There is so much misunderstanding around the connection between faith and healing. What really confuses people is when Jesus tells the person who got healed that their faith has healed them. There are three main incidents of this in the Gospel accounts.
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”Mark 5:34
“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.Mark 10:52
Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”Luke 17:19
The first one is with the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. She touches the edge of Jesus’s robe and is healed. Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” The second one is blind Bartimaeus. After calling out to Jesus, Bartimaeus is invited over to Him. Jesus heals him and says, “your faith has healed you.”
The third incident is with 10 lepers that approach Jesus for healing. They travel together as a leper colony and together ask Jesus to heal them. He sends them away to show themselves to the priests, and “as they went” they were completely healed from leprosy. Even though all of them were physically healed, only one returns to give thanks. He is a Samaritan. Jesus tells this one that his faith has made him well. The word used here in the Greek is sozo meaning saved, healed, and delivered. More than just physically healed, this man who returned is healed at a deeper level, at the level of his soul, because of his faith.
What our western mindsets do with these accounts is to reverse the logic. We wrongly assume that if their faith healed them, then if someone isn’t healed it is because of a lack of faith on the part of the person seeking healing. This misunderstanding has been perpetuated in some corners of the charismatic tradition and has led to some really toxic practices in the church. But we must take these incidents together with other healings we see Jesus perform.
In the Gospel of Mark we see Jesus heal a man with leprosy who isn’t sure Jesus is willing to heal him. The man prefaced his request for healing with, “If you are willing…” (Mark 1:40-41). In the same Gospel we see a father bring his son to Jesus asking for healing and deliverance. This father prefaced his request with “…if you can do anything…” (Mark 9:22-24). This dad isn’t even sure Jesus is able to do anything. Neither one of these guys show tremendous faith, and yet Jesus still heals.
We also see a couple times where Jesus heals someone not because of the faith of the person needing healing but because of the faith of a friend or family member. When Jesus heals the paralyzed man on the mat who is lowered through the roof, it is because Jesus sees “their faith,” meaning the faith of the friends lowering their friend through the roof (Luke 5:20). When Jesus heals and delivers the daughter of the Canaanite woman, he acknowledges the mother’s faith, not the daughter’s (Matthew 15:28). When the centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant who is paralyzed and suffering, Jesus did so based on the centurion’s faith, not the servant’s (Matthew 8:10).
What we learn from these accounts is that faith, among other things, is a conduit of healing power. Yet, while it seems that faith has to be somewhere in the equation, it doesn’t have to be found in the person asking for healing. In cases where people have little or no faith, Jesus himself has plenty of faith to act as the conduit of healing. In other cases, the friend or family member provide more than enough faith to be a conduit for healing.
So, let’s return to the times Jesus said, “your faith has healed you.” What is Jesus really saying? I believe Jesus is giving a word of encouragement to the person who is seeking the healing. I believe Jesus is saying something like this, “When you came to ask for healing, I didn’t have to use any of my own faith as a conduit for healing. And it didn’t require any faith from your friends or family. When you came, you came with so much faith that your own faith was enough to be a conduit of your own healing!” Taken this way, we can see that Jesus’s words are mean to empower. (Imagine how empowering those words would be to a person who lived in a religious culture that assumed their physical ailment was a result of a lack of faithfulness on their part–see Luke 13:1-5.)
Let me conclude by stating clearly that faith is not the only variable impacting whether someone experiences healing. There are lots of variables, some of them mysterious and others unknowable. But what we learn from scripture is that of all the variables that are involved in healing, faith is one of them. Not the only one, but one nonetheless. And while it needs to be present, it doesn’t have to be present in the person needing healing. It can be present in the person praying. It can be present in a family member or friend. It just needs to be in the room somewhere and that’s all God needs to use it as a conduit for healing.