Of all the Charismatic gifts, the gift of healing is the easiest to either substantiate or prove false. Someone is either healed or they aren’t. Cancer either goes away or it doesn’t. Depression either lifts or it remains. Back pain is alleviated or it persists. How we approach the gift of healing, then, matters. It is best, and most Biblically faithful, to think about the gift of healing in relation to the diversity of illness and the significance of faith.
The concept of the Charismata of healing is only mentioned in two places, explicitly, in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 12:9, 28). In both texts the word gift is pluralized. So, this gift has a relationship to the diversity of illnesses. We are not speaking, then, of a “gift” of healing, but rather multiple gifts of healing for multiple diseases and maladies. So, Sam Storms has said:
Why is this significant? It suggests that Paul did not envision a person being endowed with one healing gift that is operative at all times for all diseases. His language suggests many different gifts or powers of healing, each appropriate to and effective for its related illness, or it may suggest that each occurrence of healing constitutes a distinct gift in its own right. (Practicing the Power, 73)
The “gift of healing,” then, is really diversified and manifests differently for different illnesses and by different people. Storms goes on to add, that we should not “accept the erroneous idea that if anyone could ever heal, he could always heal.” We note that there are many cases where sickness lingers even in the Apostolic era. This is the case with Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25-30), Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23), and Trophimus (2 Timothy 4:20). If this was true in time of the Apostles, we should not assume that healing will always happen in our contemporary setting. On the one hand, then, it is easy to spot fakes. If a miracle worker claims to have healed a paraplegic, and yet the remain bound to their wheel chair we can clearly prove their claim false. On the other hand, however, we note that sometimes those who may have healed in the past are unable to heal in the present. A lack of healing may not necessarily prove that someone’s claims to the gift are completely invalid. It just reminds us that gifts work in diversity and sometimes God withholds the healing even still. Healing at-will does not exist according to the New Testament, but a lack of healing does not negate the existence of the gift.
It’s also important to emphasizes this gifts relationship to both faith and prayer. The relationship between faith and healing is a complex one, and has often been wrongly understood. There are those who believe that a lack of healing is to be attributed to a lack of faith. After all, it is pointed out, the New Testament often draws a line from faith to healing. So, Jesus can say, “Your faith has made you well” (Mark 5:34). He can say to the two blind men, “According to your faith be it done to you” (Matt. 9:28-29). Within the Gospels there is often a sense in which faith in Jesus’ ability to heal affects the outcome. Clearly, of course, if we ask God to do something, but in our hearts we don’t really believe He can then we are not truly resting in the character and power of our God. Faith is an important aspect of healing. The author of Hebrews notes that faith leads us to approach God with the confidence that He exists and rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Heb. 11:6).
Yet, we must not draw from this principle that a lack of healing is a result of faith. The line is not nearly as direct as we might think. Storms notes the trembling and reluctant faith of the leper in Matthew 8. He says, “Lord if you are willing you can make me clean. Storms writes:
The leper had no reservations when it came to Christ’s ability. But he was reluctant to presume upon Christ’s will. Notice that Jesus doesn’t rebuke him for his doubts, as if it were a shortcoming in his faith that might jeopardize his healing. He healed him because of his confidence that the could do it. (71)
We may say the same of the father with the demon possessed son in Mark 9. He believed, yet he acknowledge the limitations of his faith. “Help my unbelief,” was his earnest prayer. Healing is an act of God’s mercy, and therefore it is not finally and fully contingent upon our faith. Nor is it ever a right to be owed, as if our faith puts God in our debt. We have faith because we know God’s character and power, but He may yet withhold healing for His greater purposes. Recall that the gift of healing is just that, a gift.
The fact, however, that healing is an act of God’s mercy given by Him, means that we must cry out to Him. The gift of faith is imparted by divine grace through the prayer-dependent people of God. We do not possess healing, God heals. We cry out to Him. The gift of healing, then, works closely with the gift of faith. We see this evident in such a passage as James 5:16, where the prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much. So, the gift of healing is experienced through the laying of hands on another and praying expectantly – though not presumptuously – that God would deliver.
How we think about this gift is important. It can save us from false assumptions about it, wrong practices of it, and terrible abuses of it. The gift of healing is a diversified gift that comes through prayer by God’s grace when He deems appropriate. The lack of healing is not a denial of the gift, the presence of the gift in the past is not a promise of its use in a given present moment, and its is always dependent upon God’s grace.