that God who is always present in creative power is working here and now in an unfamiliar style.
A miracle is the suspension of the laws of cause and effect—not a denial of them. And, yes, miracles defy human explanation. If, however, God is supernatural, on occasion He may choose to do that which is entirely outside your experience and even history itself. Never forget that the greatest miracle is that God—He who is from everlasting to everlasting—should become human flesh, born of the virgin Mary, should live a sinless life, be crucified and rise from the dead the third day. From the act of creation to the closing chapters of the book of Revelation, the Bible asserts the miraculous simply because God is God, and, furthermore, the writers of Scripture assert that God is sovereign in what He does and chooses not to do.
Over the centuries theologians have attempted to explain what God is like, defining the attributes of God. Thus we say God is eternal, unchangeable, all-knowing, wholly good, completely and absolutely just, all-powerful, faithful, compassionate, holy, among many. Yet if there is one attribute or observation about God that you need to remember especially when your body needs physical healing, it is that God is sovereign!
The first known use of the English adjective sovereign was in the fourteenth century. This Anglo-French word was used in the Vulgate and means "over," "above," or "supreme." The Greek word usually translated as sovereign is despota, which gave us the English word despot. It was used in the first century to refer to a slave owner or the master of a household. It was found in ancient manuscripts known as papyri, referring to someone who owned a ship.
Today some forty-four countries in the world are ruled by monarchs, and in these countries royalty, in various and different capacities, are considered sovereigns. Kings and queens are esteemed and enjoy rights of succession usually based on descendancy. Countries where royalty is acknowledged are considered to be kingdoms as opposed to republics, which are governed by democracy and the votes of citizens.
In order to marry the love of his life, King Edward VII of Britain abdicated the throne to marry a divorced woman, Mrs. Wallis Simpson; but normally kings and queens are there for life, unlike politicians who sometimes think the same but in reality are elected officials who can be voted out of office in the same manner they were initially elected. It is generally understood that while royalty are keenly aware of the political ramifications of what they do, they are not accountable to any save the Almighty in the same way that other government officials are.
But what of God, who has neither beginning nor end, who is the uncreated Creator, the one described as eternal God? To whom is He accountable? Have we any right to blame Him or make any demands when we don't like what He does?
Should you have the privilege of ever being invited to have an audience with Queen Elizabeth of Britain, you would be advised of protocol—how you should approach her majesty, the proper manner in which you should bow or curtsy, the fact that you should not touch even her hand unless she first offers it to you, and how you should make your exit. You wouldn't expect to give her a bear hug like you would a friend or indulge in trivial nonsense as you might with an old classmate you had not seen for some time. You do not sit down and negotiate with someone who is a sovereign, suggesting, "Let's make a deal!" as many people do with God.
In the days of the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—there were two kinds of covenants, or legal contracts as we would think of them today. One kind reflected an agreement between two equals—say, neighbors resolving a dispute over property boundaries, or merchants agreeing on the terms of doing business together—stipulations and consequences of failure. The other kind of covenant was that of a sovereign who blesses his subjects, giving them what they neither deserve nor could purchase. This latter kind comprises the covenants God made with Israel.
There is, however, one significant difference between your relationship with the Triune God, who sent His Son to Earth, and how you would approach a king or queen who is sovereign of an earthly kingdom. If you have been adopted into the family of God, you are God's child. You are a new person. Your sins have been forgiven. Your past is covered with the blood of Christ; and, according to Hebrews 4, you can come boldly, unannounced, and enter into His presence anytime, anywhere. In his book Miraculous Healings, Henry Frost writes, "There are two words which would bring to me the assurance that God, from time to time, will give healing to His children, even if there was not another word in the Bible concerning the matter. I refer to the Lord's Prayer and the words, 'Our Father' (Matt. 6:9)."
An incident I watched on TV in 1962 well illustrates the privilege of God's children in relation to our Father. The United States was then engrossed in a ferocious struggle with the USSR over the issue of Russian missiles being planted in Cuba, within easy reach of cities on the eastern seaboard. President John F. Kennedy was in the Oval Office meeting with key advisors when a side door opened and four-year-old John-John, the president's son, came in. The president, seeing the little boy, walked over and picked him up. He sat him on his knee for a few minutes, then put the lad down, who exited as he came in, and the discussion of the serious affairs of the state continued. So, too, can we who are His children have access at any time to our Father's presence.
But even going beyond the warmth of the term "father," the apostle Paul uses an expression for God as Father, the Aramaic word Abba. Aramaic was the Hebrew dialect spoken in Jesus' day. With no direct English equivalent of the word Abba, the closest term for Abba is what little children often use for their father—Daddy or Papa.
