Healing and Disability

By John Williams with the help of Ben Jack in response to this BBC article

Over the last few days, I have had multiple people send me the article from the BBC with the heading ‘Stop Trying to Heal Me’, asking for my thoughts.

Regardless of who you are and what physical limitations you may experience, we have no doubt that everyone has experienced hurt, trauma, and challenges in life. Whether you have faith in God or not, many cry out to a higher power or authority for help in such times. Christians believe that Jesus can help us. He can heal, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually from any illness or trauma we face. Does that mean praying for healing guarantees we always get the outcome we want? The awkward truth is no. Why then doesn’t God heal everyone who asks for physical healing? Well, that’s a big and important question for another time. But the question raised in the article is not actually ‘why doesn’t God always heal’, but ‘do we even need to be healed?’

The Bible teaches that God offers healing to any and all that call upon his name – healing in the form of salvation (Joel 2:32; Rom 10:13). This healing isn’t just the physical correction of something that is broken in our body, but the spiritual correction of something broken in our soul. The healing power of the gospel is to bring imperfect people into a relationship with a perfect God. Without his healing, we would be lost, but through his healing, we are found, we are saved and restored to relationship with our creator.

To get a fuller understanding of the concept of healing in the bible, we can turn to the old testament which reveals God as the healer of his people. In Exodus, God rescues his people from Egypt. He parts the red sea so they can escape the pursuing Egyptian army and sweetens the water at Marah so the Israelites can drink. God calls himself healer, referring to being the provider of physical food and drink (15:22-26). This points to God sustaining people in relationship with him, a relationship that will last eternally.

In the New Testament the gospels pick up the theme of God as the healer of his people – here fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus didn’t just heal people with disabilities to be a nice guy (or according to the BBC article, a bit of a busybody!) he did it for (at least) the following reasons:

  1. To demonstrate the power of God in him, for only God can heal. Jesus is God come to earth to bring salvation. John’s gospel doesn’t call these acts miracles but signs, the miracle itself is less important than the one it reveals – it is a sign of God’s power and love pointing to the reality that Jesus is God.
  2. To show that restoration is coming through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Not simply for disability but for broken people full stop. We are all broken through sin and we all need the healing of Jesus. Jesus’ body is broken for us on the cross so that, through trust in him, we can be restored. And one day even our bodies will be made new in his kingdom.
  3. To reveal and demonstrate compassion for those who were struggling without hope. Remember, healing a disability in Jesus’ day was not just about healing the disability, but helping the person to survive in a culture with no welfare state and in which disability was viewed as a curse and those with it, outcasts. Jesus is compassionate and he offers real hope to any who need it. We can do likewise by sharing the hope of the gospel and meeting practical need wherever we can.

Jesus didn’t simply go up to people asking them if he could heal them from whatever disability they were facing. As he walked the towns and villages where he ministered he saw the need and met it practically and spiritually so that people would know that God was at work among them. As people heard about ‘Jesus the healer’ they came to him for help. One man was so desperate to receive the healing power of God that, aided by his friends, he breaks into a house via the roof so that he can come face to face with hope itself (Mark 2:1-12)! These healings were never about the miracle of physical change, but the revelation and reality that we can be healed spiritually, restored to relationship with our God, by God himself.

I live with Cerebral palsy which I have had from birth. I was told I would never walk or talk.

Have I been prayed for by others who offered to pray for me? Yes.

Have I asked others to pray for me to be healed at times in my life? Yes.

Did I physically get healed? No.

I was confused and upset growing up as to why I was not healed. The limitations in my body and speech were frustrating. When I entered into a relationship with Jesus at the age of 16 I began to understand that I was made in his image (Genesis 5:1-2). Now that doesn’t mean that God is disabled like me, as the BBC article suggests (suggesting that the wheels on Gods throne are representative of it being a wheelchair. My car has wheels but is not a wheelchair), far from it! God is perfect and, in his perfection, we have hope despite our imperfection (Mt 5:48).

It took many more years from that moment to make sense of certain aspects of my disability in light of being made in the image of a perfect God. But I realised that what I have gone through growing up, such as being ridiculed, bullied and side-lined, had actually empowered and strengthened me to move towards becoming the person God is calling me to be, not least in helping others to overcome their challenges by pointing them to Jesus. I discovered I am made for a purpose and that God knows what is best for me (Jeremiah 29:11; Job 23:10). Whilst I still face the physical challenges of cerebral palsy I have been given true life through the healing power of the gospel at work in my life and that is the greatest healing any of us can receive.

So why do people feel the desire or need to go up to people with obvious physical challenges and ask to pray with them for healing?

I’m sure they just want best for those they are praying for, and maybe having seen how the power of prayer has worked in their own lives want to offer it out to others and from there they can share their faith. I have seen people being healed of various illnesses and conditions and felt the desire to go and offer the same thing to others who may need it.

Still, even though I believe in the power of prayer and that God can heal any ailment that he chooses to, maybe a better starting point with a stranger would be to keep it simple and ask them if they know who Jesus is? After all, you don’t need a miracle to happen before you can introduce someone to Jesus. And the miracle we want more than any other is the miracle of salvation healing.

We all need healing and the bible tells us that all who call on the name of Jesus will be healed in the way God desires – brought back into relationship with him. One day, all who confess Jesus as Lord (and healer!) will be with him forever in the eternal kingdom where pain, confusion, and struggle are no more. Until then, I will unashamedly offer his healing power to the world by sharing the gospel in word and deed.