Did God Answer Paul’s Prayers for Healing?
I neither want to say that God did not answer Paul’s prayer nor that he answered “no.” Earlier I wrote about seven dimensions of health that are integral to well-being. I argued that the bio-medical dimension is often given exclusive attention with the result that other components are overlooked.
The seven dimensions are:
- Mental health
- Supportive relationships
- Security of basic needs
- Intellectual (freedom of thought)
- Harmony with the created order
These seven dimensions work together for personal health or well-being. We may experience healing in one dimension but remain wounded in others. I ask the question: Did God’s grace bring healing to Paul outside of the biomedical dimension?
I ponder if the combination of Paul’s conversion and the chronic illness were used to bringing healing to the apostle. I begin by drawing attention to the fact that, notwithstanding his illness, he was able to travel, evangelize, and work with Christian congregations in the Roman Empire. He was slowed down but not stopped. Those of us that live with chronic illnesses have experienced grace in our bodies although we are never free from the pain and limitations.
The warm references to friends and colleagues in Paul’s letters are evidence that the persecutor of the church had learned to build strong and supportive relationships with a wide variety of people. The arrogance and intolerance of the past were replaced by a genuine tenderness evident in his description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. The intellectual health of Paul is beyond question. Perhaps the enforced periods of “downtime” caused by illness and imprisonment gave Paul the intellectual freedom to enter more deeply into the profound nature of God’s salvation and the ministry of reconciliation. The insecurity of his mission was more than matched by the security he found in God’s love. “Who shall separate us from the love of God? … in all these things we are more than conquerors” (Rom. 8.31-39). Paul’s understanding of salvation extended beyond people to include the creation that will be liberated from its bondage (Rom. 8.18-22). We need to be reminded that by the first century deforestation and exploitation of land had decreased soil fertility in parts of the Mediterranean basin.
Finally, I propose that Paul’s chronic illness led him into deeper experiences of peace with God. Paul wrote about the love of God being poured into our hearts. These words occur in a paragraph that deals with suffering that produces perseverance, character, and hope (Rom. 5.1-5). Please be assured that I am not attempting to place all the weight of this passage on Paul’s health. I am simply stating that many of us who live with chronic illnesses can testify that God has worked through our relapses and discomfort to lead us to a place of deeper peace and trust.
As congregations, we should regularly pray for the healing of members of our community as journey with illness and disease. Paul’s example reminds us that our petitions to the great healer should not be confined to the biomedical dimension of health. The words of 2 Corinthians 12 invite us to consider that God comes to us in grace when our bodies fail. Like Paul, we may discover that his power is made complete in our weakness and dependency on him.