Why Doesn’t God Heal?
Jesus heals a lot. That’s pretty obvious when you read the pages of Mark’s gospel. It’s why N.T. Wright was forced to conclude that:
Jesus was not primarily a ‘teacher’ in the sense that we usually give that word. Jesus did things and then commented on them, explained them, challenged people to figure out what they meant. He acted practically and symbolically, not least through his remarkable works of healing – works that today all but the most extreme sceptics are forced to regard as in principle historical ... Jesus soon became better known for healing than baptizing. And it was his remarkable healings, almost certainly, that won him a hearing. He was not a teacher who also healed; he was a prophet of the kingdom, first enacting and then explaining that kingdom.1
But if we read the pages of Mark’s gospel slowly then we notice that there are also many occasions when Jesus doesn’t heal. Despite the cries of the crowds in Capernaum, he goes elsewhere (1:35-38). When the Pharisees ask him to perform a miracle, he refuses and sails to the opposite shore (8:11-13). When he arrives in the city of Tyre, Mark tells us that “he entered a house and did not want anyone to know it” (7:24). When he arrives in Bethsaida, a blind man receives only partial healing the first time that Jesus prays for him (8:22-26). We should find this very encouraging, because there are also many times in our own lives when we fail to experience Jesus’ healing power. Are we therefore doing something wrong? That’s the question which Mark tries to answer for us at the end of part two of his gospel.
When Peter, James and John come down from Mount Hermon, they discover that their friends are in trouble. The remaining nine disciples are attempting to heal the crowds whilst Jesus is away on the mountain. They have gathered around a mute and deaf boy who is also suffering from the symptoms which we would normally associate with epilepsy. No quantity of praying or shouting or binding or loosing or commanding has resulted in the boy’s healing. They are frustrated and confused, the boy’s father is distraught, and the boy himself is as mute and deaf and epileptic as before. It’s a bit of a mess. It’s rather like our own experience when we try to heal people in Jesus’ name.
Mark does not tell us what the teachers of the law are arguing about in verse 14, but we can guess. They are probably berating the nine disciples for raising the boy’s hopes by praying for his healing. Do they not realise that the Old Testament promises about healing are simply metaphors for God’s work of spiritual salvation? Are they not embarrassed that events have proved that they are presumptuous and pastorally insensitive? It is hard to fault their logic. Nine apostles, each with a successful track record of driving out demons and healing the sick, have prayed long and hard for this boy to be healed. Surely this is an open-and-shut case of God simply not being willing to heal?
If Jesus had not appeared at that moment with Peter, James and John, we might be tempted to come to that conclusion. It is certainly tempting to come to that conclusion today whenever we pray for people and see nothing. Yet Jesus heals the boy instantly with a simple command. He tells the disciples that their problem is not presumption but unbelief, not believing too much of God but too little. “You unbelieving race,” he chides the Jewish teachers in front of the largely pagan crowd. “How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” He rebukes the boy’s father for his ambivalent faith: “‘If you can’? Everything is possible for one who believes.” Mark therefore assures us that God wants to heal people even when we fail to see healing. He highlights three key factors which will help us to see more healings when we pray.
First, Mark draws our attention to the presence of God. In Exodus 34:29-30, the face of Moses shone brightly when he descended from God’s presence on Mount Sinai. In the same way, Mark tells us literally that the crowds were “struck with terror” when they saw Jesus after his transfiguration. Something of his heavenly glory evidently still lingered, convincing the demon that there was no way it could resist him. After a last-ditch attempt to harm the boy, it flees in fear. The more we grasp of Jesus’ glory and the more we receive his presence through the Holy Spirit, the more we will see healing.
Second, Mark draws our attention to the promises of God. Jesus does not rebuke his disciples for being too weak for the demon. He was never under any illusions about their strength. He rebukes them for their failure to grasp the strength which we have over demons and sicknesses through God’s promises. There is no beatitude which tells us that blessed are those who expect little from God for they shall not be disappointed. On the contrary, Jesus says the following throughout Mark’s gospel: “Your faith has healed you … Don’t be afraid; just believe … Have faith in God … Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” The scope of Jesus’ promises is too wide and God’s desire to heal is too great for you ever to believe too much of him. We can only ever believe too little.
Third, Mark draws our attention to the power of God. When the disciples press him to explain further why they were unable to heal the boy themselves, he teaches them that some types of demons and sicknesses are harder to dislodge than others. We need to be strengthened through private prayer if we want to move in greater public power. Our expectations must not be shaped by our past discouragements. They must be shaped by our daily experience of the Holy Spirit clothing us with God’s power.
Let’s settle in our hearts that God wants to heal far more than we see at present. Let’s pray with this boy’s father in verse 24: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
This blog is taken from a chapter in Phil Moore’s new book, Straight to the Heart of Mark, published on 1st May.
To read more chapters, go to www.philmoorebooks.com
1. NT Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, 2015