Pain, Sickness, Spirits & the Bible (my final reply)


[Update: I have posted Steve’s final reply to this. Also, a friend has added her thoughts to the discussion. Click through the links to join in.]

Over the past week or so, I’ve been having a little discussion about sickness, illness, and God with Steve Wolf. While I was really sick several weeks ago, I wrote about how God met me in that sickness. Steve took issue with my attributing my sickness to the Providence and Purpose of a God seeking to mold me and shape me. I responded to him, he responded to me. And now, I am offering my own final words on this before moving on. If he responds, I will be more than happy to post his comments.

Though this is an important issue–and, as I said yesterday, one that I feel Steve’s view could hurt a lot of people–it is an issue that concerns such a small percentage of such a small percentage of people out there. I apologize that my reply here directly speaks to his points without quoting him, forcing you to go back and read his comments; but, for the sake of space and simplicity, I thought it best just to put my thoughts up. Please feel free to comment and engage. Though I will not post anymore  on this, it doesn’t mean we can’t discuss further. I know this is long, but I’ve given it sub-headings for easier navigation (and skimming). With all that being said…

My Response: Steve, thanks for your response. First, to answer your questions (and give some clarifications): yes, I have received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (as according to 1 Cor 12:13), I have received the gift of tongues, and I fully believe in the contemporary and ongoing healing ministry and gifting of the Holy Spirit. Now, some replies to some of your points:

Timothy, his illness, and the wine (1 Tim 5:23): Paul mentioned Timothy’s stomach aches and his frequent illnesses very casually, without mentioning spirits of infirmity (in fact, the verse before, he tells Timothy that he’s been too hasty in laying on of hands). Also, I could not find any biblical scholar saying that the verse meant what you said it meant about Timothy being legalistic about drinking only water. A plain reading of the text really seems like Paul’s telling him to drink the wine for those aches and illnesses, not seek to rid himself of some “spirit of infirmity”.

Satan’s Role in Illness: Even in Job, after Satan clearly is the one that inflicts Job with the sores and skin disease all over his body, Job says, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” and the Scripture responds by saying “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said” (Job 2:10. A similar exchange happens in Job 1). Satan does something, Job says God ultimately is the one at work behind it, and the Bible says, “Job was right in saying this was of God and not of Satan.” Satan is not some chessboard Queen that can move along the board as he pleases. He is a mere pawn whose every move against the King is not only ordained by that King, but furthers His purposes. A few years ago, I wrote up three posts in response to a sermon saying something similar to what you’re saying. I tried to helpfully and biblically unpack a theology of Satan and his role in suffering: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Illness & Wrath: Yes, the Gospel has saved us from the wrath of God, but that wrath is not simplistically defined as “illness”. The clearest proof of this is the cross of Jesus Christ. The wrath of God is what Jesus took on himself so we wouldn’t have to. There are no verses saying that Jesus endured specifically physical illness on the cross so we might not have to.  Further, the true wrath of God, as explained in Romans 1, is when God “gives us over” to our sin and the sin of the world; and this is what Christ has saved us from–ultimate alienation from God–not physical illness.

Illness, Salvation, & “Blessing”: I really don’t see any biblical support, or anyone in church history (until the charismatic revival in the 60s) that saw Abraham’s “blessing” as meaning physical immunity to illness. Also, I don’t see anyone that thought that “life more abundantly” meant some sort of simplistic idea of physical health rather than looking at the rest of John 10 and seeing that Jesus is using the Shepherd metaphor to describe the rest and pasture he offers for our souls–the passage so clearly has nothing to do with physical health.

Next, I really can’t imagine 1 Peter 2:24 (“by his stripes you were healed”) meaning anything like physical health. Read the next verse: “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls“. It does not say that this healing has enabled you to return to the Shepherd and overseer of your physical health, well-being, and body. It is a soul-healing. Our physical redemption has been purchased for us, guaranteed by the Resurrection, and will be fully consummated at Christ’s returned. Sure, we get tastes of that redemption here, but it’s not full.

