CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Living Between the Ages

Jan 28, 2008

Is the Kingdom of God present or future? If Jesus defeated Satan at Calvary, why is there still suffering and sin? Why aren’t more people healed when we pray? Does the Bible teach perfectionism in this life? Are believers to be free of all suffering and infirmity in this world?

These are all tough questions which are often being asked by followers of Jesus Christ. And they all tie together in some important ways. They all have to do with how we are to understand the Christian life, how we are to perceive the Kingdom, and how we are to understand Biblical eschatology.

A lot of confusion arising from such questions can be substantially cleared up when we consider what has become a reigning paradigm of New Testament understanding. A lot of debate has gone into how one approaches the New Testament treatment of eschatology in general and the kingdom of God in particular. An ‘already and not yet’ understanding of these issues is now becoming quite widely accepted among evangelicals, and does indeed seem to best account for the biblical data.

This position, sometimes referred to as the ‘living between the ages’ view, argues that the kingdom of God is to be understood as being both present and future: it is already here, but it is not yet fully realised. Thus the kingdom has already dawned but is not yet complete.

In his 1950 book Christ and Time Oscar Cullmann made a helpful analogy from World War II: On D-Day the Allied forces established a bridgehead in Nazi-occupied Europe, on the beaches of Normandy in June 1944. It was a decisive turning point in the history of the war, but it was not won that day. It was not until VE-Day – a year later – that victory finally came. The cross and resurrection are to D-Day what the end of history is to VE-Day.

New Testament scholar Gordon Fee argues that this already and not-yet eschatology is “the absolutely essential framework of the self-understanding of primitive Christianity, including Paul”. Or as he says elsewhere, “It is impossible to understand Paul’s emphasis on the experienced life of the Spirit apart from this ‘already/not yet’ eschatological perspective, which dominated his thinking.”

Or as N.T. Wright observes: “The early church held on firmly to both sides of the apparent paradox: the end had happened; the end was yet to come. Paul writes from prison about his present suffering at the hands of persecutors and also about the triumphant victory that Jesus won on the cross over the principalities and powers. This is utterly characteristic. Both sides must be given the same stress.”

Another way of expressing this is to say that Christ did indeed come to undo the works of the enemy, to roll back the results of the curse. Yet we know that the enemy still has power, that the effects of the curse are still in force. Christ began the counter-offensive at Calvary, but the final mopping-up operation awaits the parousia. In the meantime we are his foot soldiers, reclaiming territory from the enemy.

George Ladd puts it this way: “A key concept about the kingdom of God, which the prophets were not permitted to see, was that the kingdom first must come on the spiritual level in the person of the incarnate Son of God before it would come with power and glory to fill all the earth. Jesus brought the kingdom with Him, and He will bring the kingdom in power and glory when He comes as the heavenly Son of Man.”

Thus we need to keep the balance between the victory we can have in Christ and the failures we do have living in a fallen world. D.A. Carson says this balance is needed “to inform our perspectives on many areas of life still swamped by the curse. Disease, accidents, oppression, opposition to the gospel; none of these is a good thing, and all of them can be traced in one way or another to Satan himself. None of these will find any place in the consummated kingdom. Yet at the same time, none of these ugly things escapes the outermost bounds of God’s sovereignty”.

John Stott offers this helpful remark: “Many Christians choose one or other of these positions, or oscillate unsteadily between them. Some are triumphalists, who see only the decisive victory of Jesus Christ and overlook the apostolic warnings against the powers of darkness. Others are defeatists, who see only the fearsome malice of the devil and overlook the victory over him which Christ has already won. The tension is part of the Christian dilemma between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’. . . . An overemphasis on the ‘already’ leads to triumphalism, the claim of perfection – either moral (sinlessness) or physical (complete health) – which belongs only to the consummated kingdom, the ‘not yet’. An overemphasis on the ‘not yet’ leads to defeatism, an acquiescence in continuing evil which is incompatible with the ‘already’ of Christ’s victory”.

That is a helpful way at looking at these matters. We all know of believers who seem to be constantly discouraged, depressed and defeatist. They need not necessarily be. But we also know of those who seem to expect perfection in this life, and seem to have almost a New Age understanding of faith, which rules out any sickness, any calamity, or any struggle. It is the idea that every success can be experienced now and experienced fully. It ignores the tension of living in two different worlds, of being citizens of two different kingdoms.

