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OPINION - Miracles and healing today

Rev. Mike Beaumont looks at Biblical miracles, and asks if miracles still happen today, and should we be praying for them?

Read time: 9 minutes and 49 seconds

Miracles and healing clearly played a significant part in Jesus’ mission, the four gospels show us; and it’s clear from Acts that they continued to be a key aspect of the early church’s life and mission too. So that leaves us with two key questions: first, should we expect to see such miracles and healing today? And second, if we should, why don’t we see more of them?

Let’s start by looking back…

Miracles and Healing in the Early Church

It’s clear from both Acts and the New Testament letters that miracles and healing were just a regular part of life for the first Christians. Sharing the message of Jesus wasn’t just a matter of words for them (as it can so often be today) but included “many signs and wonders” (Acts 5:12). Many specific healings are recorded in Acts (e.g., 3:1-10; 5:12-16; 8:4-8; 9:32-43; 14:8-10; 19:11-12; 28:7-9), and all these were simply seen as a normal part of sharing the gospel (e.g., Acts 5:12-16; 8:4-8). There are also a number of non-healing miracles recorded, like Ananias and Sapphira dropping dead as a result of God’s judgment on their deception (5:1-11), angelic visitations (10:1-8), miraculous releases from prison (12:1-19; 16:16-40), someone being raised from the dead (20:7-12) and Paul not dying from a deadly snake bite (28:1-6). And although many scholars now think that Mark 16:9-20 wasn’t part of Mark’s original gospel but was added later to “round off’ his abrupt ending, its addition still reflects the fact that the early church saw miracles and healings as a key authentication of the truth of their message. The New Testament letters also reflect that miracles and healing were a normal part of the Christian life (e.g., Philippians 2:25-27; Hebrews 2:3-4; James 5:14-15); and the Apostle Paul said that some Christians have special healing gifts (1 Corinthians 12:9).

In short, miracles and healing were clearly the norm, not something unusual or exceptional.

What was the Purpose of Miracles and Healings?

It’s important to note that, both for Jesus and the early church, miracles and healings were never just “for the sake of it” or to attract a crowd—and certainly not simply because they didn’t have good healthcare in those days. Rather, they were all powerful demonstrations of the fact that God’s kingdom was starting to break in and the miracles and healings showed what life looks like when God is allowed to rule—demons flee, sickness vanishes, people are restored.

In a Jewish culture that believed in the one true God, such things demonstrated God’s care for ordinary people. In a Gentile, polytheistic culture they demonstrated the reality and superiority of the one true living God (e.g., Acts 19:11-20).

So What About Today?

Let’s return now to our two original questions…

First, should we expect to see such miracles and healing today? Some Christians say, “No.” Miracles and healing, they argue, were simply God’s gracious gifts to “get the church going” and to enable it to make an impact on the world. Once the church was established, then such things were no longer needed, they say.

However, the New Testament never suggests that a time would come when such things would be superfluous to the church’s mission. In fact, the very opposite is true—that “these signs will accompany those who believe” (Mark 16:17), while Jesus promised that “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). So, it seems impossible to be authentic to the Biblical text and reject any idea that miracles and healings can still happen today.

Also, this kind of approach assumes that our modern world somehow doesn’t need to experience such things, that people have somehow “grown up” and can be convinced merely by intellectual argument. But in the increasingly secular Western world—although a world that is still surprisingly open to spirituality—miracles and healings could serve the church’s message and mission powerfully today.

Have I experienced any miracles personally?

Yes! Though I will be honest enough to acknowledge that it’s nowhere near as many as I would have liked to experience. And by no means everyone I have prayed for has always got better. But I’ve seen enough healings to make me keep wanting to pray for more.

One thing I have noticed is that far more people get healed in third-world/developing nations than in the West. I suspect that this is because they don’t have free government health care or private medical insurance like most people in the West do; so they come with more faith—even desperation; because if prayer doesn’t work, then they have no other options. Maybe that’s why we don’t see so many miracles and healings in the West, because we always have other options.

But rather than tell you of some of my own experiences, let me turn the spotlight away from me to two people in my own church.

First, Tony, who is an evangelist and who loves to pray for healing for people. While taking a religious studies class in a school one day, he met a girl who was experiencing chronic pain from scoliosis of the spine. She said she wouldn’t be there for the following week’s class as she was due to have surgery for her problem. So Tony asked if she would like to give Jesus an opportunity to heal her, and then prayed for her. The following week, there she was, in class after all. When he asked her why she was there and not in hospital, she replied that she went for the surgery but that, when they examined her again, they couldn’t find anything wrong and that she was totally healed. Jesus had healed her. A surprise element of the story is that Tony went home and told his wife, who is a medical doctor, about what had happened. And that was the turning point for her in believing that God could still heal today—something she had always doubted.

