Eternal Healing vs. Physical Healing

Eternal Healing vs. Physical Healing

Fr Luke A Veronis


How many of you know someone who is seriously sick? Someone who may have a terminal illness? Do you pray for them? Why?

Typically, it’s for their healing. Yet, do we pray that they may get better simply so they can go back to their life as they previously lived it? Or do we pray for something more?

In the Gospel story of today, we hear about a man who is paralyzed and has four friends who bring him to Jesus so that he may be healed. The friends face the obstacle of a very large crowd surrounding the house and the people were unwilling to make room for them to carry their friend to the feet of Jesus. They don’t get discouraged, however, but creatively lift the paralyzed man onto the roof, break through the roof, and lay the man right in front of Jesus.

Of course, what did they hope for? They must have heard about Jesus as a wonderworker and miracle worker and obviously hoped their friend would be healed. They wanted to see their friend walk and return to a life the way they lived it.

Yet, is that what Jesus is ultimately interested in whenever he heals someone? Is He simply interested in healing people so that they can go back to life and live it the way they used to live it before their illness?

Or do we see a deeper concern in Christ’s love and care for the people? Interestingly, with the paralytic man in today’s Gospel, Jesus initially says to the man, “Your sins are forgiven!” Christ doesn’t focus on the obvious physical problem of paralysis but chooses to address the deeper illness of this man – forgiving his sins, forgiving the man for any ways he has turned away from His God and Creator throughout his life.

This approach shocks the listeners. They wanted to witness a miracle they could see. And this talk of forgiving sins is something only God could do, so they’re also scandalized by Jesus’ claim of such mercy!

Of course, Christ does heal the man of his physical paralysis but we realize something deeper is going on here. Jesus is more concerned about this man’s relationship with His Creator and with his eternal salvation then simply whether he would walk for a few more years on earth.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on this approach of our Lord. He’s more interested in forgiving sins and reconciling people back to God than he is of simply healing physical infirmities and disabilities. He knows our physical limitations are temporary. His concern is with an eternal relationship with God.

Last week, I offered a Lenten retreat where I used the story of my dear friend Lynette Hoppe and her 18-month journey with cancer, which is captured so powerfully in the book “Lynette’s Hope.” In this book, Lynette reflects on God’s healing power:

“I began to think about Jesus’ healing ministry and how often he said to those who sought physical healing, “Your sins are forgiven.” The sick sought physical healing, but Jesus gave them the healing they really needed – spiritual healing. Their bodies would eventually die anyway, but their souls, which would live on, needed to be healed of spiritual infirmities.” This is the type of healing that Lynette eventually found.

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom writes something similar: “When we read the Gospels, we lose sight of the fact that Christ did not heal each and every person. One person in a crowd would be healed; but many others, also ailing in body or soul, were not healed. And this happens because—in order to receive the action of the grace of God unto healing of body or soul, or of both—we must open ourselves to God. Not to healing, but to God…

And to be healed does not mean to become whole only in order to go back to the same kind of life that we lived before; it means to be whole in order to begin a new life, as if we realized that we died in the healing action of God; that the illness was of the old man in us…This old man must die in order for the new man to live. We must be ready to become this new creation through the death of the old in order to begin to live a new…”

Bloom goes on to ask, “Are we capable of receiving healing? Do we agree to take upon ourselves the responsibility of a new wholeness, in order to enter again, and yet again, into the world in which we live, with knowledge of our renewal; to be light, to be salt, to be joy, to be hope, to be love, to be giving back to God and man?”

Remember, our ultimate goal in life, as Orthodox Christians, should be union with God, to become one with Him. This isn’t simply some deep, mystical theological pursuit; it is the purpose and goal of a sincere Christ-centered life. Thus, everything we do in life should orient us toward this goal. If we truly love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, then we will open our hearts to be filled with His divine love and share this love with the world around us. This is our path toward union with God.

So, let’s say we get sick or discover tomorrow we have stage 4 cancer or some other serious illness that threatens our life. Of course, we will ask for prayers and healing from God, asking the intercessions of the saints. We will anoint the person with holy oil and pray for physical healing. And maybe God will perform a miracle to heal in places where modern medicine has its limitations!

Yet, the greater miracle that Christ can offer isn’t simply for our physical healing. It is for spiritual healing which helps us embrace a new way of living that is oriented primarily toward God. It is accepting our suffering as a great teacher who opens our eyes and helps us discover a new perspective on life. It is praying for healing so that we can then live our lives the way they are meant to be – seeking first the kingdom of heaven above all else and healing our hearts, minds and souls from our destructive sins and the deceptive lies of the world, while orienting ourselves first and foremost toward loving God and loving our neighbor. This makes for healing that leads into eternity.

So when Jesus says to the paralytic, “What is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven or to say rise, take up your pallet and walk.” He shows that He can do both. “But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" Jesus said to the paralytic "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home."

Physical healings and miracles are possible in Christ, but the spiritual healing from our sins and spiritual healing from our turning away from God is much more important to be addressed.

Let us all seek out such eternal healing in our lives.

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