Sickness and Healing

Consider the issue of healing in this regard. Even though healing may well be the expected norm in the New Testament, it does not always occur. As one commentator puts it, the “ambiguity of our situation ‘between the ages’ is such that not everyone the church prays for is healed of his or her disease. But this is an ambiguity that makes one realize that he is dealing with a mystery, with a living and willing and sovereign God, and with a situation in which sin, demonic beings, other spiritual and psychological factors, as well as complex physical factors play a part.”

Or consider the words of Ken Blue: “The ministry of healing, like all other aspects of Christian ministry and experience, is partial, provisional and ambiguous. . . . We see the now-and-not-yet nature of the kingdom not just through our ministries but also in our personal experience of salvation. . . . Freedom from sin and sickness is eschatological – that is, it comes finally and fully only with the eschaton, the end of time that comes with the return of Jesus Christ. Full freedom will only come with our resurrection.”

Of course to say all of this is not to deny that God wants to act mightily on behalf of his people. All of this is not to deny the miraculous nor to deny the Spirit’s empowerment in believer’s lives. If over-emphasising the ‘now’ is a danger of the health and wealth gospel, or the word of faith camp, over-emphasising the ‘not yet’ is a danger of much non-charismatic Christianity. Too much powerless Christianity seems to be the norm today. Thus we owe the health and wealth gospellers credit for a revitalised interest in faith and the Spirit’s work in our lives. A balance, in other words, is what is needed. Thus we need to avoid both an under-realised and an over-realised eschatology.

As Fee puts it, on the one side, there is “a strong tendency to leave God’s people to ‘slug it out in the trenches’ more or less on their own, with some lip service paid to the Spirit but with little of the Pauline experience of the Spirit as the empowering presence of God. On the other side lie some equally strong tendencies toward triumphalism, especially in a culture like late-twentieth century America, where pain of any kind is rejected as a form of evil and where suffering is to be avoided at all costs. . . . The result on this side is something of an ‘over-realized’ eschatological perspective, with an unPauline view of the Spirit as present in power which negates weakness in the present as something dishonoring to God.”

Healing then, like any other provision made available from the work of Christ at Calvary, is never fully realised in this life. Not everyone gets healed, and not everyone is fully healed. This understanding of living between the ages should help to explain these realities of life.

An awareness of this living between the times is a helpful answer to various forms of extremism, be it an overly triumphal extremism, or an unnecessarily defeatist extremism. We live in a fallen world, and all that we do is tinged by sin, selfishness, imperfection and finitude. Yet thanks be to Christ that real victory and real overcoming is possible. But we wait, as it says in Romans 8:18-25, for the final and full realisation of our redemption.

It may be frustrating to some that we cannot experience full perfection in this life, but that seems to be the clear teaching of the New Testament. Perfection has come in the person of Jesus Christ, and we can begin to taste some of that perfection, freedom and victory. But we continue to live in a fallen world, and sin, suffering and death still hound us.

Learning to cope with the tension of living between the ages may not always be easy, but it is something we must commit ourselves to. Frustration and discontentment will otherwise result. But such a realisation of living between the times will help to keep us humble and keep us on our knees. We have a perfect saviour who offers us a perfect redemption, but that will not be fully realised in this world. Thus we must constantly acknowledge our need, our finiteness, our sin and our imperfection, as we cling to the hand of our perfect redeemer.

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18 Responses to Living Between the Ages

  • A very helpful article. One aspect of “triumphalism” that I find especially unhelpful is the tendency of some churches/believers to see the world and the church always through rose coloured glasses. Such a view is a denial of reality and refuses to acknowledge the culture war or the fact that the influence of the Christian church in the west is going in the wrong direction. Such a view thinks that everything is fine within the western church and therefore talk of the need of revival is dismissed. Revival is only necessary where there has been declension and of course one could never think that our big successful churches might be anything less than perfect.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • I’m now going to one of those ‘health and wealth’ gospel churches, and it is as you say “we owe (it) credit for a revitalised interest in faith and the Spirit’s work in our lives”. There seems to be a norm where God doesn’t move supernaturally much at all today– and this is countered Scripturally and in practice, week in and week out.
    But of this balance–I would have been drawn to such a church had not they had such a strong emphasis on bearing your cross and denying yourself and walking the talk, something also so very needed today.
    It is wonderful to see God’s power so at work; and at the same time grow in fear of God; and at the same time be inspired and encouraged and challenged to bless others and heal others and save others; and at the same time to learn by example of how to pray for hours on end; and seek God fully.
    And many people there do actually not experience sickness or disease 🙂 Persecution, yes, but wow, the devil is scared of their spiritual warfare!

