Does God Want to Heal Everyone?

Chad Norris is a pre-eminently likeable guy. I liked him. You would like him. Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street would like him. Nuts, even a pre-conversion Ebenezer Scrooge would like him. And that stands as the biggest plus that his new book Signs, Wonders and a Baptist Preacher has going for it. The guy lays himself out there with genuine humility and vulnerability. If these don’t flow, we don’t have them. He messes up, goes off half baked on some fad only to burn out quickly, doesn’t always finish what he starts, gets in jams and embarrasses himself in public like that time in a toilet stall in an airport ladies’ restroom when…well, read it for yourself. Chad talks about God breaking into his life in powerful new ways that take him places he’d never expected. He reminds me in the style of his telling of John Wimber, a leader of something called the Third Wave now embodied in the Vineyard churches. Everybody who met God in the Bible would line up with him. He traces his life growing up through Southern Baptist channels and dealing with some heavy duty anger against God stemming from ignorant remarks said about the death of a beloved grandfather.

Chad is a snapshot of a lot of people. Many come alive to God by “crossing over.” By that I mean leaving one group and moving to another on the theological, ecclesiastical, experiential spectrum. A few decades ago, a lot of people left Catholicism and mainline Protestant churches only to wind up in fundamental/evangelical/charismatic churches. This happened alongside, and in spite of, a strong charismatic surge inside both of the former groups. Today many younger adults find fire coming back into their faith moving the opposite direction including some exploring Eastern Orthodoxy. Unlike many who cross over, Chad does not trash the group he leaves (Southern Baptists), realizing that God used it to bring him to a certain point. His tone here is quite admirable. Through a combination of depression (he says we shouldn’t trust anyone who hasn’t been to counseling…I get it), spiritual ferment and a series of experiences (which I won’t spoil), he finds himself drawn to ministering through signs and wonders – miracles as performed in the New Testament.

Chad mentions that he would read some books with an eye toward tearing them apart (theological dissection). Some readers will do that with this one. But they shouldn’t and many who will have agendas of their own. A word about me – my faith came alive during my years in college during something called the Jesus Movement of the 60’s and 70’s. Signs and wonders were part of that. For thirty-nine years, I’ve been involved in Southern Baptist life (the group Chad left) where the only wonder in many places might be that there are still chicken legs on the table fifteen minutes after the potluck starts. In over forty years of Christian living, I’ve found that people experience these kinds of things (healing, dreams, visions, words of knowledge, etc.) all over the place. Sometimes I think He love us so much He can’t help Himself and reaches through the tissue thin veil of time and space. They suppress their stories like someone who was kidnapped by a UFO, not wanting to be thought weird or crazy. They will share them if they find someone they can trust. And also true to biblical type, they often weren’t looking for a supernatural experience; God ambushed them. At best they expected a more conventional response from Him.

But didn’t this stuff die out long ago? When the Bible was completed, couldn’t and didn’t we do away with this kind of thing?  Although some would disagree, my answer would be “no.” Both historical surveys, as contained in Jack Deere’s Surprised By the Voice of God, and modern missiologists, like Charles Kraft, aware of the church around the world, lay out much evidence in support. But Chad is a “boots on the ground” kind of guy who wants to get Christians praying for Jesus-sized things and, if this book has that effect, he and I both will be glad.

One point that might need a tweak involves Chad’s use of the phrase “Kingdom of God.” Since he’s writing his story and not a heavy theology (although his points on intimacy and “knowing” God deserve serious thought), style could account for what I describe. (A couple of meaty treatments along these lines would include Power Healing by John Wimber and When the Spirit Comes With Power by John White) Are we deficient in the Kingdom if we aren’t seeing these miracles, especially seeing everyone healed? Possibly and Chad would be stronger than me on this. His chapter 11, “When Healing Does Not Come,” mainly encourages people reaching this direction to not stop praying and believing in the face of answers and results that don’t come. He describes sadness and tears at the deaths of people prayed over for healing. His encouragements are voiced with grace and will do good to those the Lord leads this way. Jesus Christ doesn’t work for us and therefore doesn’t always owe us an explanation as to why things don’t happen. Our job is to keep asking Him to do what only He can do.

But can we be deficient in the Kingdom of God by focusing on supernatural manifestations, running from meeting to meeting for goose bumps and gawking, making these things almost an idol? In John 4:48, Jesus confronts those tagging along with Him saying, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” Spiritual maturity still involves walking by faith and not by sight (II Cor. 5:7) A good biblical case can be made that supernatural manifestations do not, by themselves, deepen us. Israel in the Exodus was saturated with the supernatural for forty years in the wilderness and only two people from all those leaving Egypt (thousands) entered the Promised Land. Jesus healed ten lepers but only one returned to say thanks. (Luke 17:11-19) Being healed doesn’t mean we hit and stick; some walk away pretty quickly. Paul’s heaviest lifting in pastoral work was at Corinth where people argued over gifts and anointing, ignoring a rat’s nest of spiritual dysfunction and sin. Works like War On the Saints (unabridged) by Jessie Penn Lewis chronicle some of the same.

Does God always want to heal everyone? Some would say an unequivocal “yes.” I can’t, and I start with Jesus not healing Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (II Cor. 12:1-10). Whether illness or demonic influence of some kind, God told Paul after three times to drop it because there were things to do – a gospel to be preached, churches to plant, letters to write. Both John Wimber and his British counterpart, David Watson, died of cancer with notable suffering involved. No one believed in the miraculous more than these two. Watson’s Fear No Evil chronicles his heart as he both wrestles with healing and succumbs to terminal illness.

Maybe my thoughts steer more to Chad’s readers than to Chad himself. Since he’s in process (aren’t we all?), maybe he has another book in the oven. And, better still, maybe the two of us need a good conversation over burritos at “Moe’s”, not quite a sign or wonder but one of God’s good gifts for sure. We would agree that the lovers of Jesus need to keep on asking Him to throw His fastball. His love will sort the rest out.

For more conversation on Signs, Wonders and a Baptist Preacher, visit the Patheos Book Club here.

David Swartz pastors Bethel Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan. He thinks that jazz is sacred music, that books are better company than most people, and that university towns rock. He blogs at geezeronthequad.com.

 


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