Healing in the Atonement

Having recently discussed the idea of “Healing in the Atonement”, I find myself needing to go back and research the topic once again.

I didn’t remember this, but the Christian and Missionary Alliance in which I grew up included this theological idea:

In His own body He has borne all our bodily liabilities for sin, and our bodies are set free. In the one cruel stripe’ of His—for the word is singular—was summed up all the aches and pains of a suffering world. There is no longer need that we should suffer what Christ has sufficiently borne. Thus our healing becomes a great redemption right that we simply claim as our purchased inheritance through the blood of Christ’s cross.

A.B. Simpson, The Gospel of Healing, from Jonathan L. Graf editor, The Three Great Classics on Divine Healing (Camp Hill PA: Christian Publications, 1992) 300. Referenced in “Physical Healing and the Atonement” by Bob DeWaay in Critical Issues Commentary, Issue 14, May/June 1993.

The basic concept is that physical healing is the “New Birth”-right of every Christian; that every Christian has the God-given right to enjoy perfect physical health at all times.

Even the proponents of this ideology have to admit that the facts don’t support this belief. Even the most outrageous supporters of the Healing in the Atonement belief do, in fact, get sick and die.

John McArthur Jr. is a cessationist, a position which I categorically reject. However, he has some good perspectives on the problems with “Healing in the Atonement”.

All those people who believe that [physical healing is provided in the Atonement] die. All of them. Unless they live to the rapture, they all die. So, if there was physical healing in the atonement, then it was an incomplete atonement. And, they’ve got a problem. If you tell me there was physical healing in the atonement, and that the atonement was designed to heal my diseases, I’m having a hard time with that one because I’m not, I’m not getting the healing. And, I’m getting older. And, I’m going to die. Now, if that’s how it is with the promise of my physical healing, where is my hope for the promise of my spiritual healing? Is that the same thing? Once you start defining the work of the atonement in temporal terms, you have a problem, because, even now, I am saved, I am righteous by virtue of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, but I’m certainly not what I’m going to be. This isn’t it. I am not now what He died to make me. Is that right? Either spiritually or physically. And, we all stumble through life and, as we heard in the testimonies, battling with the flesh, and battling with illness, and disease, and all those kinds of things. And the atonement was designed for our ultimate glory, and our souls’ ultimate glorification as well as a glorified body like the resurrection body of Jesus Christ. In that sense, our ultimate, final healing is in the atonement, and Jesus was giving it, you know, widespread demonstration of the fact that He had the power over that realm just as He had power over the spiritual realm and the souls of men.

…You are, first of all, healed from the disease of sin, but, you also understand, we’ve been healed of sin, but we’re all dying from it. Is that not true? I have been forgiven all my sin and I know that. I have been delivered from the power of sin, from it’s ability, I’ve been delivered from the penalty of sin, its ability to control my life, and, yet, I’m dying from the effect of sin. I could say it the same in the physical. I have been given a healing. Physically, I will, one day, be perfect in a glorified body, and yet my body is still dying, until I get to that other world and realize the full significance of His atoning work.

John McArthur Jr., “Are we healed by ‘His Stripes’?

If the Apostles believed and taught this doctrine, Paul’s instructions to Timothy make little sense: “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” 1 Timothy 5:23 (emphasis added). Why would God give gifts of healing to some Christians (1 Corinthians 12:7-11), if all Christians are “owed” physical healing as their spiritual birthright?
God can and does heal today; sometimes with prayer, sometimes with laying on of hands, sometimes through medicines and doctors or other means. Sometimes, in his divine wisdom and will, he chooses not to. He has that right.
One day we will have the fulfilment of the promise of the Atonement.  “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:4) But for now, these evils remain.