Our Diseases He Will Heal
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One of my favorite hymns from our hymnal is “Bless the Lord Eternal, O My Soul” (p. 63, United Church of God Hymnal, music by Dwight Armstrong). It is based on Psalm 103, which in part talks about God healing us. Verses 2-3 read: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases” (emphasis added throughout).
My father died in 2019 from Alzheimer’s, even after months of prayers. A good friend died this past summer after a short battle with COVID-19, despite the fact that I fervently prayed for him many times. Even now, as I write this article, my mother-in-law is in the hospital, battling the effects of COVID-19. And although her prognosis is good, she has certainly suffered a great deal and has been left very weak.
Have you ever known anyone who had a serious health issue? Maybe someone like a sibling, parent, grandparent or close friend. Maybe even yourself. Perhaps you’ve spent time praying to God, asking Him to heal them, but they never improved. Maybe, in spite of your heartfelt prayers, not only did they not get better, they died. How did that make you feel? Were you upset or angry because it felt like God didn’t hear you or care about what you or your loved one needed? These are fair questions, and ones I’ve asked myself many times.
Why doesn’t God always answer our prayers for those who are suffering and in need of a miracle?
The short answer is: He does answer our prayers. But sometimes, the answer is not the one we had hoped for.
The answer we hope for
Obviously, when it says that God will heal our diseases, our first thought is: “I’ll get better soon.” This can be the answer and is often the case. Sometimes, God heals things like cancer through a direct, miraculous intervention—something that baffles doctors and scientists. Other times, He heals it by allowing the body to fight off things like a virus by the natural means He’s designed. It might take a few days or weeks, but with enough rest and good food, your body heals on its own.
Sometimes though, our body can’t quite heal without a little help. If we’re sick and after a few days we seem to be getting worse and not better, it would be wise to seek medical help. Seeing a doctor is NOT a lack of faith or trust in God’s promises. God has allowed human beings to develop medicines that work in conjunction with how He designed the body to work. If you’ve ever had a bad cut that got infected, you might have taken an antibiotic to help your body heal. While the antibiotics are man-made, their invention by scientists was possible because of the minds that God gave them (great apes are not inventing antibiotics).
The answer we don’t want
Sometimes the answer we actually get is the opposite of what we prayed for. Sometimes people who are sick die, or perhaps worse, linger on, slowly getting worse. As I mentioned, I had the unfortunate experience of watching my father die from Alzheimer’s. It’s a slow process and, although he wasn’t in pain, it was excruciating for the rest of the family to see. His body kept shutting down, one part at a time, until he could no longer eat and eventually died.
After watching this happen for several months, I have to admit that more than sadness or anger, once he finally passed away, I felt a sense of relief. Why did I feel this way? Consider the next verse in Psalm 103: “Who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies.” God had mercifully ended both his and our family’s suffering. Sometimes, death is a merciful answer.
While the death of my father felt like a merciful release from a trial, every situation is different. My dad was 83 when he died, and I—the youngest of his children—was 43. His death was hardly unexpected to our family. For those who lose a loved one who hasn’t lived a long, full life, death probably does not feel like an act of mercy from God.
This is where we can focus on the lovingkindness God promises. Lovingkindness is a term that reflects God’s love and compassion toward human beings. While the loss of a loved one —especially at a young age—is incredibly painful and difficult to accept and understand, we can take comfort in God’s promise to crown us with lovingkindness while grieving in times of personal tragedy.
As friends and family to those in mourning, we can help reflect this attitude as well. Consider what James, the brother of Jesus said in James 1:27, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble . . .” James was speaking from firsthand experience. His father seems to have died at a young age, and his older brother, Jesus Christ, died at age 33. Here, James reminds us that we should show love, support and mercy toward those coping with the loss of a loved one.
A harder answer yet
Perhaps the most difficult situation is not when someone dies, but when their situation doesn’t change. It can feel like God has totally ignored our prayers. But sometimes, the answer is that we have to endure illness, disease and other trials our entire lifetime.
The apostle Paul was in this exact situation. Although we don’t know exactly what his ailment was, we do know he asked God to heal him of it—three different times! The answer he received was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Here, the Lord told him that even though Paul would have to continue to deal with his illness, God would give him the strength to endure.
It’s at this point that the first part of Psalm 103:4 is helpful: “Who redeems your life from destruction.” If God isn’t going to heal us now, what does it mean that He is going to “redeem our life from destruction”?
To redeem something can be translated as “to buy back.” While our first thought might be that this is God telling us He will save our lives when we are sick, the meaning is deeper than that. What it points to is the fact that God owns our lives—they belong to Him. Why is that important?
God does promise healing, but we have to understand it’s not always in this lifetime. We understand the Bible teaches that there will be a resurrection; in fact, more than one! The first is a resurrection for those who have died full of faith and living in obedience to God. Those in the First Resurrection will be given a spirit body, which cannot get sick or die! (see 1 Corinthians 15:50-54).
The Second Resurrection is for those who never really understood who God is or what His purpose for mankind is. After being resurrected to a physical body, they will be taught these things and have an opportunity at eternal life. If they are willing to obey God, they, too, will be given a spirit body, impervious to death and disease, just like those in the First Resurrection (see Revelation 20:11-15).
Our lives are redeemed by God. They belong to Him. He will choose, in His time, when to restore our health—now, or after resurrection.
(For more about the resurrections, check out the UCG booklet Fundamental Beliefs of the United Church of God and read the chapter called “The Resurrections and Eternal Judgment.”).
So what’s the answer
Ultimately, when we pray to God for healing, we are asking Him for an answer. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes it is no, and sometimes it’s “not yet.” While some of these answers are easier to accept than others, we can take comfort knowing that—in His perfect timing—God will answer our prayers, and heal all our diseases! CC