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 For the whole story of why the complaint was made, check out this blog post (written by the person who originally made the complaint).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.