    Nathan Keen, Melbourne

  • Something is often missed in contemporary discussions about eschatology which Fee so well brings out, I think: that our “life between the times” as Christians is a “Spiritual” one.

    Fee’s analysis of Paul is that there is in all his letters an implicit assumption, a consistent “moot point”, that his readers are living both individually and corporately what contemporary Pentecostals would call Spirit-filled lives.

    Romans 8:1-11 and Galatians 5:16-26 and 1 Cor 2:6-16 reflect this… what is both a theological and existentially deeply “Pauline” concept, and the basis of his eschatological framework.

    I, therefore, find it interesting how shallowly we have take this key Pauline issue. Indeed, we have in this Pauline emphasis not least an epistemological basis, as 1 Cor 2:6-16 suggests. So while NT Wright and others would suggest that Paul’s emphasis on the centrality of agape love amounts to an epistemological “construct”, I’d have to say I think this matter of “living in the Spirit” is at least as central to the Christian/eschatological question of knowledge as well.

    And I think we have to accept that this is not a dangerous leaning towards some feared gnosticism, but rather the radical razor’s edge of life in the Spirit, where the “mind of Christ” indeed IS ours by the Spirit.

    Hence the ridiculousness of taking our legal dirty washing to the civic courts. Hence the immaturity and fleshyness (read: un-Spirit-ualness) of factionalism in the Christian community. Hence the demand for ethical living without fear of confusing it with “works of the law”. Hence Paul’s particular aggression directed towards the “mutilators of the flesh”.

    Hence (I would add) the offence to the Holy Spirit of demanding the tithe in today’s churches! Personally, I fail to see how church leaders today (especially in the Pentecostal and Charismatic streams) can fail to “hear” the freedom of the Spirit that Paul so passionately fights for, the proof of which I see in this determination to continue preaching “the tithe”.

    Paul’s passion for the Spirit life gave him prophetic clarity regarding every encroachment of the “judaisers” and anyone else trying to turn a “heart” thing back into a “stone” thing… hence his wonderfully cutting challenge to the Galatians in 3:1-6. He reminds them that their “call” was accompanied by unmistakable and undeniable signs and power of the Spirit. He further reminds them that they have experienced (mis-translations say “suffered”) so much of the Spirit… hence the rhetorical point that it is indeed such foolishness to now return to the flesh.

    But “flesh” is all that the tithe is. To tell a Christian today that God is asking them to give a tenth is not only unbiblical but it is leading them away from a heart-to-heart relationship with God through the Spirit and back to “the letter”! Don’t people see that?!

    Folks, the Spirit life, Spirit love and Spirit wisdom/knowledge of this eschatological “now but not yet” existence of ours is not meant to be so hard. It’s meant to be… freedom!

    So I think the challenge for us is to be more like Paul. More determined to have more of the Spirit. More determined to fight tooth and nail against every encroachment of “stone” thinking. Lets drop talk of the tithe. It was a shadow! We now have the reality: abundance and “foolish” generosity in the Spirit 🙂

    Finally, here’s a thought: let’s refuse to let any “Christian” write a book or lecture us, or theologise, or instruct us in any way, if we — like Paul — cannot in good conscience see them as mature (i.e. Spirit-ual) according to 1 Cor 2. Gee, that would thin out the shelves at Koorong, I reckon 🙂

    Alister Cameron

  • Hi, Bill!
    If perfection can only come after the Second Coming, and I agree that we as humans are not perfect – then to what extent should the forgiving of our sins by the holy communion absolve us of sins?
    Lars Munk Sørensen, Denmark

  • Thank you Bill,

    A very balanced and thoughtful article of which I am appreciative.

    My thoughts are that the miracles of the NT are in evidence today at the forefront of the spread of the gospel. Places like India where there has been much opposition and much prayer and sacrifice on behalf of the believing church.

