When God gets rid of suffering: review of Healed at Last

Healed at Last coverA review of Healed at Last: Separating Biblical Truth from Myth by Scott Blackwell. (Matthias Media, 2014)

If you’ve ever struggled with prolonged periods of severe illness or injury—or if someone you love has—you may well have been tempted by those Christian pastors who insist that complete physical and emotional healing is just a prayer (or a few dollars) away. Scott Blackwell has a different vision, a vision he finds in the pages of the Bible.

For Blackwell, this is a deeply personal issue. The book begins with an account of Blackwell’s early life and young adulthood, during which he began to deal with the ongoing effects of childhood meningitis. The personal stories throughout the book help in keeping the issues very well grounded. There’s lots of theology here, but it’s never abstract.

The book has two related aims. The first is to rebut the claims of ministries that proclaim the power to bring those who are suffering to complete healing in the present age. The second is to encourage Christians who are suffering with a more robustly biblical picture of what God has done and promises to do for us.

The concluding chapters reiterate the beauty of God’s promise: you will be healed.

The first half of the book is a strident rebuttal of ministries that Blackwell argues have elevated healing above the place given to it in the biblical witness, a critique developed further throughout the rest of the book. The most important insight in this section is that God never promises the Christian life won’t be hard: “The simple and ever-present fact is this: life is hard”. If this is the case, as the Bible says it is, then the promises of preachers who claim to have the spiritual insight or technique to eradicate all hardship in the present are clearly mistaken. For anyone who has worried or has been attracted to such ministries, Chapter 3 does a good job of refuting the harmful claims that are sometimes made about healing.

Despite the robust criticisms Blackwell levels, he never dismisses the deep desires of those people with whom such teaching resonates; given his own experience, how could he? Rather, he points to the deeper healing already secured by Jesus, and the outworking of that healing he has promised in the future. The task of the Christian as we await Christ’s return is therefore patient trust in God, even as we cry out to him for relief and restoration.

The second half of the book begins with what, for me, was the highlight of the book. In Chapters 5 and 6—engaging with the Old Testament and the New, respectively—Blackwell retells the biblical story through the lens of healing. Beginning with God’s rest in Genesis 2, Blackwell explores God’s healing of Israel as he leads them out of Egypt: “I am the Lord, your healer” (Exodus 15:26). The ‘Day of the Lord’ is explained as a day of restorative healing (through judgement) towards which God’s purposes tend, finally culminating in the Servant he will send, by whose wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

In the New Testament these themes are taken up in the ministry of Jesus, his death, resurrection, and his return at the end of time. The healing miracles Jesus performs point forward to the nature of the kingdom he is inaugurating (the section on what these miracles mean is excellent), while his death and resurrection achieve the reconciliation of God’s whole creation to himself. The goal of God’s saving work in Christ is the healing of the whole cosmos, including human suffering. This healing has begun in Jesus; but we await its completion upon his return.

This picture of future wholeness, Blackwell argues, is the powerful knowledge we need to persevere through the hardships of life while we await Christ’s return. The concluding chapters reiterate the beauty of God’s promise: you will be healed. The book ends with an impassioned plea to recognize all that God has done for us in Christ, and to cling to that knowledge through trials.

Perhaps the most important insight of the book is that knowing the future God has promised in Christ, knowing his love for us, and knowing his power to heal—even in the present, should he choose to do so—can, in fact, sometimes lead to deep disappointment. Sometimes, “[we] experience disappointment because we do believe”.

Suffering is a “tyrant [who] does all he can to close the walls in around us, block the sun, and shrink our world until it becomes terribly dark and small”, and this reduced perspective can be deadly for our faith. The antidote to this, once more, is to get the whole picture of the healing God has brought and will bring. The author’s own story, scattered throughout the book, provides a powerful picture of what it looks like to deal with such disappointment over the course of a life.

Blackwell’s book is heavily focused on right knowledge, but there is a broader perspective on view. Beginning with his own story and through the insights of others, a strong case is made for the importance of the communal life of the church in the healing process. The concluding chapter paints a picture of what a Christian community that cares for each member as a part of the one body is very helpful, though it would be good to dwell on the practicalities of this at greater length.

If there’s a criticism to be made of Healed At Last, it’s that the book’s two related aims sometimes obscure the message. Passages dealing with biblical material or personal stories are often punctuated with a return to the critique of healing ministries, which can feel abrupt or laborious.

Nevertheless, this will be a helpful book for any Christian suffering who desires to know what God promises for them, when he has promised it, and how to work through suffering in the meantime. I suspect the personal stories will help those experiencing suffering to connect with what is being said; they also help those who haven’t experienced this to empathise. This book will be a helpful resource for those enduring suffering and for those seeking to endure it with them as together we await the healing to come when the Lord Jesus returns.

Richard R. Glover is a student at Moore Theological College in Newtown. He enjoys reading, writing, music, and (watching) cricket. He tweets @richardrglover and blogs sporadically at richardrglover.wordpress.com.