Did Paul actually have God speak to him personally?

When I was sick in bed and feeling rotten I thought of Paul “pleading with the Lord three times”  in 2 Corinthians 12:8 to take his sickness away, and the Lord then actually replying to Paul in verse 9 in words that Paul wrote down. So it sounds like God actually spoke to Paul, and in words that were obviously clear to him, because verse 9 is a direct quote of what God said.

Well, that stirred a thought or two, like, “Could I do the same thing with my sickness, then?” Could I plead with God to take it away, and God would answer me personally in some way, and especially if his answer was “No,” as it was in Paul’s case? And was this, in fact, what God expected me to do? Did he want me pleading with him so he could give me a personal answer, and was I denying myself a personal answer from God by not pleading? Could it be that I’d been missing out on very personal answers from God all those times I got sick through the years by not pleading until he gave me a clear reply I could write down later word for word?

But that raised further questions, like, “Why did God wait until Paul pleaded three times?” Does God wait to see if we’re really looking to him before he answers? And what does “pleading” mean? Does it mean “badgering” God until I get a clear answer out of him, or does it mean “reasoning” with him as to why I need healing? In Paul’s case his reasons for healing were probably very sound, like how on earth could he do the job God had given him when he was being tormented by “a messenger of Satan”? I could say the same thing, though: “How on earth can I be of any service to God lying in bed unable to concentrate on anything but my own misery?”

And then it dawned on me that God would only be repeating himself if he gave me an answer, because the answer he gave to Paul applies perfectly to my situation too – and to anyone else who’s ever wondered why God lets us get so sick that we’re useless to him. God’s answer to Paul was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what condition we’re in physically, because it’s not by our strength and power that his work is being done, it’s by his. So here I am lying in bed thinking I’m useless, when in fact God is still doing his work in my sickness.

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Is every request for healing answered?

If James 5:15 is true then, yes, every request for healing will be answered. It’s a clear promise in that verse that “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.”

But lots of people who request healing get worse instead of better, and many die without being healed at all. So what’s the problem? Was it the prayer not being offered with enough faith? Or was there a sin the sick person was unaware of that needed dealing with first? Or was there a much deeper sickness that needed healing rather than the superficial healing the person was after? Or does being made “well” refer only to mental and spiritual illnesses, rather than physical illnesses, since eventually we all die physically?

It raises all sorts of issues, but the big question seems to be: “Why didn’t the healing happen before the person died? Surely if you ask for healing and the promise is firm, then it has to happen before one’s life ends, right?” I mean, what’s the point of asking for healing in the first place if there’s no guarantee you’re going to be healed before you die? Surely, healing means healing in this life now, doesn’t it?

“Ah but,” some say, “we’ll all be healed in the resurrection.” But that’s pretty discouraging for someone with a debilitating ailment causing huge bother for himself and those around him, who reads James 5 and sees a clear promise (and hope) of healing and relief before the resurrection, if it’s sought with faith. And how do you answer little Mabel who cries out, “Why did God let Grandma die from a heart attack, when she had so much faith?”

The problem for Mabel, though – and maybe for us too – is that we make death the deadline. Surely healing must happen before death, we say, because death is the end. Death ends everything in this life, including any leftover, unfulfilled promises of healing. But what if God didn’t heal a person in this earthly life now, because he doesn’t see death as the end?

Jesus did say in John 8:51, that “if a man keeps my word, he will never see death.” If Mabel’s Grandma kept Jesus’ word, therefore, death as we define it didn’t happen to her. God didn’t see her death as death. Death wasn’t the end of her life, so neither was it the end of God’s promise of healing for her. So, just because she wasn’t healed in this life didn’t mean her healing didn’t happen. It meant her healing hasn’t happened yet. Because Grandma’s life continues beyond death, so, therefore, does God’s promise.

Why did Jesus heal people?

When Jesus healed people it was to show them their sins were forgiven. And to a Jew in the first century that was probably the greatest news he could hear, because the entire nation had been waiting for God’s forgiveness for a long time. Forgiveness would be the sign that their time of exile was over and God would restore their nation to its former glory.

It was all there in Isaiah 40:2 – “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” And when would this happen? When they’d hear “A voice of one calling in the desert,” verse 3, “prepare me the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God,” and that’s when, verse 5, “the glory of the Lord will be revealed.”

Imagine being a Jew, then, and hearing John the Baptist in John 1:23 repeat Isaiah 40:3 as a description of himself, and “the next day,” verse 29, when “John saw Jesus coming toward him,” he announces, “‘Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.'” In other words, the forgiveness Isaiah had predicted had arrived.