    The same can be true here but we our churches are too captivated by apathy and comfort and we tend to find ourselves in a spiritual backwater, until persecution and spiritual need prods us into sacrificial faith.

    Lennard Caldwell, Clifton, Queensland

  • Thanks Lars

    You might be confusing forgiveness with the consequences of our sins. We receive complete forgiveness for all sins when we repent and put our trust in Christ and his finished work at Calvary. But that does not necessarily mean all the consequences for our past sinful actions all of a sudden disappear in this life.

    If I had an ugly anti-Christian tattoo put on my arm in my pagan days, just because I come to Christ and repent does not mean the tattoo now miraculously disappears. If I smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, and then get lung cancer, coming to Christ may or may not remove that lung cancer. Sure, I can pray for healing as a Christian, but chances are I will have to reap what I have sown. And coming to Christ does not mean that I no longer age or eventually die a physical death. Everyone does – believer and non-believer alike. Even Lazarus presumably continued to age and then die – again – after he was raised by Jesus.

    I have written a whole article on the difference between forgiveness and the consequences of sin here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2007/10/14/sin-forgiveness-and-consequences/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Bill
    Good to have a reminder of framework. I find it difficult when some think those must be particularly sinful that are not healed immediately. Maybe it is those who lack moral fibre to hang on when they cannot see that are trusted to wait.
    Katherine Fishley, Wantirna

  • Hi Bill,

    I agree with the majority of this article and thought it was quite good, but I see a mingling between that which is clearly shown as God’s will for the believer to acceptably understand and suffer in this age, and that which is God’s will to be temporarily restored now in this age.

    Specifically in regards to healing of the physical man. I see consistent promises, clear demonstration by God, as well as command and encouragement to His people to heal the sick, cast out demons and mend the physical man and such without acceptance or doubt of it failing to occur.

    I see Scripture admonish us to go to those who have faith, and to stir up faith, and to fight the good fight of faith, and believe God’s promises in these times. I cannot therefore agree with the view that ‘not all’ can be physically healed in this age, i believe all can indeed receive in this age freely.

    I don’t see believers suffering ‘sickness and disease’ as an acceptable suffering determined by God’s will. I do see the Scriptures speak about such in relation to Gospel persecutions including martyrdom, the pressures of being in a sin touched body predisposed to the effects of sin (doubt, fear, lust, pride, etc), and demonic pressures, of which we must stand firm in the faith and suffer with a right attitude.

    Dorian Ballard

  • Thanks Dorian

    It seems the easiest way to settle this is to simply ask how many believers do not die. As far as I can tell, every single one of us will die – me and you included. Sure, we have a few notable exceptions in the OT, and a few in the gospels, and a few in church history, but they are clearly the exception to the rule.

    The truth is, we are all on the natural path of death right now. As with sickness, this is equally part of the effects of the Fall as well. If it was never God’s will that we get sick, then surely none of us should be aging either. Old age after all is still the major reason most people die. So if perfect health is in the atonement for us right now – on demand – then why do we age? Why are you and I aging? Have you had any Christian friends die of old age Dorian? If so, was it because they did not have enough faith? Or was it because of unconfessed sin? Or was it simply because in this fallen world, as we live between the ages, every one of us will die – with the odd exception?

    Just think of all your favourite faith healers, faith teachers, Spirit-filled saints, and powerhouses of God in times gone by. Every single one of them has died, or will one day die. The health and wealth gospel has no way to explain that except to say that they must have lacked faith, or been plagued with sin. Clearly death is not God’s will for us and clearly it has been provided for in the atonement. So if we buy the Health and Wealth Gospel reasoning, what are we left with? Did Paul therefore not have enough faith, because he died? Or Peter? Or James? Or John? Or Augustine? Or Calvin? Or Luther? Or Finney? Or Tozer? Or Ravenhill? Or Simpson? Or Roberts? Or Kuhlman? Or Torrey? Or Wigglesworth? Or (simply name your favourite man or woman of God here)?

