Does God still answer prayers for healing? Based on the last 2 years, it is tempting to say “no.” But let’s look a little closer.
I have been a medical doctor for the past 17 years. My colleagues and I have treated childhood cancer, brain bleeds, birth defects, life-threatening trauma and illness, and child abuse. The last two years have brought more sickness, death, and prayer for healing than I’ve ever seen in my life. People are praying for miracles every day, for good reason. Do those prayers still get answered?
Before we get into this, serious disease, chronic pain, suffering, and death are nothing to brush off or be insensitive about. I can’t summarize all of it in a short article. To all of you currently praying for God to show up during a health battle, and to those of you disappointed about a lost battle, I pray that you will find some hope and comfort in this. Or you can skip it and come back another time. I get it. We all cope and process differently.
So……does God perform miraculous healings? Yes, but we often miss it. Too many times, we expect God to answer in a certain way. We expect miraculous events like we hear about in the Bible, where Jesus gives sight to the blind, cures leprosy, stops a woman’s bleeding, makes a lame man walk, and brings a dead man back to life. We set the conditions of the miracle, rather than letting God decide how to do it. As a consequence, we miss the subtle ways he works when we aren’t looking. Does he still perform these Bible-level healings? Yes, but I haven’t seen those instances be as common as the millions of other ways I see Him in action. When we only look for God to show up in these very specific and exact ways, we limit God and are left wondering why ‘he didn’t show up.’ We miss that he showed up in many ways. Here are several subtle ways I see God perform miraculous healings. When we let go of expectations and let God heal us in the ways He in His divine wisdom knows are most needed, we start to notice these fairly often.
God shields us from what could have been. God shows up by perfectly coordinating everything to minimize damages. Without these perfectly coordinated events, the outcomes could have been much worse. He acts as our shield (Psalm 3:3) from further harm, and that is the miracle. For example:
- Someone just got hospitalized for a brand new, bad diagnosis. The on-call doctor coincidentally traded shifts with a colleague and happens to be the region’s expert in that diagnosis.
- A friend is working at the hospital when your dad arrives. She makes sure he is rushed back immediately, and life-saving treatment gets started earlier.
- A visitor collapses in the hospital hallway, right in front of the department that takes care of the issue which caused the collapse
- You are a doctor. You go to the school to pick up your peanut-allergic daughter for her annual allergy appointment. You just so happen to be standing in the school office, holding her emergency medication, when she decides to eat a Reese’s cup and go into full-blown anaphylaxis. (Yeah—this was me, and this was my daughter.)
God blesses humans with knowledge. God made the universe and reveals himself in his creation. (Psalm 19:1-3). When we study that creation, we learn ways to heal one another. Generations before us did not have all of this knowledge yet. They prayed for it, and now we have it. That is a miraculous healing from God, but in his own timing. Or maybe we don’t have a cure, but we know how to manage a disease well enough to live a full life. That is also something that people who came before us did not have, and it is also a miracle. However, oftentimes there’s a piece of the process He’s left open for us to engage in, and we need to see that us having a part to play doesn’t nullify it being an answered prayer or miracle. When we get to co-create with the God of the universe- that IS a miracle.
Dealing with the upheaval of getting treatment is definitely a major pain - even for something as simple as strep throat. You have to miss work, miss school, go to the doctor, get a school note, get a work note, answer the call from the school because you forgot to tell them about the absence, go to the pharmacy, make your kid take the nasty pink medicine, remember to refrigerate it, call the pediatrician again when you eventually spill it, or your kid spits it all out or throws it up, and then when you think you are past it and the other kids get strep, and you have to go through it all again, and then the bills start coming, and did you remember to replace the toothbrushes? No? Guess what you get to do again soon? Illness inconvenience is a pain. However, even something as ‘simple’ as strep throat didn’t have a cure 100 years ago. Some people got rheumatic fever after strep, with permanent heart problems and joint problems— just from strep throat. Think about the miracle of antibiotics which God has given us over the last 100 years, all because a sloppy scientist messed up his petri dish and accidentally grew mold while away on vacation. That is a miracle. I will think of this miracle the next time my kid throws up the pink medicine and we have to go back for the shot. Then I will remind myself to ‘thank’ God for this. But truthfully, it beats rheumatic heart disease. And for that, I am grateful. That is God answering centuries of prayers that people before us prayed.
