We frequently talk about healing in the Christian church from a reductionist and compartmentalized perspective. For so many Christians healing is simply about miracles in which terminal diseases disappear, impossible cures are discovered, and crowds of people press against a stage where a minister stands extending his or her arms toward the crowed proclaiming great things in the name of Christ. Healing is considered miraculous and intended for the physical realm. I do believe in the healing power of prayer, the gracious gift some men and women have to perform miraculous healings, and the active outpouring of the Holy Spirit through the charismatic gifts. I just believe there’s more to the biblical understanding of healing than the manifest miracles we fixate upon because of their extraordinary quality.
I believe just as the secular materialist too easily dismisses the spiritual realm many Christians too easily dismiss the importance of other realms of being. One must care for their physical well-being as intentionally as their spiritual well-being yet many spiritually minded people are quite content to ignore their bodies because they believe them to be less important. To ignore your physical health is to ignore an aspect of who you are. Likewise, if you ignore your emotional, cognitive, and social relationships, you’re not caring for yourself in a holistic way. Healing, when it occurs, touches all these spheres of being human. Sometimes healing addresses one sphere of human need more than another, but healing impacts our whole being when we make ourselves receptive to its power. When our bodies are healed in some way our souls are healed as well. When our emotions are disturbed our bodies, minds, spirit, and even relationships suffer because of it. Disease impacts the whole person, not just one sphere of the human condition. To be fully healed means to be touched at all levels of existence, and sometimes the healing is less obvious than the great physical healings we look for.
I did a presentation on healing at a lovely church in Virginia Beach called Holy Apostles. They’re doing a whole series on healing in the Christian tradition. When preparing that presentation, I was struck at how the bible addresses healing. Healing is often presented as a holistic experience; one in which not only are bodily issues addressed, but intellectual, emotional, relational, and spiritual issues as well. For example, the end result of healing, what we call health, is usually described as “shalom.” We frequently translate that word to mean peace which isn’t wrong but doesn’t seem to capture the whole meaning of the word. Yes, it does mean peace, but it also means a great deal more. It’s not only the type or peace which implies a lack of discord with others, it also means to be complete, to have soundness in body, mind, and spirit. It means to experience safety and to have contentment. It’s a holistic experience. In short, it’s a true experience of health.
Another thing important to remember about healing is it’s always an ongoing process. Perhaps this is more obvious in the mental health field than in the medical field. When someone comes to see a therapist much of the healing work is done outside the meeting and at the client’s pace. Even after intense emotional discomfort passes many clients continue to work on healing over a period of time. In this life healing is part of the process leading us to experience the ultimate healing found in our salvation. Healing is after all, the restoration of what disease, caused by sin, has separated and broken. Both personal sin and general sin have impacted who we are and have created a situation in which people need healed. That healing experience begins in this life at the cross. We read this in Isaiah:
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our inequities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
Historically, Christians have identified this passage as pointing to the sacrifice of Christ. In Christ’s sacrifice God gives us salvation which brings us peace (Shalom) and healing (Rapha). I have already discussed the word shalom, but let me break down the word Rapha as well to continue demonstrating the holistic nature of biblical healing. Rapha means the following:
- To make healthful
- To sew together, to mend, to repair
- It means the healing of people but also of other elements of creation such as the land and the water.
- It means to comfort the broken hearted and the lonely
If we take the Isaiah passage to be a prophetic witness to the crucifixion of Christ, then in it we see the salvific sacrifice of Jesus as more than providing a path for our souls to get to heaven. The sacrifice of Christ becomes a way of mending and healing our whole existence in a holistic way; a way allowing an internal healing of body, mind, soul, relationships, and spirit as well as an interpersonal healing with God first, one another, and the created order. Healing is more than the experience of a miracle removing disease, it’s a holistic experience, a “sewing together” of that which sin has pulled apart. Remember, sin divides. It divides humanity from God, people from one another, and creation from humanity (Read the curses of the fall in Genesis chapter 3). Yet the grace which flows from the cross is a uniting force in the world. It’s a healing force. It heals the division between God and humanity and it restores human beings so they may experience the fullness of life when Christ returns. We may still die and become separated from our bodies now, but the restoring work of the cross promises us when Christ returns our bodies and souls will once again live in a restored integrated condition. Lastly, the work of the cross heals all of creation and once again, when Christ returns people will live in harmony with creation (see Paul’s letter to the Romans, particularly chapter 8 verse 22).
A further word to explore connecting healing with salvation is the Greek word “sozo.” This word occurs 120 times in the New Testament and is often translated as “salvation.” It does indeed have this meaning but can also mean “to restore the spirit, soul, and body.” This connection between salvation and restoration, particular of body and soul, echoes the themes found in the Hebrew word Rapha which we discussed above.
While it’s certainly appropriate to exercise the charismatic practice of healing and prayer, it’s also important to remember just because we don’t see a visible physical healing it doesn’t mean healing isn’t occurring. God chooses where to start the healing process and sometimes that starting place may be a spiritual issue needing resolved, an emotional issue, a relationship issue, an intellectual issue, or a physical issue. If we focus too much on the most evident manifestation of the miracle of healing, we miss the subtle miracle God is doing in other spheres of someone’s life. Remember, even if a physical healing is experienced we’re “cured” of something but not necessarily “healed.” Being healed is an ongoing process experienced while living in a relationship with Christ. Healing impacts our whole existence even though we’re cured of particular instances of pain and suffering. If healing is intimately connected to salvation, then only when the complete fruit of our salvation is experienced at the second coming of Christ will we, as well as all of creation, be truly “healed.” This is attested to in scripture and professed in the Christian creeds as a core part of what Christians believe. I will close with that hope filled passage echoing these very sentiments from the book of revelations:
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”