    Sorry, but it is just silly, as well as unscriptural to even think this way. We live in a fallen world, and no matter how much faith we have, no matter how much of the Holy Spirit we have, no matter how much we claim the promises of God, no matter how much we think we are overcomers, and no matter how much we name it and claim it, we all are on the natural path of aging, leading to inevitable death. That is reality, pure and simple, in a fallen world. Sure, Jesus made provision for death at Calvary, but we await his second coming to see it fully and finally realised. We get snippets of it now, as we did in the Gospels. But the full, real deal we still await.

    Can I respectfully remind you of an obvious truth? You are no longer a baby, or a toddler, or a teenager, Dorian. You are an adult and you are getting older each and every day. Do you think you will just live forever in this life? Barring some accident you will die in another few decades. Unless you think you will be somehow different from every other believer on earth (and presumably even Lazarus after his resurrection also kept growing old and died again), you too will one day die.

    Now the very simple question is this: just as the provision for healing and the overcoming of illness and disease is in the atonement, so too clearly is the provision for the overcoming of death. It is crystal clear that at Calvary Jesus defeated death. Yet every single believer living between the ages still dies. What is the best way to account for this? It seems what I wrote in the above article must be the main answer to this. And in exactly the same way, we can account for healing in the atonement. Yes it is a down payment, and we see some cases of it here and now and we praise God for it. But not everyone is healed, just as not everyone lives forever.

    By all means we all need more faith and we all need more Holy Ghost boldness. I do not deny that for one second. But we also need to take the whole counsel of God. I will pray for people’s healing just as much as you. But I will do it in Jesus’ name, which means, in accordance with his will. You believe it is always his will every time that everyone be healed right now in all occasions and all circumstances. I do not read the biblical data that way.

    When Christ comes again we certainly will get all the benefits of the atonement – fully and completely. We will not sin any longer, nor suffer, nor get sick, nor die, nor be harassed by the devil. But until then, it will be a mixed scene, with some healings, some overcoming in all areas, but never perfect, complete and final victory in any of these areas till he comes.

    As to suffering never being God’s will, except maybe as persecution, I simply cannot see Scripture at all teaching that. Indeed, see here for my discussion of this:
    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/09/30/suffering-in-the-new-testament-part-one/
    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/09/30/suffering-in-the-new-testament-part-two/

    Are many people being hurt because they do not have enough faith, they do not believe God is able to do great things, and do not let his Spirit move in their lives? Absolutely.

    But are many people hurt because they have wrongly been told it is never God’s will for them to be poor or ill, and if they are, it must be due to sin in their life, or lack of faith? Absolutely.

    Both unbiblical extremes must be rejected. As always, getting the biblical balance right is hard to do, but we are called to try anyway.

    (Sorry for the very long reply – I really should just have turned this into an article – maybe I still will!)

    But thanks again for your thoughts. Blessings,

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill,
    Firstly, I don’t like being categorized in a group called ‘the health and wealth’ Gospel as it may then bring to mind many of the wrong doctrines that I don’t subscribe to and deny me a genuine hearing. I, like you have valid Scriptural commentary on the subject of healing and God’s will in this age.

    Secondly, I don’t agree with the constant referral to church history or the many Christians as to whether a doctrine is in effect or not. I could also in this manner draw on many examples to prove a contrary argument.

    Take the dark ages of history for instance, where the majority of that which seemed to be of understanding regarding the Scriptures largely lay in ignorance. Thank God for the Protestant Reformers who didn’t follow the ‘but the history of the Church says otherwise’, and rather sought out the Scriptures for what they ought to believe, and how they ought to behave. We owe them a debt of gratitude.

    And what of many in the present day said ‘church’ that hold the Scriptures in clear reading yet turn from them, to allow and condone acts that are clearly an abomination before God? Does that mean they are right, and that it may be God’s will in truth regarding the issue? Of course it doesnt.

    Hence, I do not see ‘Christians’ or ‘the people of God’ who hold the Scriptures as cause for back up in regards to correct hermeneutics on understanding ‘death’ and that which is provided for in this age through the atonement of Christ. It has little to no place in this discussion.

    The simple answer to your question of ‘what about death’ is, ‘death has many faces’. It is absurd to bring them all under one heading alone and then claim that all (sickness, accident, premature death etc) are ‘God’s will’ because we will one day suffer the effects of aging and die.

    Scripture deals with deaths varying manifestations in detail. One such Scripture reveals God’s will for His people to ‘NOT DIE’ rather pleading with them to change saying ‘why will ye die’? (Eze 18:31). This reveals that although they might die, it wasn’t God’s will for such at that time or by those means.

