Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Expectations and Hope – Biblical Hope

In my opinion, nowhere in the scriptures are we promised physical healing. “By His stripes we are healed” is an absolute when applied to salvation. But never in scripture and definitely not in real life experience is healing an absolute promise when applied to physical healing. If this text was meant to be taken as physical healing then every believer should be healed of every physical ailment. Heart diseases, asthma, allergies, deformities, poor eyesight, hearing loss, stroke, toenail fungus, etc. and it doesn’t say healing is possible if the individual has enough faith. It says “by His stripes.”

It is true, I believe, that the human body is fearfully and wonderfully made. Before sin had its accumulative effect on the universe man might live over nine hundred years. As our environment became more and more devastated by sin the life span of man declined. At some point it seems that God stopped the utter destructional force of sin and limited the life span of man. A Psalm of Moses is Psalm 90. In it Moses indicates this decline and limit. Verse 10 says, “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years.” God is not promising that every human will live to 70 years or only 70-80 years. Moses’ Psalm is to instruct us of God’s eternal existence and man’s temporary existence. Very few people live to be over 100 years old. It appears that God halted the decline and limited the span of human life to an average of 70-80 years. I am glad that in my suffering God has limited my days and it won’t be 900 years!

When the body is treated well and taken care of in a proper way it has a better chance of being what God created it to be. When fed the right nutrients, minerals, and vitamins the immune system will probably be stronger and be more effective in fighting off infection and disease. Still, there are genetics that are part of our lives that have an effect on our health. There is the fact that sin has corrupted our universe and the whole world awaits its redemption. Since we live in this fallen environment it is only reasonable that we will be physically affected by its corruption. It is unreasonable to expect that God would shield all Christians from the fallen environment that man caused to be fallen.

It is a foolish and false expectation to believe that God will always keep the Christian with faith well or heal him if he is sick and assure him of at least 70 years. That’s the kind of expectation that leads to disappointment and disillusionment. That’s the kind of expectation that produces confusion in the Christian community as well as for the non-believer.

Okay, be that as it may, what do we have to hope for? Hope, as I have claimed, is different than expectation. Our hope is in Jesus Christ. Our hope is in the truth of the Word of God. Here are just three of the things chronically ill believers, as well as all believers, can hope for:

1. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) The very presence of Christ is always with me and wherever I am He is present. He is as present in me and with me when I am unable to get out of bed because of illness as He is when I am preaching. His presence is a reality of hope not an existential experience of emotions. The hope of His presence is promised over and over again. “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” (Heb 13:5) Jesus said “I am with you always.” (Matt 28:20) Sick or well the miracle of the New Covenant is not a physical covenant but a spiritual one. The miracle and mystery of Christianity is Emmanuel, God with us. The hope of His presence is an assurance the scriptures give us. “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom 8:11)

2. Psalm 39:7 says “My hope is in Thee.” The “Thee” is our Almighty Sovereign God. His sovereignty assures me that all my life is in His control. The Psalm before is a Psalm of David about the fleetingness and vanity of our lives. In God’s eternal sovereignty our lives are transient, temporary, “a mere breath.” Yet, in His sovereignty we are absolutely assured that whatever happens in our lives He can sovereignly use it for good because in His sovereignty He has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ. In his sovereignty we can trust that He deals with His children through a sovereign hand of love, grace, and mercy. We are not left to suffer without hope as the world suffers. If my suffering is in His plan to conform me to the image of Jesus then my suffering has purpose. I can hold on to His sovereign purpose. I can live with hope in His purpose. “We who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb 6:18-20)

3. Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The hope that we have is not the fairy tales of expectations but the reality of those that that have gone before us. They proved the faithfulness of God even in the lives of those who suffer. The Hall of Faith is highlighted with real people who suffered. People like Abel who was murdered, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, and many others. “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” (Heb 11:37-38) “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises.” (Heb 11:13) These great men and women of faith hoped and “gained approval through their faith.” (11:39) God said through the Prophet Jeremiah “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (29:11) Our hope is nothing less. Did you catch that word towards the end of verse 37, “Afflicted?” Some of these were people just like you and me who suffer from ailments. The most important thing is not whether they received physical healing or not BUT that they “died in the faith!” “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom 15:4)

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