In Matthew, Jesus tells us, “For truly I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
Sounds great, right? But I have a confession. My mustard-seed faith is not moving any mountains.
My family and I have intimate experience with chronic pain and illness. We’ve asked why. We’ve grieved. We’ve prayed. We’ve grown angry. We pray some more. And somehow, we still believe in the goodness of God.
Even when he keeps good things from us. Even when the mountains don’t move.
For those of us who are not-yet healed, this is our daily cross. God’s goodness, faithfulness, loving kindness, power, glory—we believe in all of it even if our experience doesn’t seem to match up with Who we know God to be. We know He is good. We know He is faithful. We know He gives us strength. We still believe He is Yahweh.
So why does Yahweh keep good things from his children? The healing hasn’t come. And it’s not like we haven’t asked.
Boy, have we asked.
We’ve asked so often that we feel like we should stop asking so we don’t annoy God or push Him away. We are the obnoxious toddler on a road trip who incessantly asks, “Are we there yet?” It’s exhausting.
If God has in His power the ability to heal sickness, expel demons, transplant mountains, invoke the dead to breathe, to create life, why hasn’t He healed the people we care about?
There is Scripture that many people think is helpful—tips, if you will—on how we can do all the right things so we can experience healing.
They reference Matthew 7, saying we need only ask, and we will receive. And Matthew 17, that our faith only need be the size of a mustard seed, and nothing will be impossible. They reference the Psalms, about delighting in the Lord that he may give us the desires of our hearts. Or 2 Chronicles 7, which says humbly turning from sin and wickedness will move the Lord to “heal [the] land.”
Their intentions are good. But these verses are often taken out of context, and in so doing, the grand picture of healing that the entire Bible paints is lost. Those who are already suffering are inflicted with guilt and shame because they are told they don’t have enough faith, that they aren’t a good enough Christian to be healed, or that their own sin is making them sick.
The truth is sometimes the healing doesn’t come, and it’s not because there isn’t enough faith. You see, there are countless stories of faithful, prayerful people never being healed. Faithful people may be healed—or not. (Ever heard of Job?)
In 2 Corinthians 12:8-9, Paul speaks of his own battle with some unknown, unrelenting condition he calls a thorn.
… A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me … Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this [thorn], that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
Now that is faith.
He acknowledged the present reality of the thorn and in the same breath acknowledged God’s goodness, and when he was told, “No,” he acknowledged the grace and power God had given him in the midst of his pain.
But Kelsey, you say, when Jesus healed, he often mentioned faith. Yes. I get it. Faith is necessary to experience the divine. The error is not in saying that experience healing requires faith. The error is in the assumption that when there is no healing, a lack of faith is to blame.
Because I have yet to be healed, but it’s not because I don’t have faith. I do.
Everyday, I wake up trusting in something that I cannot see. I believe in the goodness of God even when he keeps something good from me and the people I love for no apparent reason.
The sick, the dying, the inflicted, the depressed, the anxious, the afflicted, the lonely, the disenfranchised, the widow, the barren, the lost, and the hurting who never receive what they ceaselessly pray for, never taste of the things they’ve been promised—they know exactly what faith is, and they have a lot of it.
They live in the tension of faith–of the believing but never seeing–every second of every day. They are patient in their affliction and faithful in their prayer even when they hear absolutely nothing from God, and even when God says, “No,” for the 1000th time, and it feels more like a middle finger than an act of sovereignty.
Scripture says the definition of faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). For the chronically ill, to believe in God’s gracious sovereignty is a faith refined day in and day out by the fire of pain and illness that is unrelenting and nonsensical.
Chapter 11 of Hebrews tells the story of the heroes of faith like Abraham, Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Sarah. In faith, they went out on a some pretty flimsy limbs, trusting that God would catch them if the limb cracked. Many times, God did just that. For example, Abraham and Sarah gave birth to son amidst old age and barrenness, and from that line came “descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore” (v. 12b).
But not everyone experienced such tangible healing. Verse 13 speaks of those that “died in faith, not having received the things promised.”
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment… They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised … (vv. 35-40).
These people were faithful, but healing didn’t come. They died without receiving their promise, but it wasn’t because they stopped believing in God’s goodness. The passage makes sure to note that though they never saw their promises come to fruition, their faith was never in question.
There are people who likewise could be commended through their faith but never receive what is promised: healing.
But God is still good. So we choose to believe that.
Then we hear stories of healing, and we rejoice—rightfully so! But there are some of us sitting in the back pew wondering why it’s them and not us. What am I doing wrong? we wonder.
One thing is for certain: we need to stop telling the sick that it is a lack of faith keeps them from experiencing God’s goodness. It’s quite possible that they have more than we think. While their experiences have shown that God is keeping good things from them, they make a choice every day to find faith enough to believe in a good, loving God. As Alister McGrath explains in Mystery of the Cross, those who are chronically ill choose to believe “God is active and present in his world, quite independently of whether [they] experience him as being so.”
There is a fabulous article from Relevant Magazine titled “Testimonies of the Not-Yet Healed,” and the author mentions that every believer “lives a story charged with suspense,” but we don’t always hear those stories. Those suspenseful stories are those of the not-yet-healed, and many of us don’t want to speak up for fear we will be told we are faithless and mongering. The article explains:
Today many of our churches believe that to be a Christian, to have any testimony at all, requires that one be whole and happy. We have no Pauls with thorns in the flesh, no Timothys with frequent ailments, no terminally ill Elishas—or if we do, we accuse them of lacking the faith to be healed, instantly and completely. We fail to perceive that, if we live long enough, this theology will banish every one of us to the shadows. We have no place for broken vessels, with Jesus’ life and power revealed through cracks and amid putrescence. We will honor Epaphroditus only when he becomes camera-ready, or for an hour when he dies.
Truth is, none of us are camera-ready. Don’t you think the Church is ready for the stories of the not-yet-healed? I for one love hearing the stories about God shining through our cracks and chips, wiping away our tears, and giving us strength to live in light of Heaven even when life puts us through hell because I want to know that it’s not just me and my loved ones who have asked for the thorn to be removed to no avail.