“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”John 16:33
The longer you live the more you come face to face with the enormity of pain and tragedy in this world. There is suffering and heartbreak at every turn. As a follower of Jesus, the only way to navigate the brokenness of the world is to have both a theology of healing and a theology of suffering. One without the other will be insufficient and will lead to despair.
A theology of suffering without a theology of healing leads us to believe we can’t have victory over sin, disease, or spiritual darkness this side of heaven. It leaves us trudging through this world of pain in a perpetual state of gloom and doom. It neglects our calling to bring heaven to earth. It never fully embraces all that Jesus accomplished on the cross and in the resurrection. It will likely lead to cynicism and attempts to escape this world rather than transform it. In Ephesians 4:11 terms, it tries to be pastoral without being apostolic.
Likewise, a theology of healing without a theology of suffering has a difficult time facing tragedy and pain. It tends to avoid the reality of suffering. It doesn’t allow for people to be in process or in grief. It neglects the important disciplines of being joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in enduring prayer. It struggles to be down in the muck walking with people. In Ephesians 4:11 terms, it tries to be apostolic without being pastoral.
A healthy and robust Kingdom theology makes room for both healing and suffering. When Jesus arrived in the flesh, He inaugurated the Kingdom of God on the earth. “Inaugurated” is a term that speaks to the reality that the Kingdom is already here, breaking out among us, but not yet here in all of its fullness and glory. Scholars call this the “already/not yet” of the Kingdom.
We now live in the in-between. This means that our reality will bear witness to both the “already” of the Kingdom and the “not yet” of the Kingdom. Our theology of healing expresses the already of the Kingdom. Our theology of suffering expresses the not yet of the Kingdom.
We must hold the already and not yet in tension with each other. Leaning too far in one direction or the other causes problems. For instance, when it comes to physical healing, we must admit these two truths: 1) God wants to heal and 2) not everyone is healed this side of heaven. Likewise, we must admit these two truths about salvation: 1) God wants all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, and 2) not all will be saved.
There are a number of variables that prevent the Kingdom of God from expressing its fullness. Sin has caused a general brokenness in all of creation. It’s the background noise of brokenness that seems to infect every part of the world. Not only that, but sin has caused a break down in the way people treat each other. It has also caused a break in the way we relate to ourselves and to God. Add to all of this a real enemy, Satan, who is actively employing the kingdom of darkness to work against God’s purposes in the world, and you can begin to get a picture of the real mess we are in.
So while God’s Kingdom has come and is breaking out out among us–seeking to restore, redeem, and renew–there are many factors that are pressing against the advancement of God’s Kingdom in the world. The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) gives us a picture of this reality. God’s Kingdom is growing in the world, but so is the kingdom of darkness.
A healthy theology of healing acknowledges things like our victory in Christ, that sin and death have been defeated, that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, and that all things have been placed under His feet. A healthy theology of healing declares that God wants to heal in the same way that God wants all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4), that healing is a mandate given to the Church by Christ, and that there is no sickness in heaven. This is why we pray expecting healing when we pray “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We have been given supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, and we are expected to use them to the glory of God. We aren’t waiting to get to heaven to experience the Kingdom of God. We are called to partner with God now in ushering in His Kingdom in increasing measure.
Likewise, a healthy theology of suffering acknowledges that, this side of heaven, not everyone will be miraculously healed, that God’s will is not always done on earth as it is in heaven, and that pain is a part of this broken world. A healthy theology of suffering acknowledges that in this world we will have trouble and that the enemy doesn’t play fair but is out to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). A healthy theology of suffering will not blame God as the author of suffering, but will acknowledge that sin has stained all aspects of life and that we wade through a sea of brokenness as we live in this world. We are called to come alongside people and walk with people through their suffering. We are called to love others in the same way that Jesus loves us.
In the end, God is with us through it all. Sometimes we’ll be healed. Sometimes we won’t. Some aspects of God’s Kingdom are already here, and some have not yet arrived. But what is always available to us is the peace of Christ that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). His comfort and Presence are always available to us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. His love for us is our unending source of strength even in the midst of brokenness. And we can take comfort in the fact that we serve a God of resurrection. He specializes in bringing new life out of death. We confess that whether in healing or in suffering, Christ is all in all. For we have died with Christ and our life is now hidden in Him.