If God always does what you ask Him to do…
He wouldn’t be God…You would…
Some use this question in an attempt to “disprove” the existence of God. In fact, there is a popular anti-Christian website dedicated to the “Why won’t God heal amputees?” argument: http://www.whywontgodhealamputees.com. If God is all-powerful and if Jesus promised to do anything we ask (or so the reasoning goes), then why won’t God ever heal amputees when we pray for them? Why does God heal victims of cancer and diabetes, for example, yet He never causes an amputated limb to be regenerated? The fact that an amputee stays an amputee is “proof” to some that God does not exist, that prayer is useless, that so-called healings are coincidence, and that religion is a myth.
The above argument is usually presented in a thoughtful, well-reasoned way, with a liberal sprinkling of Scripture to make it seem all the more legitimate. However, it is an argument based on a wrong view of God and a misrepresentation of Scripture. The line of reasoning often employed in the “why won’t God heal amputees” argument makes at least seven false assumptions:
Assumption 1: God has never healed an amputee. Who is to say that in the history of the world, God has never caused a limb to regenerate? To say, “I have no empirical evidence that limbs can regenerate; therefore, no amputee has ever been healed in the history of the world” is akin to saying “I have no empirical evidence that rabbits live in my yard; therefore, no rabbit has ever lived on this ground in the history of the world.” It’s a conclusion that simply cannot be drawn. Besides, we have the historical record of Jesus healing lepers, some of whom we may assume had lost digits or facial features. In each case, the lepers were restored whole (Mark 1:40-42; Luke 17:12-14). Also, there is the case of the man with the shriveled hand (Matthew 12:9-13), and the restoration of Malchus’s severed ear (Luke 22:50-51), not to mention the fact that Jesus raised the dead (Matthew 11:5; John 11), which would undeniably be even more difficult than healing an amputee.
Assumption 2: God’s goodness and love require Him to heal everyone. Illness, suffering, and pain are the result of our living in a cursed world—cursed because of our sin (Genesis 3:16-19; Romans 8:20-22). God’s goodness and love moved Him to provide a Savior to redeem us from the curse (1 John 4:9-10), but our ultimate redemption will not be realized until God has made a final end of sin in the world. Until that time, we are still subject to physical death.
If God’s love required Him to heal every disease and infirmity, then no one would ever die—because “love” would maintain everyone in perfect health. The biblical definition of love is “a sacrificial seeking what is best for the loved one.” What is best for us is not always physical wholeness. Paul the apostle prayed to have his “thorn in the flesh” removed, but God said, “No,” because He wanted Paul to understand he didn’t need to be physically whole to experience the sustaining grace of God. Through the experience, Paul grew in humility and in the understanding of God’s mercy and power (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
The testimony of Joni Eareckson Tada provides a modern example of what God can do through physical tragedy. As a teenager, Joni suffered a diving accident that left her a quadriplegic. In her book Joni, she relates how she visited faith healers many times and prayed desperately for the healing which never came. Finally, she accepted her condition as God’s will, and she writes, “The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that God doesn’t want everyone well. He uses our problems for His glory and our good” (p. 190).
Assumption 3: God still performs miracles today just as He did in the past. In the thousands of years of history covered by the Bible, we find just four short periods in which miracles were widely performed (the period of the Exodus, the time of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, the ministry of Jesus, and the time of the apostles). While miracles occurred throughout the Bible, it was only during these four periods that miracles were “common.”
The time of the apostles ended with the writing of Revelation and the death of John. That means that now, once again, miracles are rare. Any ministry which claims to be led by a new breed of apostle or claims to possess the ability to heal is deceiving people. “Faith healers” play upon emotion and use the power of suggestion to produce unverifiable “healings.” This is not to say that God does not heal people today—we believe He does—but not in the numbers or in the way that some people claim.
We turn again to the story of Joni Eareckson Tada, who at one time sought the help of faith healers. On the subject of modern-day miracles, she says, “Man’s dealing with God in our day and culture is based on His Word rather than ‘signs and wonders’” (op cit., p. 190). His grace is sufficient, and His Word is sure.
Assumption 4: God is bound to say “yes” to any prayer offered in faith. Jesus said, “I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:12-14). Some have tried to interpret this passage as Jesus agreeing to whatever we ask. But this is misreading Jesus’ intent. Notice, first, that Jesus is speaking to His apostles, and the promise is for them. After Jesus’ ascension, the apostles were given power to perform miracles as they spread the gospel (Acts 5:12). Second, Jesus twice uses the phrase “in My name.” This indicates the basis for the apostles’ prayers, but it also implies that whatever they prayed for should be consonant with Jesus’ will. A selfish prayer, for example, or one motivated by greed, cannot be said to be prayed in Jesus’ name.
We pray in faith, but faith means that we trust God. We trust Him to do what is best and to know what is best. When we consider all the Bible’s teaching on prayer (not just the promise given to the apostles), we learn that God may exercise His power in response to our prayer, or He may surprise us with a different course of action. In His wisdom He always does what is best (Romans 8:28).
Assumption 5: God’s future healing (at the resurrection) cannot compensate for earthly suffering. The truth is, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). When a believer loses a limb, he has God’s promise of future wholeness, and faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Jesus said, “It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire” (Matthew 18:8). His words confirm the relative unimportance of our physical condition in this world, as compared to our eternal state. To enter life maimed (and then to be made whole) is infinitely better than to enter hell whole (to suffer for eternity).
Assumption 6: God’s plan is subject to man’s approval. One of the contentions of the “why won’t God heal amputees” argument is that God just isn’t “fair” to amputees. Yet, Scripture is clear that God is perfectly just (Psalm 11:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-6) and in His sovereignty answers to no one (Romans 9:20-21). A believer has faith in God’s goodness, even when circumstances make it difficult and reason seems to falter.
Assumption 7: God does not exist. This is the underlying assumption on which the whole “why won’t God heal amputees” argument is based. Those who champion the “why won’t God heal amputees” argument start with the assumption that God does not exist and then proceed to buttress their idea as best they can. For them, “religion is a myth” is a foregone conclusion, presented as a logical deduction but which is, in reality, foundational to the argument.
In one sense, the question of why God doesn’t heal amputees is a trick question, comparable to “Can God make a rock too big for Him to lift?” and is designed not to seek for truth but to discredit faith. In another sense, it can be a valid question with a biblical answer. That answer, in short, would be something like this: “God can heal amputees and will heal every one of them who trusts Christ as Savior. The healing will come, not as the result of our demanding it now, but in God’s own time, possibly in this life, but definitely in heaven. Until that time, we walk by faith, trusting the God who redeems us in Christ and promises the resurrection of the body.”