4 Dec 2008

Yahweh the Healer … Salvation & Healing

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Culture, Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Jesus, Kingdom, Ministry

A Window

We often hear today that our world is undergoing, or has undergone, a worldview shift, that is from Modernism to Postmodernism. Some wail and bemoan that Postmodernism has caused the church to forsake sound doctrine for some cream puff political correctness.

But could it be that the Postmodern shift is actually forcing the People of the Cross to recover sound doctrine that was sacrificed on the altar of pagan Modernism as we became such a “cultural church” (i.e. Modern) that we didn’t even recognize biblical teaching. The “doctrine of salvation” is a fundamental example of a teaching that was gutted by Western Modernism.

Have you noticed that some of the most moving “portraits” of Jesus show him in a “healing” posture. Throughout the Gospels he is giving strength to feeble legs, making ligaments work in hands, casting out demons, opening the eyes of the blind and cleansing lepers.

Jesus the Healer is a powerful portrait. Have you ever wondered what that has to do with “salvation?” To even raise the question is to ask a thoroughly Modern question that would not have even occurred to an ancient (Jew or Gentile!). In the Western, post-Enlightenment world we have driven a wedge between healing on one hand (i.e. “physical”) and salvation on the other (i.e. “spiritual”). Yet in the Greco-Roman world such a distinction would be unthinkable. Postmodernism has justly, and I will argue biblically, challenged this false teaching. The biblical narrative:

* as a whole intertwines the images of salvation and healing
* as a whole interprets the image of Yahweh the Savior as Yahweh the Healer
and the New Testament adds to this the portrait of Jesus as God’s Agent
of healing
* the larger Roman world of Jesus’ day conceived of salvation as healing
* as a whole sees God’s people called as a community of healing and health

Yahweh, Healing/Salvation

Biblical writers can, and do, refer to the identical redemptive act of Yahweh with the language of liberation/salvation and at another point in the language of healing. A few examples biblical texts that use the images of healing, health, deliverance as salvation are

O hope of Israel! O LORD!
All who forsake you shall be put to shame;
those who turn away from you shall be recorded in the
underworld,
for they have forsaken the fountain of living water,
the LORD.
Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved;
for you are my praise.” (Jer. 17.13-14)

For the hurt of my people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
not been restored?” (Jer 8.21-22)

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits —
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your strength is renewed like the eagle’s.
The LORD works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed.” (Ps 103.2-6)

Here is one from that neglected prophet Zephaniah

The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory …
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth …” (Zeph 3.17-20)

The images of Yahweh healing his people also reveal him as saving his people. Indeed God who has just saved simply claims “I am the LORD who heals you” (Ex15.26). Sickness and disease in the Ancient Near East was not simply a matter of disease but a matter of purity and shame. Zephaniah even says God will “change their shame into praise.” The concept of honor, shame, and especially purity and pollution lie behind much of the biblical language of healing and disease.

Consider the Leper

Consider the lepers. In the Hebrew Bible and the “NT” leprosy is rarely “Hansen’s Disease.” It is simply a number of skin disorders that render a person unclean. Leprosy is not even contagious! It was a matter of religious purity. Thus in the Bible lepers are cleansed (cf. Mt. 8.2; Lk 5.14) not “healed” as if it was simply a medical procedure.

The healing ministry of Jesus is in the Gospels part of Jesus’ saving ministry. Matthew likes “blocks” of material. In chapters 8-9 there is a concentration of healing stories that follow on the heels of the Sermon on the Mount. These stories relate how Jesus makes available the presence and the power of God’s reign to those who have been sick and unclean. There is a leper, a slave of a Gentile, an old woman, the demonized, a paralytic, a hated tax collector, a young girl and the blind. Interestingly as Matthew relates the restoration of “health” he also relates how they are restored as human beings within family and community. Notice the range of images used in Matthew’s story of the kingdom:

* cleaning a leper allows him fresh access to God and to the community of God’s people (8.1-4)
* Healing a paralytic is comparable to forgiving his sins (9.2-8)
* Extending grace to unclean tax collectors and sinners illustrates the work of a  physician (9.9-13)
* Recovery of sight, as throughout the biblical narrative, serves as a metaphor for the exercise of the insight of faith (9.27-31)

Healing/Saving?