Illness as a Curse?: Deuteronomy 28 indeed has illnesses in its list of curses. But it also has famine, wars, and people’s wives getting raped. Are we to say that every time there is a drought it is caused by a “spirit of drought”; every war caused by a “spirit of war”, and every rape caused by a “spirit of rape”? And if so, what about things like the drought that led the Israelites to move into Egypt in the first place? Was that thing that is later described as a “curse” in Deuteronomy 28 because of sin? Sure doesn’t sound like it. Why didn’t they pray against the “spirit of drought” instead of going and seeking aid from the Egyptians (and Joseph)? Also, how can you tell me that the way God ordained wilderness and sickness in the OT doesn’t matter because we live under the New Covenant, but then use Deuteronomy 28 to show how sickness is because of sin, curses, or spirits in the New Covenant?

“Spirits of Infirmity”: You say, “I never said all sickness was caused by a spirit of infirmity, but viruses and especially cancer are kept alive by that spirit.” On what authority can you possibly make that distinction? All viruses and cancer are “kept alive” by spirits of infirmity, but not, say, leprosy or blindness (which Jesus healed by casting out at times)? What about bacterial infections (as opposed to viral)? How does the Christian know which sicknesses are from spirits of infirmity and which aren’t? And for those illnesses that are not caused by one of these spirits, where do they come from? What possible biblical support could there be for this idea?

The Finished Work of Christ: I think it is very dangerous to think and preach that “God wishes above all things that we prosper and be in good health – any other teaching is actually anti-Christ in that it denies the finished work of Jesus.” Really? Above all things? Above evangelism, growing in love, serving the broken around us, drawing nearer to Him, seeing His redemption take root in a broken world? Also, no one–especially me–denies the finished work of Christ. His work is fully done, it just hasn’t been fully applied. This idea you have is like saying that anyone that acknowledges we aren’t living in the New Creation now is denying this finished work of Christ.

In the end, I believe the Bible is clear: all of the physical, tangible, and material aspects of this world are groaning and yearning for their full redemption–to come out from under the weight of sin. This is because they don’t yet have it. Our souls have participated in the final Resurrection–they are raised!–but our bodies still waste away, as Paul says.

Liberation or Participation?: We take communion, not to celebrate that Jesus was broken so we don’t have to be, but rather, to “share in his suffering” (Philippians 3). We commune and participate with our broken Christ in the bread and wine, not escape it. Was Peter misunderstanding all this when he was martyred by being crucified? Did Jesus already get crucified so we wouldn’t have to? Why does Jesus’ death just save us from physical illness and not others from physical death, or even the same death he went through?

Conclusion, Exhortation, & Benediction

I’m sorry that this post is less gracious than the last. In the past couple of days, I have both remembered and have talked to people that have suffered greatly and physically in their lives. This doctrine that there is a Sovereign Satan and his spirits running around making us sick and Jesus is just trying to play catch up and make us feel better and more comfortable is one that offers no one help in their times of pain, causes no worship in their times of illness, and grants no hope for the life to come.

Read 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 7 and 8. Paul’s only hope in this life, in light of the sin in his soul and in the world–the hope without which he feels he should be “pitied among all men”–is that someday the sky will split and Jesus would descend with the New Heavens and the New Earth, and all that we’ve ever known will finally experience the resurrection and redemption it’s been longing for for millennia.

We’re not there yet.

Our bodies and this world receive but mere tastes of our physical redemption but it is not yet fully realized. How many truly godly men and women must die from cancer or disease before you and those of your opinion see that it is an idea that can only cause feelings of condemnation in light of sickness? What good could possibly come from this?

My ultimate desire in this exchange isn’t simply that we learn to agree to disagree or that you might respect those of my opinion. It’s that you would actually change your opinion in this. Steve, I have (on several occasions) been faced with the reality of having to change my doctrine in greater degrees than this change would be for you. I have had to face the fact that I spent years teaching and espousing ideas that were not ultimately true.