Jesus then confirmed John’s announcement when he healed a paralyzed man in Mark 2:10, so that “you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Healing was Jesus’ way of showing them he truly was the Lamb of God who’d come to forgive their sins. And with forgiveness came the realization – for those with their ears to the rails – that their long-awaited time of healing had come, and a new future beckoned.

And when James wrote to “the twelves tribes scattered among the nations” in James 1:1, he gave them the same message, that if any of them had sinned they would be forgiven, James 5:15, so feel free, therefore, to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Again, healing and forgiveness went hand-in-hand, as evidence that God had forgiven Israel’s sins, and a prayer offered by an Israelite elder in belief of that, verse 16, would “make the sick person well,” and “the Lord will raise him up.” A believing prayer in what God had now made possible through Jesus was that “powerful and effective” (verse 16).

Imagine the effect healing would have had, then, on Jews and the rest of the scattered tribes, wanting to know if their time of exile was truly over and God had truly forgiven them, and he really was raising them up and making them well again…

How can I be a Christian when I’m feeling lousy?

I wake up feeling lousy. I’m not remotely interested in praying or thinking loving thoughts. All I want to do is curl up in bed and do nothing. Today I’m a washout as a Christian.

But Jesus didn’t exactly feel great all the time either. He was so exhausted on one occasion that a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee didn’t wake him up. But there’s no record of Jesus getting sick and grumpy, and he never lived to a ripe old age with all its aches and pains either.

It seems like we’re on our own on this one, then, because unlike Jesus we experience all sorts of weaknesses passed down to us by our ancestors. We suffer from accidents and injuries, and old age knocks the stuffing out of us. Add a troubled childhood and we probably have mental and emotional issues too, including bouts of depression, or even thoughts of suicide.

Does God expect Christians to rise above all that, though, and never grumble? Should we always put on a bright face, and be full of love, joy and peace? But how can I leap out of bed every morning all cheery and positive when my head feels hammered, my brain isn’t working, and my body won’t move?

But surely this can’t happen to Christians, can it? We’ve got the Holy Spirit.

Even with the Holy Spirit, though, Christians “groan,” Romans 8:23. Feeling lousy, then, is permitted. It’s an inescapable part of living in a world that God deliberately “subjected to frustration” and “bondage to decay” (verses 20-21). But for Christians it’s even worse, because every day for us is like being stuck in prison when you’re innocent. We’re God’s children, but in this world we can’t be God’s children yet, with beautifully redeemed bodies (verse 23); our bodies have to suffer like everybody else’s.

We will feel sick and horrible, then, and at times we won’t feel like doing anything Christian. But the only non-Christian thing about feeling lousy, according to Paul, is not waiting it out patiently, verse 25. Patience is the sign of a Christian, not being perfectly positive and loving all the time. And patient we can be too, because we know, verse 21, that the whole creation is being “brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

As Christians we know this world is only temporary. It’s like a sickness: It comes, it goes. And whenever we get sick it reminds us of that. Feeling lousy and sick, then, has its good point. While we’re lying there groaning, it’s the best reminder ever that one day, just like our sickness, this mess will be over.

Jesus healed to show Israel had been forgiven

In Matthew 8:17 Jesus healed people “to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases,'” a quote from Isaiah 53:4. To watch Jesus heal a person physically, therefore, took the Jews right back to Isaiah 53, which spoke of a “man of sorrows” (verse 3) who “poured out his life for many, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors,” verse 12.

And there you have the context for why Jesus healed people physically. He healed people to point to the time he would suffer and die to take the brunt of sin on himself. “By his wounds we are healed,” verse 5, which in context meant the healing of our sin by his suffering and death on the cross.

When Jesus healed their physical bodies, then, it pictured the healing of sin, which Jesus himself made clear when a paralytic was lowered through the roof to Jesus’ feet in Mark 2:4, and Jesus told him “Son, your sins are forgiven you” (verse 5). Jesus immediately put the focus of the healing on the healing of sin, because the purpose of the healing was to show “that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” verse 10. This is what Jesus had come for, to heal sin, and the healing of the paralytic’s body served as dramatic proof he had the power and authority to do it too. And to a Jew of Jesus’ day this should have been the greatest news, because forgiveness of their sin was the sure sign that the time of their deliverance was on its way.

Jesus made that clear too, in Luke 10, when he sent out seventy two disciples to heal the sick and tell people “The kingdom of God is near you,” verse 9. Healing the sick was associated directly with the kingdom of God and the time of the Jews’ deliverance coming soon. So, first of all, healing people physically pictured the forgiveness of Israel’s sin, and that meant, therefore, that the kingdom of God was about to begin its rule in Israel and spread to the whole earth.

