In the furnace: healing and suffering

fiery furnaceBrought up as a Pentecostal, I’ve never wavered from the conviction that God’s power is unlimited and that he can intervene in human situations to demonstrate his power and grace.

As a child I heard repeated many times the account of how my mother called a Pastor to come and pray for my uncle who was suffering from TB and close to death. Following the pastor’s prayer my uncle was healed overnight after having a visitation from two angels one of whom said, “We have been told to leave this one.”

The Bible tells us that Jesus healed everyone who came to him. If that was true when he was restricted to earth, why not now that all power is given to him in heaven and on earth?

And yet, practically, we don’t experience healing all the time. In my church there are some wonderful, godly saints who are an inspiration, though plagued by disabilities and illnesses. They have been prayed for many times in many ways but have not been healed. Yet they keep their faith strong and manage to keep praising God and  interceding for others. Old age and death come to us all in the end.

 Recently this has become personal for me.  I started to have a tremor in my body. I asked for prayer – several times. Friends interceded for me. I’ve confessed all I can confess, forgiven everyone I can forgive, rebuked demons, done “sozo” but the tremor is till there and now, 6 months after the tremor started, I have been diagnosed as having Parkinson’s Disease.

On one of the first occasions when I was prayed for, I believe God spoke to me by reminding me of the account in the book of Daniel (chapter 3) of the three young Hebrew exiles, who refused to obey an order from King Nebuchadnezzar to bow down and worship an idol that he had set up. The King threatened them with being thrown into a flaming furnace if they disobey. Their reply is shocking in its defiant faith,

“The God whom we serve is able to deliver us from your Majesty’s hand. But if not, we want you to know, your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods…”

Their defiant response to pressure to conform can shape our response to illness. On the one hand there is the ringing statement of faith, “Our God is able to deliver us.” Of course he is. He is God. Whether the illness started yesterday or has been with you for years, God is able to set you free from it. He could heal me from Parkinson’s Disease. It would be no problem for him.

“But if not…” he is sovereign as well as almighty. He has his plans which may or may not include healing us or answering our prayers. “Not” is always a possibility and we need to be realistic about it.

But If not…” he remains our God, our creator and saviour, and is worthy to be praised and served.

“But if not…” he will be with us to strengthen and help us through the trial, the sickness or the disability you face. He will be there for you.

God could have spared the three young men the ordeal of going into the fire. Instead he chose to accompany them, help them and protect them through it.

He can be with you in your trial and me in mine. The question is, will we stay loyal to him, whatever happens?

Another thought I've found helpful is to realise that the best aspects of human beings are only revealed by being tested. Without suffering and sickness, how would we ever see compassion, courage, faith, empathy, self-sacrifice and other wonderful qualities? As Creator, God is not just interested in making bodies. He is shaping people. Jewellers display their creations against a dark background so the beauty of the gems can be seen to best effect. I think God sometimes does the same with us.


(furnace picture © copyright Ruth Flickr, accesseed from under a Creative Commons license.