If God is your heavenly Father, then you can come into His presence as Jesus taught, praying, "Our Father in heaven." However, does this mean you can demand of the Sovereign God, ordering Him to do your will, holding Him accountable when you ask for something—perhaps healing—and you don't get what you want? Do you hold Him accountable for all sickness, suffering, and injustice in the world? Are you then entitled to think of Him as being indifferent, impotent, or far removed from your need?
"Dear Teacher," read the message on a get-well-soon card a teacher received from her class. "We wish you a speedy recovery by a vote of 14 to 13." Yes, indeed. That's a democracy, where the majority decides what happens. But with God no votes are taken. Public opinion doesn't cause Him to change His mind or thinking. His kingdom has no elected officials. Because God is sovereign, what He wills is absolute.
Since God is sovereign and I am His child, what are the benefits of believing that He—not fate or chance—rules the day? Allow me to focus on several benefits for you:
Benefit 1: The burden of bearing the responsibility for running the world—even the circumstances of your own personal life—has been lifted from your shoulders. A pundit once said if you want to get along with the king, stay off his throne. The day you resign from being the CEO of the universe will be the best day of your life. That good news is exactly what Paul was driving at when he wrote, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28 NIV). Underline the words "we know." Notice that the verse does not say "we hope," not "we think," or even "we believe." Also underline the phrase, "God works." The outcome isn't dependent on your clever manipulation of the circumstances. You are not the one who has to make it happen; God is! And you can trust the Father.
This also means that the circumstances that confront you are a matter of God's sovereign will—not His failure, weakness, or indifference—and they have been allowed in order to accomplish what may never be fully understood. The British-born evangelist and Bible teacher Allan Redpath knew both illness and deep depression. Understanding that nothing happens to us apart from the Father's hand, he wrote, "There is no circumstance, no trouble, no testing, that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose."
Benefit 2: You will receive a sense of wholeness and peace as your inheritance. You may not understand everything God does. Whether or not you understand everything isn't important because God has not given you the burden of understanding but the yoke of simple obedience. When we think, as we sometimes do, that nothing is happening, something of which you may be totally unaware is happening as God is quietly working in ways you cannot see. Knowing that He's sovereign and in charge allows you to rest in the confidence that because He is in control, you can turn off the light at night and say, "God, You take over the night shift. I'm going to sleep." I take great heart in the phrase that God neither slumbers nor sleeps (see Ps. 121:4).
The daughter of an engineer, who works in a power plant in one of Norway's fjords, used to ride an open cable car up the steep incline of the face of the fjord to get to school. One day a visiting stranger, having been to the power plant on business, rode up with the little girl. He clutched his seat tightly. The little girl, on the other hand, appeared nonchalant. "Aren't you afraid?" he asked her. "Oh, not at all," she replied, adding, "Father is at the controls; and when he's in charge, I know that everything will be all right."
Accepting the truth that God is sovereign gives you confidence that our world is not under the control of mad men, no matter what the media tell us.
Benefit 3: A sense of security both spiritually and emotionally. Jesus told His disciples that they did not choose Him; rather, He chose them. How does that translate? If you are a believer, this means drawing from Ephesians 1—God chose you before the foundation of the world. You are no chance of fate, no accident of your parents. You are a unique person made in the image of God, and He chose you to be His son or daughter.
Benefit 4: You will have confidence that God listens to you when you pray. Because you are God's child, you can come boldly into the presence of the Father. He sorts out the foolish things you and I ask for and gives us what we really need. He does this because of His great love for us as His children. Take time to read Romans 8, especially the last portion where Paul so beautifully says that nothing can separate us from the love of this sovereign, caring God, neither now nor for all eternity.
Benefit 5: You will have the potential of becoming the person God intended you to be. As His child you are a unique individual who can discover that your weakness can become God's strength. Consider George Washington Carver (1864-1943), the son of slave parents, and an American botanist who became famous for discovering more than three hundred uses for the lowly peanut. The story goes that Carver once asked God, "Lord, what is the universe?" God said, "George, that's too big for your little head. Suppose you let Me take care of the universe." Greatly humbled, the scientist asked, "Then, Lord, if the universe is too big for me to understand, please tell me, what is a peanut?" And then the Lord answered, "Now George, you've got something your own size. A peanut can understand a peanut; go to work on the peanut while I run the universe."
Carver was a gifted and unique individual who overcame tremendous obstacles—race, prejudice, and environmental and physical challenges. Like him each of us is confronted with different challenges, yet knowing that you are God's child and nothing is beyond His power—no person, no situation, no disease, no evil—allows you then to concentrate on fulfilling His purpose for your life.