    There are many other effects of death/sin such as divorce, should we then not strive to counsel a couple suffering the effects of their fallen state? And if that couple still divorce was it ‘God’s will’ for such to happen, or was it a failure of one or both parties to implement the counsel God has given in His Word into their lives?

    The fact is, death caused by ‘sin’ in its many manifestations has been paid for on the Cross, but many of its specific manifestations have also clearly been shown to not be God’s will that they prevail against the believer in THIS age.

    Regarding praying in Jesus name as the evidence of God’s will, why have many testified to me of being prayed for in Jesus name by other believers and yet have remained sick, but when I pray in Jesus name they are healed?

    And what of those who I have prayed for in Jesus name who haven’t been healed, and yet other believers have used the name of Jesus Christ and they have then been healed?

    Thus, to infer that the will of God is encompassed in the one who uses the name of Jesus, and the outcome being no possible fault or lack of faith of the one who uses the name of Jesus, rather ‘God’s Will’, is simply absurd.

    But here I am using examples of what I have seen rather than Scripture, I appeal to the disciples of our Lord who could not heal the boy and yet had been given the power to do so. They failed but Christ didn’t and healed the boy, thus revealing God’s will and the possible failure of the majority against the will of God.

    The very simple answer to the argument ‘what about death’? is because as my earlier post stated, Scripture differs between the different manifestations of death upon the flesh of man, and how to deal with them in THIS age. They cannot all be mingled together.

    Over and over again we see examples of the perfect Christian (Christ), of which believers must aspire to be like (1 Jhn 2:6), dealing with the effects of such specific manifest death called ‘sickness and disease’ by curing it.

    I continue to hold that it is the definite will of God for me not to abide in this moral sin touched body, God having provided something better for us, but i also hold to the definite will of God to heal the sick in this age. I have no problems with you beleiving otherwise and enjoy our discussions as I know you do.

    Blessings Doz Ballard

  • Thanks again Dorian

    As I have said often now, it is not my intention to belabour this. There is so much going on all around us, that I must devote my energies to the important battles of the day.

    And as I have mentioned, I really am quite familiar with all the arguments, pro and con. I have heard them and read them all before, many times over. And I have interacted with them in my PhD thesis. So this is old ground here. A few quick points however, then I must let it rest – far too many other important pressing issues must be dealt with.

    Please enlighten me as to why it is wrong for me to engage in “referral to church history or the many Christians” when I seek to make a point, yet it is fine when you make your point? Not helpful or fair Dorian.

    Your “simple answer” to my question is hardly satisfactory. But for the sake of argument let’s say it is. Your exact same answer to the issue of death can of course be applied to the issue of sickness and healing. Both those latter terms also clearly have “many faces” as you say. So once again, your inconsistency here: you say death happens because of its many faces, yet you say illness should never happen, even though it too clearly has many faces or meanings in Scripture. So you are telling us the atonement applies to all healing and all sickness, but to only some faces of death for the present. Sorry, you are just digging yourself digger into the mire here.

    The truth is, the Bible makes it perfectly clear that death – in all its senses – is dealt with at Calvary. But because we are still living between the ages, we see Roman 8:18-27 for example fully in play here. The final consummation has not yet occurred. Thus we still sin, we still suffer, we still get sick, and we still die. This is everywhere attested to in Scripture. That God graciously and sovereignly breaks in on occasion and undoes these things is great – but perfection is just not going to be found until he comes again. Thus Christians will still sin – hopefully less and less over time – and they will still suffer in all sorts of ways, including sickness, and they will still age and die.

    One day I will be pushed around in a wheel chair, as most old folks will be. Will my wife chew me out for my lack of faith then? Will it be just sin in my life that explains this? Hate to say it bub, but every single one of us – including you, will go through this aging process, with all the deterioration, illness, weakness and decay that is involved in that natural process in a fallen world. Even you will go through it, no matter how much you may wish it away or claim it is all dealt with in the atonement so there is no reason at all you should experience it. You will get gray hairs, you might go bald, your teeth will deteriorate, your heart will slowly give out, your lungs will not be as good as they used to be, your stamina and strength will start to lessen, and so on – all part of living in a fallen world, and something we are all subject to. If you think you are somehow going to miss out on all that, well, good luck to you – I will catch up with you in 20 years and see how you look!