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Christianity OPINION - Miracles and healing today

A second story comes from Lynda, who discovered a large lump in her breast. Her GP referred her to a specialist who arranged for a mammogram and a biopsy (the insertion of a hollow needle into the breast to take a sample of the tissue) and told her to come back the following week for the results. When she returned, she was told that the results of the biopsy were inconclusive and that she would need another one; but because she was so badly bruised from the first biopsy, they couldn’t repeat it that day and told her to come back after the Christmas holiday period. During all of this, Lynda had asked for prayer for healing—and the church continued to pray earnestly for her in this waiting period. By the time she went back to the hospital, a miracle had happened. They prepared to do the biopsy but they simply couldn’t find the lump—a lump that had been large, remember. The consultant was completely shocked and found it so hard to believe that the lump had disappeared through prayer that he kept Lynda on his list for the next six months as he expected to see her again. He never did. And he never has, since that all that happened back in 2011.

So, if we should still expect miracles and healings, why don’t we see more healings?

So, if this kind of thing can still happen, why don’t we see more of it? Any honest answer must surely begin by confessing, “We don’t know!” But here are some possible reasons –

Sometimes it’s because we want miracles and healing for the wrong reasons—to serve our purposes rather than God’s. It’s clear in the gospels that Jesus used miracles and healing always to point people to God and his Kingdom, whereas—if we are honest—we sometimes want them to point to us, our faith, our ministry, our church.

Sometimes it’s because we are simply too scared to step out and pray for a miracle or healing, fearful of failure or disappointment—especially if we’ve been disappointed in the past. We rehearse all kinds of questions: “What if my prayer isn’t answered? What will I say to the person if they aren’t healed? Will I be able to pray for healing again if it doesn’t happen?” But those kinds of questions rob us of faith before we even begin. If a doctor never gave out medication for fear of it not working, we would all be in trouble! So, what is the difference between that and praying? Our job is simply to pray; it’s up to God what he then does.

Sometimes it’s because we want miracles in the wrong place. Read the Gospels and Acts and it’s pretty clear that miracles and healing happened predominantly out in the world, in the context of evangelism, rather than inside the church in the context of a cosy meeting. They were demonstrations of God’s love and power to the lost, rather than reassurances to the saved. Maybe Christians would see more healings if they stepped out in faith and prayed for those without a faith, rather than people who already believe.

Sometimes it’s because we want miracles and healing as a kind of “get-out-of-jail-free” card to help us avoid any kind of suffering in life, especially in the West where Christian faith can simply be seen as a means of meeting all “my” needs. Yet both Jesus and the early Christians knew what it was to suffer for, and in, their faith, just like countless Christians around the world still do. So, a good question to ask ourselves is, “Why am I asking for this miracle or healing?”

Sometimes it’s because healing is simply not in God’s plan, even though we can’t understand why. Not everyone who was sick in the New Testament church was healed. Paul wrote that “I left Trophimus ill in Miletus” (2 Timothy 4:20) and Paul himself suffered what he called “a thorn in the flesh” which, despite him praying about it, God didn’t take away, but rather told him simply that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (see 2 Corinthians 12:7-10)—a promise that many Christians have experienced for themselves down the centuries.

Some people say that if we aren’t healed, it’s simply because we didn’t have enough faith. But while this may be true on occasions, it’s far too simplistic an interpretation of the New Testament material. For while there are clear examples of faith being called for at times (e.g., James 5:14-16), there are also examples of healing where faith isn’t even mentioned—for example, the man with a physical disability at the pool of Bethesda, whose only words were ones of self-pity, not faith, and who when questioned later by the religious authorities didn’t even know who it was who had healed him (John 5:1-15). So, there was absolutely no faith involved there.

Telling people that they haven’t been healed because they didn’t have enough faith can cause them huge damage—and it does make God rather small, limiting his activity to our faith.

To Pray or Not to Pray?

So, should we still pray for healing and miracles or not? Absolutely we should, for it’s impossible to be authentic to the Jesus of the New Testament and not do so. In fact, what do we have to lose—Christian or non-Christian—by “giving it a go” and seeing what God might do? He might just surprise us!