But there was a problem. When Jesus tried to explain to his disciples that he had to suffer and die they were “afraid to ask him about it,” Mark 9:32. They didn’t catch on that the healing of their sin and their deliverance as a nation could only be accomplished by Jesus being “pierced for our transgressions” and being “crushed for our iniquities,” Isaiah 53:5. But that’s why Jesus was healing people, to point the Jews back to Isaiah 53 so they could make the connection.

Can we heal people today like Jesus did?

Christ healed people. His disciples healed people. He “appointed seventy two others” to heal people. And everybody who asked Jesus for healing was healed. Healing was huge in Jesus’ day. So why aren’t people being healed like that today?

Is it because all that healing Jesus and his disciples did was a sign meant only for Israel and the Jews back then? In Matthew 10:8, for instance, when Jesus told his disciples, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons,” the context in verse 6 was “the lost sheep of Israel.” It was meant for them. And in Luke 10:1 when Jesus appointed the seventy two to heal the sick, he was sending them specifically “to every town and place where he (Jesus) was about to go,” all of which were Jewish (Matthew 10:5-6). And the reason Jesus sent the seventy two to heal their fellow Jews was to prove “The kingdom of God is near you,” Luke 10:9, a clear message for the Jews that the promised restoration of Israel was coming through Jesus, the proof of which was his power to forgive sins, which he demonstrated by healing, like the healing of the paralytic man in Mark 2:10-11.

The miracles of healing in the Gospels were meant for the Jews, to confirm and demonstrate that their time of deliverance and salvation had arrived in the person of Jesus, stated very clearly by Peter in Acts 2:22 – “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God TO YOU by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did AMONG YOU through him.” The miracles Jesus and his disciples did were purely a sign for their fellow Jews.

But isn’t Mark 16:15 a command from Jesus to his disciples to “Go into all the world” and “place their hands on sick people, and they will be made well,” verse 18?

Yes, and that’s exactly what the apostles did next in the book of Acts. But there are only two examples of healing in the entire book of Acts, the first in Acts 3 and the second in Acts 5:12, when “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people” – but note who those people were: They were large crowds of Jews “from the towns around Jerusalem” who were “bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits” to the apostles, verse 16, “and all of them were healed.”

It was still Jews being healed. Why? To confirm to the Jews yet again that Jesus had come to deliver them (Acts 3:20). It explains why we cannot heal people today like Jesus did; it’s because healing back then had a purpose that doesn’t exist today.

Does God heal terminal cancer?

To ask such a question faces fear right in the face. Who isn’t afraid of dying from terminal cancer? Yet Jesus said, “”Do not be afraid of those who kill the body” Matthew 10:28. Anything that kills us physically is nothing to be afraid of, because it “cannot kill the soul” (same verse).

No matter what happens to us physically, our soul remains intact. It’s like having an immortal gene in our DNA, and nothing, except God himself (same verse) can change that. God designed us for everlasting life – which is why he gave us a soul. It’s what having a soul means.

“So don’t be afraid,” Jesus says in verse 31; God the Father gave human beings an indestructible soul, so that nothing in this life of ours now can upset his purpose for us. And to illustrate that, Jesus uses the example of a tiny bird, worth only pennies if sold in the market. But even a tiny bird, like a sparrow, doesn’t die “apart from the will of your Father” (verse 29), meaning we can rest assured that our death – including death from cancer – does not affect his will for us either. And his will is that we live forever.

Whether God heals us from terminal cancer, or not, therefore, has no bearing on our soul, or whether we live forever, or not. We are our Father’s children, and it’s always been his “pleasure and will” that we be his children, Ephesians 1:5. And to make us his children he gave us a soul that lives forever. He then gave us his Son to make us “holy and blameless in his sight” verse 4, and then he gave us “the promised Holy Spirit” verse 13, “guaranteeing our inheritance” as his children (verse 14).

Nothing in this life, therefore, is “terminal.” Instead, every moment “we live and move and have our being” in our Father, Acts 17:28. “We are his offspring” (same verse), and nothing, outside of God himself, can change that. But why would God change it anyway? We are his children, and there isn’t a moment that goes by that we aren’t his children. That’s why he gave us a soul, to make that relationship possible and everlasting.

No wonder terminal cancer is such a repulsive thing to us. It goes against the grain of our soul to have to die. God built it into us to live forever, not be frightened by silly terms used in the medical profession, like “terminal.” Jesus told us to ignore such silliness, because the only “terminal” we should ever fear is the destruction of the soul. And there’s no need to worry about that either, because we’re God’s eternal offspring.