Carver discovered that if farmers would grow peanuts on the soil that had been depleted of nutrients by years and years of growing cotton, indispensable nitrogen would be put back into the soil. Then he went to work finding uses for the crop in order to make the growing of peanuts financially rewarding. From peanuts Carver made cheese, milk, butter, flour, ink, dyes, soap, stains, and many other substances.
Ethel Waters was right when she said, "God don't make no junk!" As His child you are a unique individual who can discover that your weakness can become God's strength
Benefit 6: You will have increased faith that God will honor the promises of His Word and bring healing and wholeness to your brokenness. God wills healing and restoration for your broken life—emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
The will of the Father was lived out in the life of the Son of whom John wrote, "In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:4-5). Satan, God's archenemy, is described as a destroyer; but God is always associated with life and healing. In John 10:10, Jesus says, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." He also tells us, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
It is God's nature to bring healing to our brokenness, whether it is emotional, spiritual, or physical. A crimson thread of healing is woven throughout Scripture, beginning with the skins of animals that were slain by God Himself in the garden to provide a covering for our first parents' nakedness, to the closing chapters of Revelation—all of which reveal that healing is reflective of God's nature and character. He stands in marked contrast to Satan, described throughout Scripture as apollyon or the destroyer.
In his seminal book Life in the Trinity, Don Fairbairn, a Ph.D. from Cambridge, points out that what is true of the Father is true of the Son, and what is true of the Father and the Son is true of the Holy Spirit as the third person of the trinity. We do not worship three gods but one, and the life that was lived by Jesus for some thirty-three years on Earth was a reflection of the Father's heart and character. "Whoever has seen me," Jesus told Philip, "has seen the Father" (John 14:9).
Christ's sovereignty in healing was expressed in various ways, such as the following:
1. He chose whom He healed. No, Jesus did not heal everyone who was sick during His brief ministry of thirty-six to forty-two months, yet several times we are told that He healed everyone who came to Him. More about this in subsequent chapters.
2. He chose the manner in which the healings took place and the conditions attached to them. "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam," He told the blind man (John 9:7). He healed this man by applying mud on his eyes but healed another by spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on them. Why? Most responses to that question are simply conjectures. Because Jesus did nothing without reasons, what He did not reveal cannot always be explained.
3. He healed sicknesses physicians of the first century could not cure. (Yes, there were doctors in Jesus' day, including Luke the physician, the author of the Gospel that bears his name as well as the book of Acts.) There are no records of Jesus healing illnesses such as a cold or the flu, toothaches, bruises, or upset stomachs. It wasn't that He could not, but the writers of Scripture focused on His bringing healing to ailments for which there were no human cures, thus demonstrating that He cured what only God could cure.
4. He chose a total of eighty-four individuals—twelve disciples and the seventy-two who were empowered to heal the sick and cast out demons. Then in the book of Acts we find four more who were thus empowered—Stephen, Barnabas, Philip, and Paul. Mark tells us that when Jesus began His ministry, He "called to him those whom he desired" (Mark 3:13). The Greek text is even more emphatic, stating that "he called unto himself those whom he himself wanted." Then again in the Upper Room, immediately before His crucifixion Jesus reiterated, "You did not choose me, but I chose you" (John 15:16).
Ask yourself a question: "Which of us, Lord, shall really be sovereign—You or me?" I seriously doubt that you will ever hear someone voice that line in his prayers, yet this issue has confronted almost everyone at some point in his or her spiritual walk. It is the issue of control, the question of who really is in charge—God or you?
Jesus, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating as it were great drops of blood, struggled with this tremendous issue. Never before had He been separated from the presence of the Father. Seeing the black cloud overshadowing the cross, He prayed, "Let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done!"
Some contend, mistakenly I believe, that because God is sovereign, He is going to do exactly what He pleases. To pray, therefore, about a situation would be an exercise in futility. They believe that even before the world was created, God had decreed that certain things would happen and those things will happen regardless of my prayers or my human will. This thinking can have a chilling effect on my health and happiness, especially when I am on the receiving end of illness.
Others believe that by pleading and even demanding, they can get their way. Both beliefs are incorrect. Do you want to be like Jesus? Then pray as though everything depends on God, and live as though everything depends on you. Understand that God is a good God and He wills His best for you as His child. Remember that Jesus asked, "What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?" (Luke 11:11-12). When you understand God's nature and His design and plan for your life, the issue of "which of us is going to be in control—You or me?" dissipates in the light of His love and care.
Prayer doesn't change God's mind, but it changes our minds, bringing our stubborn, rebellious, sometimes selfish wills into harmony with the will of a sovereign Father so that we can pray with faith and fervency: "Lord, may Your will be done."
What You Need to Know