Indeed near the end of Matthew’s block of “healing” episodes we read the actual language of “salvation” used in its biblical fullness. Unfortunately our English translations at times obscure this … or our neo-platonic eyes betray us. Matthew connects woman’s “faith” with her “salvation.” The text reads

Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassels on his shawl, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his shawl I will be SAVED (sozo).’ Jesus turned and looked at her and said, ‘Take heart, daughter your faith has SAVED (sozo) you.’ And immediately the woman was SAVED (sozo).” (Matt 9.20-22)

As Yahweh saves his People in the Hebrew Bible he also heals them. Thus Matthew directly connects Jesus’s messianic identity to his healing/saving ministry.

Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope” (Mt 12.15-21)

Jesus does the work of God in salvation by bringing healing to the bruised. Jesus’ healing declares the presence of the kingdom of God. Those once excluded by uncleanness are now included by the healing/saving work of God through the Messiah.

Looking thru the Window

The “doctrine of salvation” is so much broader, richer and deeper than what is proclaimed as the biblical doctrine in so many evangelical churches and Churches of Christ. What postmodernism has done is help us see our slavery to the paganism of the Enlightenment. What it has done is help us shed the cultural, and unbiblical, notion that salvation is primarily or only about the afterlife. The scriptures deny such an anemic doctrine as does the history of Christian doctrine up to the Enlightenment … or was that the “Endarkment”? Yahweh saves because he heals … Sin vandalized his creation, it infected his very good creation, and God sort of takes that “personally!!” Thus he saves his creation … he heals it. Jesus does what the prophets proclaimed of Yahweh.

We will return to this theme by looking at the idea of Yahweh as Liberator very soon.

Shalom,
Bobby V

14 Responses to “Yahweh the Healer … Salvation & Healing”

  1. kingdomseeking Says:

    Great post!

    In my preaching/teaching I have vehemetly that physical problem were just as important to redemption/salvation as is the spiritual (sin) problems. I have pleaded for this on the basis that Jesus’ pronouncement of good news the the inbreaking kingdom (reign/rule) of God upon life. Thus, poverty and idolatry are equal concerns of the kingdom and God’s redemptive grace. We see this in Jesus’ own ministry where he confront both issues (as well as other issues of a physical and spiritual nature) with equal ferosity.

    One of the questions that is constantly asked is which would I prefer, to be set free from poverty or to have the promise of eternal life? My reply has always been that I would rather have the NEW WORLD/AGE where God reigns rather than this OLD WORLD/AGE where evil reigns and manifests itself in such forms as poverty, idolatry, etc…

    The good news is that I have been able to convince a few people that this is the biblical picture and there view that separates the physical and the spiritual is a modern/enlightment picture. One of these people happens to be a former preacher who can read both OT Hebrew and NT Greek along with Russian and German.

    Any ways, great post!

  2. Jeff Foster Says:

    Bobby, thank you for the comment you left on my blog. I have appreciated reading your posts, very much. Your insight is refreshing and challenging.

    Any time you are through Gallup, please stop by. I need to come to Tucson at some point to update congregations on our work at the Manuelito Home. Palo Verde has been a very generous supporter for a long time. We appreciate it.

  3. Steve Puckett Says:

    Good article, bro. I have always thought we need a healthy understanding of healing and how it is linked to salvation. John Wimber taught a section of a course I took at Fuller Seminary back in the 80’s and I was very impressed with the healthy biblical teaching he did to support his understanding of healing. James 5 would fit in this teaching as well.

    Peace.

  4. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    The following is from Joel Solliday:

    “I enjoyed your thoughts on salvation and healing. However, I did not follow or even understand this part of your conclusion:

    “What postmodernism has done is help us become more doctrinal rather than less.”

    Perhaps you and I have a different understanding of ‘postmodernism.’ But everything (without exception) I have read and heard on postmodernism has made the opposite point. All things “doctrinal” are disparaged and minimized (to different degrees) in pro-postmodern discussions I have heard and read. Perhaps you are appealing to a point of irony, but I have never really seen the ‘moderns’ who come from an evangelical perspective diminish or minimize the healing ministry of Jesus or the healing side of salvation in the same way you seem to have seen it. But it any case, it was good for you to make the point that salvation is a deeper and more broad-based gift of God than some seem to think. And it is a gift that touches both this life and the next by the grace of God.