And, ultimately, I have been comforted in the realization that God uses weak, finite, messed-up, prideful, and wrong people to build his equally messy Church–even when their doctrine is very wrong at times. God has spoken through an ass before, and I trust that he is able to speak through this one writing this blog.

I pray God is gracious to us both, and that we maintain a humble spirit, willing to cast off any doctrinal ideas that stand in the way of knowing our God more deeply, more intimately, and more accurately.

I love you, brother. May our God of Grace, stronger than us, continue to mold and shape us all the more into his Image, both in knowledge and faith. May truth remain, humility reign, and may He set our affections upon Him. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

[image credit]

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14 thoughts on “Pain, Sickness, Spirits & the Bible (my final reply)

  1. Thanks Paul.

    I also consider my Crohn’s disease a gift from God. Sure it doesn’t feel good, but the benefit far outweighs the pain.

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  2. The other night in elder led prayer at my church (The Village) we prayed for you guys at Epiphany! It was really great to be able to not only pray for a fellow church, but also to pray for a church from my hometown. Just thought I’d let you know that there were about 1000 people praying for you guys this week!

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  3. @Andrew-you’re one of those people I had in mind when writing this. Griff also. Thanks for your support, encouragement, readership, and mind.

    @Lore- Two things:

    1- Unfortunately, I no longer go to Epiphany. For the past year, I have been going to this amazing church called Liberti: Center City [ http://libertichurchcentercity.org ] Here’s the story behind that switch: http://goo.gl/FIw6X

    2-You’re from Philly? I really had no idea. I’m realizing only now I know absolutely nothing about you except that you write beautifully and you go to the Village. I can’t even remember how we got connected online in the first place!

    Either way, thank you for the prayers and thinking of us (and me) in Philly. I still think the prayer “counts”.

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  4. Well, at least Philly got a little coverage, eh?

    I was born and raised in the lovely city, didn’t move to NY until I was 19. I get back there as much as possible, though none of my family lives there anymore. It’s still the home of my heart! Although Texas is starting to edge in on that–The Village helps with that–it’s so amazing to be in such a great church.

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  5. Paul , I’ve read your posts to Steve Wolf. I would like to add a few comments. Faith operates effectively by love Galations 5:1-13 ” For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision;but faith which worketh by love” The dictionary defines work, as used in this verse, as “to operate, or cause to operate, especially effectivelly.” The driving force behind true biblical faith is God’s kind of love. When we have a clear revelation of God’s love for us, faith comes naturally. Faith is a byproduct of God’s love. A man argued that God doesn’t heal all the time. His motivation for this belief was his twelve-year-old daughter who was quadriplegic and mentally retarded. He believed God made her that way. Scriptures were shared back and forth and arrived at a stalemate. Finally the question was asked, “What kind of father are you that you don’t love your daughter enough to see her healed?” He became really mad and assured that he’d do anything to see his daughter healed, even to the point of taking her place if that could happen. Response, “And you think God loves her less than you do!” You can argue doctrine, but when it came down to love, it’s inconceivable that a God who not only has love but is love would not use His power on our behalf( 1 John 4:8). Those who don’t believe that the Lord will act on their behalf are people who don’t understand His love. Faith works when we know the great love God has for us. Ask the Lord for a revelation of how much He loves you, and watch your faith come alive. We need to change our thinking to line up with the kingdom of God. God’s Word reveals His knowledge to us, which then releases His faith within us. Faith comes as the results of what we think. If we think the wrong things, we’ll get the wrong results. Those who continually live in poverty don’t know or don’t believe what God’s Word promises them. That’s true of deliverance, healing, joy, and whatever else we need that God has promised. God’s people are destroyed for lack of knowledge(Hos. 4:6) The first step to faith and the victory it produces is obtaining the knowledge of the truth. Your life will change as your faith is released.

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  6. Paul wrote the following:

    “My Response: Steve, thanks for your response. First, to answer your questions (and give some clarifications): yes, I have received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (as according to 1 Cor 12:13), I have received the gift of tongues, and I fully believe in the contemporary and ongoing healing ministry and gifting of the Holy Spirit.”

