The Bible, Healing, and the ASA

Last week, the ASA seemed to end up ruling that you can’t claim that God heals people. This is in response to a flyer on the HOTS Bath area website (HOTS = Healing On The Streets). For the whole story of why the complaint was made, check out this blog post (written by the person who originally made the complaint).

Now, I’m not really going to go into the details of the ASA ruling. I think it’s a bit heavy-handed, to be honest. My main reason for thinking that is they’ve basically outlawed claiming that God can heal – not that he will heal. This seems a bit bizarre to me: clearly a God who is incapable of healing anyone is not a God who is worth believing in. I think the question of ‘evidence’ is just a red herring, given that these claims are not on the same level as someone who (for example) claims that homeopathy can prevent malaria. They’re not trying to usurp medical authority, or stop people using the ordinary methods of healing. If the ASA make no provision for religious claims at all, then ‘the law is an ass’.

Still, that’s all I want to say about that topic, though – I want to deal more with the issue of healing from a theological perspective. I just wanted to pose the question: “What does God say about healing?” And, more specifically in this case, what does God say about the kind of healing which HOTS speak about?

I think the Bible is clear that healing can and does happen. There are many miracles of Jesus’ healing recorded, and the book of James doesn’t mince its words: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.” (James 5:14-15, NIV translation).

It seems pretty unequivocal, doesn’t it? Although this may not be a helpful translated of the original – the Greek verb used is sōzō, which means to save or heal (In the more literal ESV translation, it is rendered as ‘saved’). In this case, it could refer to physical healing or it could refer to spiritual salvation. Perhaps both.

There’s an intriguing story in Matthew 13:53-58 about Jesus going back to his home town. Matthew adds a little comment: “he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” What’s going on here? Is Jesus unable to heal them because he’s run out of power? Not quite. I think what’s happening is not that Jesus couldn’t heal people – but that healing them would have been pointless: John’s gospel consistently uses the word ‘signs’ of Jesus’ miracles. Miracles aren’t just there in a vacuum, they point to something: they point to Jesus being the Christ, the redeemer, the saviour. The people of Nazareth were hardened against Jesus, unable to accept that he was the Christ – and as such, healing them would have produced no fruit in that regard.

Jesus performing miracles without people believing in him would have been inconsistent with his mission. This is an extract of the New Bible Dictionary article on ‘Signs’, which puts it far more eloquently than I could:

The real significance of the miracles of Jesus is that they point forward to Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, to the transformation brought by the new age of the Spirit, and thus lead to a faith in Jesus the (crucified) Christ, the (risen) Son of God. … Consequently a faith based or nurtured exclusively on signs, rather than on the reality to which they point, is immature and at grave risk. Mature faith rejoices in what signs it perceives, but does not depend on them.

The significance of that, with respect to HOTS, is that it seems to me HOTS are offering ‘healing’ on its own, without any other stuff about believing in Jesus. And I’m just not sure that’s a Biblical model of healing.

God can, and does, heal. But I think any healing promised apart from faith in the risen Christ is on shaky ground. I’m sure God does use it nonetheless – perhaps some people are healed and then convicted that it was God who healed them and then go on to believe.

But I think it’s important to remember that there is a kind of healing which is more important than physical healing: the healing of a broken relationship with God. Physical healing is good, but only inasmuch as it points us to the risen Saviour.

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5 thoughts on “The Bible, Healing, and the ASA

  1. “The significance of that, with respect to HOTS, is that it seems to me HOTS are offering ‘healing’ on its own, without any other stuff about believing in Jesus. And I’m just not sure that’s a Biblical model of healing”

    I don’t agree with that at all, 9 of the ten healed of leprosy didn’t acknowlege Jesus for who he was, they just cleared off. the soldiers ear was healed by Jesus without any element of faith that it colud happen being shown by him. you could also discuss where was the ‘belief’ in those who he raised from the dead, or those he freed from evil spirits, the spirits might have recogined Jesus but did the people themselves?

    HOTS is a biblical model of healing, thats why people are being healed week by week, including those who are prayed for by proxy who record being healed at the time they are prayed for even when they didn’t know it was happening.

    God is good and amazing and sometimes does things that just blow your mind, don’t try to squeeze him into your own(or what you have been taught) small box

    • Hi Graham,

      Many thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      I’m not sure I share your understanding of those passages. It’s definitely true that Jesus healed people who didn’t then go on to believe in him, as far as we know from the gospels (although it’s a bit open-ended, rather than saying they didn’t believe it generally just doesn’t specify). But yes, I take your point that Jesus healed people without faith.

      But I probably should have been clearer in my post – those things all pointed to him being Messiah.

      In Matthew 11, John the Baptist sends a message to ask Jesus the question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replies, saying “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosyb are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

      The point is, whether faith exists in the person who was healed or not, or whether they then believed or not, it all functioned to point to Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah. The signs weren’t (just) for the people who were healed – they were for everyone, to demonstrate that Jesus did indeed hold the keys of the Kingdom of God.

      I’m not at all trying to squeeze God into a little box, I’m not denying that he can and does heal! But what does concern me is a healing ministry which divorces the healing from a true saving relationship from the One who heals. If that’s not an accurate picture of HOTS then I do apologise, it was just the impression I got from reading the publicity etc.

      In Christ,

      Phill

  2. Phil
    Again we seem to disagree
    “The signs weren’t (just) for the people who were healed – they were for everyone,” Errr No not allways. Jesus often told those he healed not to tell anyone. see Matt 9:30, 12:26, Mark 7:36 etc.
    I think we both know the reason he did this, it wasn’t time for him to announce that he is the messiah when he told them to be quiet.

    So I don’t think the signs were always just for everyone.

    I think the key with healing is the great commission, matt 28:18-20 Jesus sends out the disciples to go and make disciples, teaching them everything he has commanded them, what has he commanded them to do. luke 9:2 and 10:9. along with telling them the kingdom of God is near, he also tells them to heal the sick.
    That commission is for us and HOTS is part of how the church is responding to that calling.

    It would be really good if you found out what the theology behind HOTS is, you would also see the material that is given to those who are prayed for, you may find that some of your unrest is eased. It would be better to go on a training day than just accept a picture of HOTS from “reading the publicity etc” .

    If I seem passionate, it’s because I spent too many years in churches being told that God doesn’t heal today, only to find out that not only does he heal but heals in responce to my prayers as well.

    yours Graham

    PS also an ordinand

    • Hi Graham,

      I agree with your assessment of why Jesus told people not to tell anyone about him. I don’t think that’s incompatible with what I said though. You could say those miracles were for us today who believe through the Bible.

      I also think you’re reading too much into the great commission. It seems to me that making disciples is the most important thing. He doesn’t say, “go, heal people, and if you’re able to make a few disciples along the way, great!”

      I don’t have the time right now to do any HOTS training but it would be good to try and understand the theological position. I’m sorry you had a bad experience in church before about being told healing doesn’t happen, I don’t agree with that view but I think it’s important in an area like this to get our priorities right.

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