    But as I say, I am happy to extend grace to you to do your thing and believe as you will. Hopefully you will extend the same grace to me. In the meantime there are far too many battles raging which I am called to engage with. So I cannot devote lots of time trying to convince you of things. As I say, bless you, your family, and your ministry, and keep it up. And I will try to do what God has called me to do.

    Bless you

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill, understandably we both have present day pressing ministry issues to get on with. So i end my comments on this article with this.

    I have answered your first question on ‘church history’ and where i have done such i used ‘pun’ and then quoted scripture to establish my points, you need to reread my post.

    Regarding the ‘simple answer’ it is simple, once again scripture deals with the many facets of that which has come from ‘death’ which was caused by ‘sin’ individually teaching us how and which age certain are dealth with. Sickness and disease is shown over and over again to be temporarily restored IN THIS AGE through faith in Christ.

    Calvary has dealt with sin/death but scripture once again deals with the many manifestations of such and tells us which are dealt with in this age and which are dealt with in the eschaton.

    You seem to believe that its not ok for a believer to admit or have another believer tell them they had a faith failure. You mention that if someone tells you such they are ‘chewing you out’. This is not true, nobody chews me out when i miss it, they encourage me. Its ok to say you missed it mate, and its ok for others to then come around you and help you believe.

    Yes i will go grey and have plenty even now, i will also die through age unless im martyred, raptured or somehow taken, but until such a time i will believe God to temporarily restore my body. Heck, i will even go to the doctors to ensure God’s will (that being for me to be restored when my body is broken) is served when i cant muster my faith to be healed. But what will you do? Do you go to the doctors after youve prayed and not been healed? why would you do this, after all its God’s will that you arent healed so why fight His will?

    This body has a time limit, yes,(Ecc 3:1-3), it will age and God will not restore that specific manifestation of death called ‘aging’ (1 Pet 1:24), but He will restore us from that which seeks to shorten that time.

    Ecc 3:1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
    Ecc 3:2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
    Ecc 3:3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

    A time to ‘die’ and a time to ‘heal’.

    Luk 13:14 And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.
    Luk 13:15 The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?
    Luk 13:16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?
    Luk 13:17 And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.

    this woman will one day die through age, but regarding her issue Jesus said ‘Ought not!’

    Mat 14:14 And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.

    Compassion! these will die of age also, why bother healing them then, its all the same death isnt it? no it isnt, there are different manifestations of death, some dealt with in in the last age and some dealt with in this age.

    Mat 12:11 And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?
    Mat 12:12 How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.
    Mat 12:13 Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.

    No big theology here, just a simple appeal to caring and Jesus cares now.

    thanks Bill, keep up the good work, love Doz

    Dorian Ballard

  • Thanks again Dorian

    As I keep saying, it may be time to give this a rest. Both sides can offer plenty of passages. But it is the biblical framework by which we seek to understand these texts that is of key importance– and our frameworks obviously differ here Thanks again.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • It has been interesting following your exchange, Bill and Dorian even after such a long time. I wonder if you know how much you actually agree with each other. What you describe is not a disagreement, but a description of the same picture from different angles. Some people do live into a ripe old age without seeming to lose much of their physical abilities. Smith Wigglesworth is said to have been one of those.
    What we can be sure of though is that Life and the restoration to life where it has been taken away is God’s will consistently, though we are not always aware of the shape, amount and duration of evil he may choose in order to pursue and even enhance this goal. Job and Christ’s resurrection are an example of Satan, death, evil being used by god for a good end. But there is another aspect to death that none of you have discussed yet to my knowledge.
    If we were to live forever in this world, we would never be reunited in the true sense with Christ, the father and the Holy Spirit like Adam was when he talked with god in the garden. We would also have to live forever on this broken world and would never get to the new earth, if we get to live there that is and there are probably many speculations or better informed extrapolations than I have to offer. But it seems to me that death, like the unpleasant experience of birth, which is the only available way from the confined and dark existence in the womb to the wider and brighter life on this earth, is the only narrow way that leads to the consummation of God’s promise of eternal life.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • This has been fascinating reading. The jury is still out for me on this as I pray and consider Gods Word on this. I do think that maybe there is a huge difference between death and sickness. Is it God’s a Will that we die? Yes. Death like Ursula has pointed out in one sense is a gift from God to deliver us from this fallen world into glory. But is it Gods will that we be sick until such a time? I don’t believe so (although can’t state this in 100% of cases as God is sovereign but certainly is the prevailing view of scripture). So maybe the answer lies between the difference between ageing and sickness? Like I say, I am grappling with this myself but put it out there as a thought. Thanks for the discussion and thanks in general for your excellent articles Bill, they are a breath of fresh air in our PC, secular dominated world. God bless!