    Having grown up in conservative circles, I was always taught that salvation touches much more than just the afterlife. I really don’t know of whom you speak who do not teach that. Nevertheless, your main point and overall thoughts were very good!

    Joel”

  5. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Joel, as always thanks for reading and sending your thoughts.

    However my point was not that evangelicals or Church of Christ folk minimized the healing ministry of Jesus per se. My point was that Moderns have driven a wedge between the Physical and the Spiritual and that in Scripture healing and saving are part of the same thing.

    I have rarely, if ever, in my life heard a teacher in a bible class or in a sermon suggest that “getting saved” was anything more than getting baptized to get rid of my personal sin to live with God in heaven rather than hell. I was never taught that as we perform healing ministries we are actually doing the “work of salvation.” Instead I believed that and often disparaged a persons “physical” needs as opposed to their “spiritual” needs. Rarely, if ever, was I taught that salvation goes way beyond my swimming with girls, dancing and liking mini-skirts on my gal. Rather what my post attempted to point to is the reality that Yahweh is about healing his world … or as N.T. Wright likes to say “put the world to rights.” This perspective is all through the Gospels as Jesus as at least one fourth of the uses of the Gk “save” refer to miracles. Jesus “saved” Bartimaeus (Mk 10.52), saved the man with the withered hand (Mk 3.4-5). See it used in relation to the centurion’s slave (Lk 7.3), the sinful woman (7.50), the demoniac (8.36) and the dead girl (8.50) for just a few examples.

    Salvation is wholeness.

    Blessings brother be upon you up in the cold country,

    Bobby V

  6. bi0dr0ne Says:

    Small correction- Hansens disease is still considered transmissible by secretions and other bodily fluid: “Although the mode of transmission of Hansen’s disease remains uncertain, most investigators think that M. leprae is usually spread from person to person in respiratory droplets.”
    -http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/dfbmd/disease_listing/leprosy_ti.html

    good post

  7. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    My source on hansen’s disease is Joel B. Green. “In and of itself, this sort of ‘leprossy’ is not life threatening, nor is it infectious in a biomedical sense, as though one might ‘catch’ a skin disease from a ‘leper.'” (Salvation, p. 43). On closer examination it appears he is speaking more about the rather vague biblical term and not Hansen’s disease in particular. Thank you for the correction.

  8. Cheryl Russell Says:

    Great post. Salvation is so much more than a one time event. That we get to participate with Jesus His Life, His Death, His Burial, His Ministry, etc. is awesome! This blog was just what I needed to hear. We are particularly immersing ourselves in Christ as our Healer right now.

    :Jesus does the work of God in salvation by bringing healing to the bruised. Jesus’ healing declares the presence of the kingdom of God. Those once excluded by uncleanness are now included by the healing/saving work of God through the Messiah.”

    AMEN!

  9. blogprophet Says:

    hehe…hehe…
    you said “cleavage”

  10. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    i did didn’t i … 🙂

  11. rich Says:

    thanks bob

    did this really take 1900 years,
    if so what does that say about other fundamental considerations that involve our(COC)point of view.
    I know that over the last 3 years i have changed my view (perspective)on quite a bit.
    i am moving in some areas past n.t. wright exp rom. 3:26
    he might be the just and the justifer of the on who is of the faith of Christ.
    not just faith in christ

  12. rich Says:

    you know what james says about stricter judgement.

    how do you spell burdon.???

    blessings.

    and thanks again

    rich

  13. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Hey I spell everything exactly as my Alabama teacher taught me too 😉

  14. Anonymous Says:

    You wrote: The “doctrine of salvation” is so much broader, richer and deeper than what is proclaimed as the biblical doctrine in so many evangelical churches and Churches of Christ.

    OH SO TRUE! If you asked most people in the COC what the plan of salvation is, they would say “hear believe repent confess be baptized” — WHAT HAPPENED TO GOD, CREATION, SIN, DEATH? WHAT HAPPENED TO JESUS!

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