    Well Paul, this really helps me understand much of your reasoning. I don’t believe you have received the true baptism of the Holy Spirit according to Acts 1:8. It is a second and separate experience from salvation, and I can easily prove this in scripture. Now I know why you haven’t found any “scholars” to share what I have always thought of as common beliefs. To prove the second experience: In Acts ch 8, Philip ministered to the people in Samaria with truth and much power. They believed and were water baptized. Then the apostles sent Peter and John (notice the second – separate experience) “who , when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized with the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:15-17). Want another example? In Acts ch 19, Paul found some disciples in Ephesus, and asked them if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed. They replied that they hadn’t ever heard that there was a Holy Spirit, and had only been baptized into John’s baptism. Acts 19:6 “And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.” You see Paul, its hard for you to wrap your mind around what I’ve been telling you, because you have no power- having not received the baptism. Furthermore, these “scholars” that you read, are actually disqualified for ministry if they haven’t received either.

    Wow, calm down , those aren’t my words, that is what Jesus was telling His disciples when He told them to tarry in Jerusalem untill they received the promise of the Father- the Holy Spirit Baptism. They had just witnessed His resurrected body, and would naturally want to spread this good news, but Jesus commanded them not to depart until they had been endued with power. God does not want us to go out on by our own power to preach the gospel! If you don’t have the power, all you have is words. Jesus would never separate His ministry from the power. In other words, If Jesus needed to show the power to validate His words, who do you think you are to just say whatever you want, and not have to back any of it up with the power of God? Jesus said, “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe for the sake of the works themselves” (Jn 14:11). What do you do with this scripture, Paul? “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father” (Jn 14:12). He said Because I go to My Father meaning that the Father would send the Holy Spirit Baptism to empower them to do the works that He did. Paul, I’m Spirit-filled (I pray in tongues) and you are not, so this debate could go on and on and on since we automatically will interpret many scriptures differently. However, don’t you at least believe in the Great Commission?

    You know the whole “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel …” part. Did you notice what’s attached to it? “And these signs shall follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mk 16:17-18). I’m sure you read my last post: From Superficial to Supernatural, but doubt it did any good. You need the Holy Spirit Baptism my brother, and then you wouldn’t doubt that physical healing is our right under this New Covenant. If you’ve got a problem with my doctrine, then you have a problem with Jesus. I am simply advocating doing the works that He did( because I’m a believer, and it’s attached to the Great Commission). Acts 10:38 “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”

    Why do you resist God? Jesus said that a kingdom divided would not stand. How could God be the Author of sickness when He sent Jesus to heal every sickness and every disease among the people. You won’t find one single instance where Jesus didn’t heal a person who came to Him to be healed. Jesus said He could only say what the Father told Him to say, and do what the Father told Him to do. Jesus was the literal physical manifestation of God’s will. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If Jesus were standing at the foot of your bed during the height of your sickness a few weeks ago- what would he do? Would He heal you ? Of course He would!!! Why then do you get mad at me for healing the sick by the same Spirit on the inside of me? Should I apologize to every person that has received healing after I laid my hands on them and say, well, that doctrine doesn’t sit well with some people, so try to get sick again. I watched Jim Hockaday heal at least 50 people last week by the power of God working through him right here in Bixby, Ok. It was undeniable – which is exactly what Paul was always making reference to when he said the kingdom wasn’t in word only, but power. My heart goes out to your friend Jen due to her condition. If she lived near me, I would gladly prove to both of you that Jesus purchased our healing, and that it is God’s will for her to be healed.

    By the way, I was speaking of Isaiah 53 and not 1 Peter 2:24 (which you saw the need to reference for me). Isaiah 53:4-5 prophesies of what Jesus’ atonement would accomplish for us. The word is confirmed in Matt 18:16-17 “And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet saying: He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.” He bore our sicknesses- seriously man, quit bearing them!