  • Thanks Stuart. Yes there is certainty some complexity and nuance here, even some ambiguity, and we need to steer our way through the biblical material carefully. Not sure however if we can make too great of a distinction between ageing and sickness. The older you get the more susceptible you are to all sorts of illness, sickness, and body breakdown. in fact ,perhaps most deaths are caused in elderly people by some complication of a virus, a sickness, an illness, etc. This is simply part of living in a fallen world, and living between the ages. But I discuss this further elsewhere, eg:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/04/29/is-physical-healing-in-the-atonement/

  • Hi Bill,

    Thanks again for the article. I know it’s been a long time since you wrote this but I’d like to share a few thoughts and experiences.

    At the beginning of my Christian walk I was somewhere within the “health and wealth” camp – not totally espousing some of their radical beliefs but certainly believing that claiming “by His stripes we are healed” or similar verses “should” yield results – if not immediately, then at some foreseeable future. And if no healing resulted, then perhaps it’s due to a lack of faith.

    In the past 10 years various tragedies have happened in my life to people I knew, close or otherwise. Including a close friend of mine who died of cancer, a lady in our church who passed away after many years of suffering as a quadriplegic, and now my relative who is currently in palliative care and may pass away any time soon. In all of these cases many people prayed for them over the months/years, and yet they were not healed. Particularly after my friend passed away from cancer I had serious doubts with God and myself (I totally lost confidence in my prayers, not seriously believing that God would hear me).

    Anyway, after years of struggling with these issues me and my husband felt to do a Bible study on God’s promises – what exactly are they and specifically, what does it mean that “by His stripes we are healed”? Suffice to say many of the things we found agree with what you wrote in this article – though personally I feel this article is more complete – and has been very helpful for me in digesting and understanding somewhat some of the things that has happened in my life – so thank you.

    Another thing that I’ve learned over the years but not fully appreciated until now is that regardless of whether healing occurs or not, and whatever tragedies happen, to look at all this from the perspective of eternity – I’m guessing you’ve already written another article on this so apologies if you have already. It’s helpful to think about everything in this way, as our life here on earth, no matter how long or short, or no matter how hard or easy, will fade away when compared to eternity.

    I sometimes wonder whether the mentality that God “has to” heal “now” is because we, particularly western Christians, want to hold on to the idea that we have a lot of time on this earth. For example, because our life expectancy is now 80 years old (plus) – so we think we have a lot of time to preach the gospel and make disciples. I’m not saying that this is the case all the time, but I know that I’ve certainly tended to have that thinking (consciously or subconsciously – and to be shamefully honest, become a bit “slack” and apathetic) until recently.

    I also wonder if the mentality that God has to heal “now” doesn’t subconsciously come from a selfish desire to have a good life – when Jesus clearly taught that we will have trials and tribulations in this life. I’m not saying this happens all the time but it has subconsciously come to my mind at times.

    And because of these revelations I am now totally at peace with all the tragedies that have happened in my life, especially my friend’s. I also now truly appreciate in my heart that my life is not my own, and God could call me home to heaven earlier than I think. And the same with people I know who don’t know Jesus – I feel more of a sense of urgency now because I know anything could happen to them too. I think also that this experience has made me appreciate all the struggles I’ve been through, and realising that God uses these to build our character, grow and learn valuable lessons in life that I would not have otherwise had.

    As for my relative, I will continue to pray for her as long as she is still alive and breathing. In fact this is what James letter tells us to do. But I am totally at peace now regardless of whether my relative gets healed or not. I still believe that God can heal her, but know that His ways are higher than my ways, and so are his thoughts.

    Thank you again Bill.

  • Many thanks indeed Kathy. Bless you.

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