Despite the major pain of navigating the medical system, God gave us the knowledge to manage many conditions if we just put up with the inconvenience. In the Bible, Jesus often asks people to do some crazy things before he heals them - like wipe mud in their eyes and then go wash in a specific pool (John 9:1-11). He doesn’t simply spray ‘healing juice’ into the air while everyone sits passively by and receives it. Why would today be any different? Maybe going through surgery, taking medication, losing weight, or stopping smoking is today’s modern equivalent of wiping mud in our eyes and washing in a pool. Perhaps the miraculous cure we want is there, we know what it is, and we need to seize it instead of praying for it to fall into our laps.
When facing a diagnosis which has an inconvenient treatment, maybe our prayers need to change. First, we thank God for miraculously answering earlier prayers for a treatment to get created. We have options that those who came before us didn’t have. The bigger prayer comes next. Next, we ask God how life is going to look while dealing with this disease and treatment. We pray for the courage and humility to go through with it, even if we have to be lowered through the roof on a mat to do it (Luke 5:18-25). Or put mud in our eyes. Or do the physical therapy. Or drink the colonoscopy prep. We can either pray that God helps us escape from the whole inconvenience through our definition of healing OR we thank God for the prayers he’s already answered, and ask for the strength to step up and claim this miracle.
God’s strength is made perfect in man’s weakness. This happens when we can’t figure out if God healed us, or if the diagnosis was wrong from the beginning. God tells us he will show his strength in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). In my mind, here’s how this one can look: The doctor is suspicious of a bad diagnosis, but they do not have all the evidence they need to be certain. They order further testing to confirm. When you go for more extensive testing—all evidence of the concerning diagnosis is gone. Man was weak and uncertain, and God showed up by delivering the best news possible. Was this a miraculous healing? Or was the doctor just wrong? Honestly, does it matter? Everyone thought there was something bad, you prayed, and then it wasn’t bad. That is an answered prayer.
God heals something besides our physical bodies. Psalm 147:3 says that God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Maybe our hearts need healing more than our bodies. If the process of grieving and physical suffering restores families, restores relationships, heals old emotional wounds, and prompts those affected to seek God for answers, and lean on each other for support— that is also healing. God may not perform a miraculous physical healing, but he performs spiritual, emotional, and relationship healing. These are also good, and these are still miraculous healings.
Early in the pandemic - pre-vaccine - thousands of healthcare workers (yes, thousands, look it up) died from covid-19. Where was God? He was at every funeral, where the veil of medical stoicism was lifted for a brief moment. Healthcare workers, who traditionally hide their feelings and don’t let each other see their emotional pain, were finally allowed to grieve together at the funerals. They grieved for their lost colleagues. They also grieved for the decades of patients they lost together and had to carry on as though it didn’t affect them. They were allowed to process pent-up tragedies and refresh themselves emotionally, perhaps for the first time since graduation. This is also healing. And it is also miraculous.
God performs a Biblical, miraculous healing. Maybe I have seen this once or twice, or maybe it was the ‘misdiagnosis’ category above. I will never know, but that’s ok. I hear stories from people who have seen obvious miraculous healings. I still believe God can and does use this form of healing. I don’t put all of my eggs in this healing basket because I don’t want to miss that God may be working elsewhere and healing differently. I leave every option open to God, to use as he sees fit, in a way that brings the most people to him. Including this last one.
God heals us in heaven. This is the one nobody likes— yet. No matter how many different ways God can heal us, we cannot escape death. One of my favorite Bible verses is Psalm 73:26. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” We all recognize that one day, all of our bodies will fail. But just wait. If you believe in the same God that I believe in, the Bible teaches us that we are all given new bodies in heaven (Phillippians 3:20-21). The broken, aged, and diseased bodies we have here on earth will be replaced with upgrades in heaven. (I would like to put in a request for an upgrade of 28-year-old me. I was doing triathlons and didn’t have kids yet). Even if God does not heal certain things on earth, he promises he will heal us in heaven. It is a miracle that what I see and feel now is not the end of the story.
The greatest miracle is when God heals the brokenness of the world. Remember that paralyzed man who Jesus healed? Jesus also forgave all of his sins (Matthew 9:5-7). The real miracle happens when God heals the sins that reach beyond flesh and blood. When the unforgivable fails to keep us from eternal life with a loving God. When God heals the brokenness of the world, one person at a time, he performs the greatest miracle we could ever know.
Ultimately, this is what I want. I want the world’s brokenness healed more than I want to stop having asthma. I want to see the pain and suffering in the world end more than I want covid to end. (That was hard to write). No, the healing I really want, the healing I think we all really want— is for all of the brokenness to end. He promises that he will do this. Revelation 21:4 says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Yeah, I’ll gladly trade my physical sickness today in exchange for this, for eternity. God can heal my individual situations however He wants, if the end result is that everything will ultimately get healed.