sickness and healing (part 2): death as healing?
Note: I recommend you read Part 1 of this series to understand the context of these questions.
In this post I want to address another related question that I mentioned last time, namely whether dying and “going to be with Jesus” is a form of healing.
In the course of the sermon discussions described in the last post it was suggested by one participant that when a sick person does not receive healing and dies as a result of their sickness then this could be seen as a form of healing since the person goes to heaven to be with Jesus.
Someone then asked whether being cured by medicine could be seen “healing” in a biblical sense.
In response I asked my group a question – “Are we saying that miraculous healing is “healing”, and so is being cured by medicine, and also dying? If yes, does that mean that everything is healing? Even not being healed is healing. What isn’t healing?”
Personally I don’t think dying is a form of healing at all. To suggest so is, to me, a misunderstanding of the biblical view of healing and death. Allow me to explain.
In the Bible death is consistently viewed as an enemy. It is not a good thing at all.
Most Christians seem to believe that when we die we go to heaven, and as a result they reason that death is not such a bad thing.
But there is a problem with this view; the Bible never makes the case that when we die we go off to heaven as disembodied souls forever. This is not the ultimate destiny of God’s people, as Tom Wright so articulately argues in his book Surprised by Hope.
The biblical drama is much grander than that!
In the Bible we see that many of God’s people leading up to Jesus, and certainly the early Christians, believed that God was in the process of restoring all of creation. Part of this process will eventually be an event in the future when Jesus will return and God will finally and ultimately restore all things, bringing a renewed heaven and earth together as one. Important texts about this future reality in the New Testament include Romans 8, Ephesians 1:10 and Revelation 21-22.
God is not planning to destroy the earth and send us all to heaven as souls for all infinity – he is planning to make all things in heaven and on earth new and right.
This includes us! Our bodies are not worthless pieces of cosmic junk; rather our bodies are part of God’s beautiful creation that he plans to restore.
The early Church believed not in an everlasting disembodied existence in a non-material heaven (a view from Neoplatonic Greek philosophy taken up by the Gnostics, by the way); instead they believed in a coming Resurrection.
Resurrection refers to an event, described in 1 Corinthians 15, in which God will raise up all the dead for judgement. If we want to know what it will be like we need only look at the Resurrection of Jesus, which is the prototype, the first fruits if you will, of what will happen to the rest of us.
The coming Resurrection is the final defeat of death, since death will be overcome by God. Those who have been struck down by death will be raised up revealing the end of death’s reign. It is at this point that there will be no more pain or suffering for people, every tear will be wiped away, and everyone will be wholly and finally healed!
Why is it then mistaken to say that dying is a form of healing? Because healing is not colluding with death, rather healing is overcoming death! Death is truly a tragedy, a blemish on God’s good creation; it is not a form of healing.
(No wonder Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead rather than leave her be.)
For now we look forward to that future when the kingdom of God comes in its fullness. In the meantime we act to anticipate the coming restoration in the present, working for the coming of the kingdom on earth now! This means working against the forces of death – poverty, war, environmental collapse, social exclusion etc. – and bring healing and peace to the world (shalom – wholeness).
The Bible is basically silent on what happens to us immediately after death – it seems no one really knows! What is clear however is that death is not God’s plan. But nor is death the end, even though it is inevitable for now.
Clearly the way we see God’s plans for the future makes a huge difference as to how we act now. If we think the ultimate aim of existence is to escape the body and go to heaven then we will not be drawn to value the body, nor creation in general, and death will be a good thing since it frees us from this damn material existence.
But if what I have said is true then this is a sub-biblical vision of God’s plans. If we think God wants to restore all things then we will value his material creation and will act for its good. This means working against the anti-creational force of death in the world in order to see healing now until a future time when God makes all things new.
P.S. I have written on this topic previously. If you would like some more thoughts check out this post.
* An Aramaic word, and an early Christian prayer, meaning “O Lord, come!”
Posted on December 6, 2011, in Biblical Studies, Theology and tagged Creation, Death, Heal, Healing, Heaven, N.T. Wright, Resurrection, Surprised by Hope, Tom Wright. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.