God's Will and Healing

John W. Robbins

Since I was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic colon cancer in September 2005, some strangers, friends, and acquaintances have given me different opinions on the topic of God's will and healing. All of the opinions are offered by sincere people, but most sincere people are sincerely wrong. Only one opinion is Biblical. This should not be surprising, for there is an indefinite number of ways to go wrong, but only one way to go right. There is only one right answer to the question, "How much is 2 plus 2?" and an infinite number of wrong answers. That is why the Bible in general and Jesus in particular stress the importance of finding the narrow way and repeatedly warn against the broad way.

The many opinions on healing I have received distill to three. The first is that it is not God's will that anyone - or at least any Christian - be sick. Being sick is being "outside God's will." By not getting well, a Christian is showing his rebellion against God's will that everyone be well. In this opinion, every Christian who is sick for any length of time (I suppose they make exceptions for colds), is not "submitting to God's will that he be well."

The second opinion seems to be the opposite. It is that a Christian must "submit himself to God's will," and if he is not getting better, God's will is that he remain sick, and perhaps die from the affliction. He also is told to "submit himself to the will of God," but to an opposite end, not to get well, but perhaps to die.

The third opinion does not speak of "submitting to the will of God," but tells us to seek and pray for the desires of our hearts. It certainly sounds like the least pious of the three opinions, doesn't it? But it is the Biblical position. The Bible is not a very religious book, as men count religion.

Let us examine each of these three opinions.

Take the first opinion first: Is it God's will that no Christian be sick or afflicted? Of course not. If it were not God's will that some people are sometimes sick, no one would ever be sick, since nothing, not even the death of a sparrow or the fall of a hair from our heads, happens apart from God's will. God causes both sickness and health in his and in all people. This is taught so clearly in the Bible that one must deliberately ignore and disbelieve scores of passages that teach it. Here are a few:

"And I [God] will afflict the descendants of David because of this, but not forever" (1 Kings 11:39).

"For you, O God, have tested us; you have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; you laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads" (Psalm 66:1-12).

"...when they pray toward this place and confess your name, and turn from their sin because you [God] afflict them...." (2 Chronicles 6:26).

"And it shall come to pass, that as I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to throw down, to destroy, and to afflict, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord" (Jeremiah 31:28).

In the New Testament, Paul tells us that "For this reason, many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep, for if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged, but when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (1 Corinthians 11:30-32).

These verses clearly show that it is God's will to afflict even his own people at times, even to the point of killing them. From many more verses, too numerous to list here, it is clearly God's will that whatever happens happen, for there is nothing outside God's will. He is sovereign and omnipotent, and nothing can happen apart from his plan and will. It is logically and theologically impossible to be "outside God's will."

The second opinion is that sickness or affliction that does not go away in a relatively short period of time (I suppose these people also make exceptions for colds) indicates that it is God's will that the afflicted person remain sick, and perhaps even die from his affliction. This is made especially convincing if a medical professional pronounces the condition "incurable."

But there are many examples of suffering people in Scripture - commendable examples - that refute this notion as well. Take, for example, the woman who hemorrhaged for twelve years, spending all her money on physicians, none of whom could cure her. Did she submit to "God's will" and resign herself to being sick and perhaps dying of her disease? Of course not. She did not confuse the inability of physicians to help her with the will of God. She kept seeking the desire of her heart, and this desire led her to Jesus, who cured her and who did not upbraid her for refusing for twelve years to "submit to God's will for her life." Nor does he scold her for being "outside the will of God" for twelve years.

There are many similar examples - even cases where parents of dying and dead children sought help rather than submitting to the "will of God." They sought the desire of their hearts, not even accepting imminent and present death as "God's will" for their child. Were they wrong to do so? Were they also - like the sick allegedly outside the will of God - in rebellion to the will of God? Of course not. Christ never scolds any of these people for refusing to "submit to the will of God."

In both these erroneous opinions - (1) God's will is that no Christian should be sick, and one is not submitting to God's will if one is sick; and (2) in cases of extended illness, one should submit to the will of God by recognizing it is his will that you remain sick and perhaps die of this sickness - the same serious theological mistake is being made: The mistake is an error - a presumption - of knowledge: It presumes that we can know what the will of God for the future is by reading present circumstances, and therefore know how to "submit ourselves to the will of God."

The second opinion assumes that one's present affliction indicates the ultimate outcome (which is false) - and that the Christian should submit to that anticipated outcome as if it were the "will of God." The first opinion assumes, contrary to Scripture, that the will of God is that every Christian be well, and that those who are not well are "outside God's will" and need to submit to it. In both cases - though they reach opposite conclusions, death and health - they share the presumption that one can know from present circumstances what the will of God is for the future. That simply is not true. Apart from divine propositional revelation, we cannot know what God's will and plan for the future is.

The third opinion is that one should pray for the desires of one's heart, not guessing or presuming what the will of God for the future is. That is the rule followed by the "incurable" woman, by the parents of dying and dead children in Scripture, and by many others, including Jesus himself, who prayed that this cup would pass from him, if possible. What makes Christ's case different, of course, is that, unlike us, who do not and cannot know the future, he could and did know the future - and still he prayed for the desires of his heart.

The notion that we should "submit to the will of God" when we do not and cannot know the will of God is not a Christian idea at all, but a Muslim idea. Islam means "submission," and it teaches the same error of presuming that the will of God can be known before God reveals it. In Christian theology, the proper verb is "obedience," not submission, and it is obedience to his revealed commands, not submission to an unknown (and apart from revelation, unknowable - see Deuteronomy 29:29) will of God. Psalm 37:3-6 read: "Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and feed on his faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday."

The Bible nowhere commands Christians to "submit to the will of God," precisely because we do not know that will. The Bible commands us hundreds of times to obey God's commands. We must never confuse our guesses about the future with "God's will" and piously submit to those guesses - or more likely the guesses of clerics who think they know the future. God's commands we know, because they are revealed to us in Scripture, but apart from revelation, we cannot know his will, and therefore we cannot "submit" to it, nor need we try to do so.