    Paul also wrote:

    “The Finished Work of Christ: I think it is very dangerous to think and preach that “God wishes above all things that we prosper and be in good health”

    Ok Paul, once again, it’s not my doctrine you fight against. 3 Jn 1:2 “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. (KJV) My doctrine is not my own. I don’t believe in a sovereign devil like you say I do. Instead, I believe in a defeated devil (see my Devil is a Loser post). He can only devour those who are ignorant of the Word. We’ll just have to agree to disagree I suppose. I believe people not recognising sickness and disease as NOT FROM GOD is what is actually very harmful to the body. How else are we going to “resist the devil” so he can flee from us?(James 4:7) God wants you healed. you say you believe in the Spiritual gifts – how about the gift of healing. Wouldn’t such a person operating with that gift be actually fighting against God? -if God was the source of the sickness? The next time you get sick, don’t take any medication – no pain relievers at all, so that God can truly bring about whatever redemptive purpose – so that you could more fully learn whatever lesson He is trying to teach you! But wait, I’m the one with the wrong beliefs =) To the guy that considers his Chrones disease a gift from God: would you give/wish that disease upon your son, or how about your mother? I hope not! But God would give that to you? Are you more compassionate than God? That is messed up.

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  7. Steve, I find it interesting that you insist that your quotation come from Isaiah and not from 1 Peter. Nonetheless, I wonder as to your thoughts on 1 Peter 2: 19 – 23:

    “19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

    I’m especially interested in your thoughts on the second part of verse 20.

    Actually, while we’re at it, what about 1 Peter 3: 17 & 18?

    “17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.”

    As Peter seemed to think that suffering might be God’s will, do you think that he also had “a problem with Jesus?”

    I’ve written up some additional thoughts on suffering at my blog, which you can read here: http://www.theneophyte.com/?p=9

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  8. Hey Chris, I read your comment as well as your blog post. I actually agree with much of what you had to say in your blog. Many have made Faith a work – something that we have to maintain – therefore it would appear that we have the burden of seeing our healing manifest.
    Now, the reason I “insist that my quotation came from Isaiah” is because Paul copied my exact response perfectly, except he referenced that particular scripture for me! There was plenty of scripture I didn’t reference, but he felt compelled to reference that one? – I thought that was strange.
    As far as 1 Peter 2:19-23: it is referring to suffering persecution for doing good. Why would I have a problem with that scripture? “Yes all who desire to live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2Tim 3:12). Even Jesus said that a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you(Jn 15:20). 1 Peter 2:20 is saying it is commendable before God to suffer persecution for the furtherance of the gospel. duh, and just as Jesus did not revile in return, neither are we to revile the people that are persecuting us, but rather pray for our enemies. I hope you grasp the obvious difference between sickness and persecution from people. We don’t have authority over people’s free will: Paul’s thorn (explained in my post: Stupid Free Will).
    1 Peter 3:17-18 is more of the same speaking of suffering persecution for doing good. As a Christian that is advancing the Kingdom, we can expect persecution- from ungodly or even religious people (not sickness) and actually be joyfull that we were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name just like the disciples.
    Please read Stupid Free Will before/if you feel like responding. Thanks

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  9. @stevewolf918 ” I can easily prove this in scripture.”

    As soon as someone says that, I think back to 2000 years of church history that consists of debate, struggle, and trials and I realize – no one in their right mind can _ever_ _easily_ _prove_ something in scripture.

    I’m sure you feel very confident about it, but as someone who has an interest area regarding pneumatology and soteriology (especially old testament), I find your position a very minor one in contemporary understandings of Scripture, and an even smaller one in the full scope of church history.

    I don’t want to beat on you, but I do hope you’ll concede that your position is a minority, and thus you face an uphill battle to convince anyone of what you are teaching. That is a difficult thing to do, especially as there are very cohesive full pneumatological systems in existence that fit the texts in question very well.

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  10. Pingback: Pain, Sickness, Spirits & the Bible (Steve’s final reply) [Guest Post] | the long way home

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