This morning the world awoke to news that Aretha Franklin, The Diva, The Queen of Soul had succumbed to her illness with her family at her side. This is in spite of the numerous prayer vigils and intercessions on her behalf for a miraculous healing by leaders many would consider righteous. The resulting question common when a loved one dies from any illness is this-why didn’t God heal them, or more specifically, why does God heal some in ways that leave doctors scratching their heads but allows others to pass into an eternal life removed from our presence?
As I research this common question my stomach turns at the answers given by some who claim expertise in this area. They tout numerous reasons, all having to do with the person who is sick or those praying on their behalf. Those reasons would be a lack of faith, some unconfessed sin in their life, not getting along with their spouse and therefore unqualified, and on and on. However, there is only one answer to this age old question, and it’s not a popular one-WE SIMPLY DON’T KNOW!
It seems like a grand copout to assert this thing called Sovereignty when trying in vain to explain how or why God chooses to respond to certain prayerful petitions and not others. It’s difficult to tell a parent that God is in control when their child is slowly fading away from cancer, or to tell a grieving widow that her husband isn’t suffering anymore because he died prematurely. But the truth, as hard as it is to accept, is that God has a plan, a purpose and a number of days for each life, and that while he may not dictate every illness, everything is ultimately under his custody and control, and at his will.
The Apostle Paul is an often cited example of God’s sovereignty. He was miraculously healed of a poisonous snake bite that should have claimed his life in one chapter, but denied healing from a vision condition, or a thorn in his flesh in another chapter. God’s answer was simply that his grace was sufficient for Paul to endure without healing. In another event Paul’s closest helper Timothy was afflicted with a stomach issue. Paul didn’t lay hands on him to heal him but instead recommended some wine to ease the symptoms. Paul was a man of faith who didn’t always heal and wasn’t always healed!
I am inspired by two stories of uncanny faith and endurance in the midst of terminal illnesses. The first is that of Tommy Paino III, a third generation pastor from a family in the Midwest many regard as evangelistic royalty. Tommy was diagnosed with ALS not long into his Sr. Pastor status of a church in Indiana. This Pentecostal-influenced family believed and practice healing and witnessed many miracles in their ministry. But all prayers for Tommy’s healing went unanswered, as we define earthly healing. Tommy continued to minister even after he was confined to a wheel chair. He wanted his congregation to see that healed or not, God’s grace allowed him to function, but not before he wrestled with his own questions, anxiety, anger, fear and even faith. When he could no longer speak his wife kept a journal on his behalf. You can read his story in a book entitled Welcome Home Tommy by Marilyn Ryerson. Tommy went on to be with the Lord in 1999 without receiving his earthly healing but many lives were changed as a result of them seeing what God’s grace looks like in the darkest of times.
There is another story a little closer to home. Stephanie was the daughter and granddaughter of dear friends of mine. She had recently married, was an elementary school teacher and was excited at the prospect of her new life when the news came that no one ever wants to hear. Cancer. It was at first limited to her ovaries but over time it seemed elusive and would eventually ravage most of her young body, spreading to her brain and eventually her stomach . We prayed, we fasted, we interceded on her behalf, anointed her, confessed deliverance, all the faith things we are taught to do at such a time, but those prayers went unanswered. Like Tommy Paino, Steph kept a journal of her ordeal as well, and it was every bit as inspiring. The following is one of her last journal entries:
“Good morning! First I’d like to thank God for giving me this opportunity to share the
beautiful love story he is writing through my life. Words can not express my complete
wonder of the unconditional love he has for me.”
That doesn’t sound like someone facing the reality of her own pending mortality. This sounds like Paul or Peter, full of boldness and grace, fighting the fight of faith against the worst of odds. But wait, there’s more. She sent the following text to some ladies in her church, again displaying unimaginable grace considering her circumstances:
“Hi ladies! Believe it or not my life is coming to an end. Could be end of this
week, next, who knows, Ry knows more. I’m in i.c.u. and was unable to get
the tube yesterday because my abdomen is full of cancer. We are calling
home hospice in. I have a will and power of attorney. I’ve decided to not do
the Palm thing, but be cremated and do a celebration of life at Hope and
then spread my ashes near the Hotel Del in San Diego. Can only have family
at i.c.u., but will see you when I get home. God has a plan, and it’s a good
plan! I love you!”
She went on to her reward about a week later. She never received her healing even though thousands were interceding on her behalf. Could God have healed her-of course, with God all things are possible. Did he? No. Why? We simply don’t know, but we do know lives were changed as they witnessed her fearless and triumphant entry into eternity.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect to this challenging question is the evidence you witness personally. We had an extended family member who was given the devastating news that she didn’t have long due to a terminal illness. I did what we are instructed to do, that is lay hands on her and pray for her healing. Miraculously one week later she attended my birthday party and went on to live a couple more years. When you experience God’s healing power first-hand and then see other times when that power is withheld for reasons only known to God, it does cause you to question aspects of faith. We can quote every healing scripture recorded and still not witness earthly miracles. It can be crippling if you choose to engage in the mental torment for any extended period of time. But, God’s grace is truly sufficient. Tommy and Stephanie would both say the same if they could.
One thing we do know for sure; in Heaven there will be no pain, no tears, no heartache, no sickness, no cancer no ALS, no premature death! We will be ultimately and eternally healed from all earthly afflictions. It is our eternal hope and the reason we press forward when nothing else makes sense. I am facing my own physical challenge and the future for me is anything but certain. But God… Rest in the knowledge of His unlimited grace and mercy-rejoice in the hope of eternal reunions, continue to believe in a God of miracles but don’t lose heart when those miracles aren’t clear to us in this life.