Few questions are more painful to hear, and more difficult to answer, than this one. It is very much like the classic question: "If Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world -- and he did -- why isn't everyone saved?" These two questions are not only similar in terms of being difficult to answer, they are also closely related. Healing and forgiveness are, in many respects, two sides of the same coin.
Ever since the early days of the Church, Christians have looked to the Old Testament to provide them with an interpretation of the suffering and death of Jesus. After all, the Jewish concept of the Messiah didn't include the idea of him suffering and dying. The Messiah was supposed to be victorious over the powers and forces of evil in the world ... he wasn't supposed to be killed by them! Hence, Christians were faced with a serious dilemma. They were still Jews, and yet they followed had a Messiah who had died! How were they going to deal with this problem?
They found their answer in the pages of Isaiah ... and specifically in the concept of the "Suffering Servant." While the Jews didn't view the Suffering Servant as an individual person, and while they certainly didn't connect him to their conception of the Messiah, Christians found, in Isaiah and in the image of the Suffering Servant, a key to unlock the theological significance of the suffering and death of Jesus. The passage of critical importance is found in chapter 53:
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5 KJV)
In this passage Christians, down through the centuries, have found a powerful theological interpretation of the suffering and death of Jesus. This interpretation is two fold.
Firstly, it says that Jesus was "wounded for our transgressions" and "bruised for our inequities." In these words we find a direct connection between our sins and Jesus' sufferings. We proclaim that Jesus came to take the sins of the World upon himself and then to end the division between God and humankind by dying in our place. This is known in Theological circles as the doctrine of the "Substitutionary Atonement." This understanding of the suffering and death of Jesus is never properly spoken of without reflecting upon the Love of God, which is reflected in our Lord's death for our sins. We couldn't end the division that we put between ourselves and God, so God end it by giving up himself for us. In the death of Jesus on the cross we are reminded that God loves us so much that he is willing to stand in our place .. and that he actually has stood in our very shoes, and died for our sins. All the sins of the world -- past, present, and future -- were paid for on the cross in that moment. Nothing more needs to be done to pay for them. However, just because they are paid for doesn't man that the gift has been received and applied on our behalf. We have the duty -- the responsibility -- of responding to God's offered Grace with Faith. Then, and only then, are we saved.
Healing is also referenced in this Isaiah passage: "and by his stripes, we are healed." Our Lord's "stripes" where the places in his body where he was whipped to the point where his blood flowed out. Our sicknesses are like his stripes ... our life flows out through our illnesses, we are beaten up by the ravages of sickness. In and through Jesus' sufferings, he was beaten by life FOR us. Healing comes when we accept the gift he offers. And what is healing? Sometimes it is physical, sometimes emotional, sometimes spiritual, sometimes relational. Sometimes we know healing here on earth, today, and sometimes we must wait for it in glory. But it is always received through faith.
Why isn't everyone healed, visibly, here on this earth? Well, don't let anyone tell you it's not because you don't have faith! Few things make me more angry than the guilt trip that some want to lay on those of us who are not always and immediately healed here on earth! Healing MAY come in this life, but it's not a lack of faith which causes people to not be healed here and now. The promise, and God's Grace, is still ready and available for any and all to receive -- by faith -- and even if the condition of life contradict the promise, we are still called to proclaim -- by faith -- that we are healed. The healing may not be manifested until we all enter Glory, or it may be manifested in ways that we least expect -- emotional and spiritual rather than physical -- but the promise is sure and true and we can depend upon it. Give thanks to God that the Healing Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is present to make us whole again. For that is the true essence of healing ... it's not just the mending of broken bodies, it's the "making whole" of lives that are torn asunder. And, surely, God's Grace accomplishes that in our lives!
© 1998, Rev. Gregory S. Neal
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