Why Does God Heal Some People, But Not Everyone?

Katherine Elizabeth Clark
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The ways of our heavenly Father are mysterious. I do not know why my young twenty-one-year-old hospital roommate who fell from a zip line did not heal. One minute the college-aged senior was suspended high in the air, her long hair flowing as she cascaded along her family’s new zip-wired ride; the next minute, with a snap, she was plummeting rapidly downward, only stopping when her slight body collided with the ground.

She arrived at the hospital a few weeks after I did. The healthy young student thought she would walk out of the hospital soon after she arrived, and her doctors did not seem to discourage this hope. She had a lower back injury that left her with complete control of her upper body and movement in her lower extremities. With a little therapy, it seemed, she would be mobile, walking, dancing, climbing. But she made little progress over the few short weeks she was at the hospital. She could sometimes walk, though crudely and awkwardly with the aid of two canes, but her physicians had little confidence in her balance, and she went home in a wheelchair.

I do not know why none of my tetraplegic companions walked out of the hospital. Not even the friend I’d first watched in awe taking steps in the pool. After a full year of inpatient therapy, he went home in a wheelchair. I watched the agonized face of my Harley-Davidson friend struggle to do anything with his hands. Once an independent spirit, an adventurous risk-taker, now a vulnerable soul needing full-time care and assistance with dressing, eating, all things having to do with the bathroom. I felt sorrow for the man who’d fallen down his basement steps, broken his neck, and now filled the air with anger and expletives. He too left the hospital in a wheelchair.

“We have known fear that binds, sorrow so full it chokes, and circumstances that struck us like an axe—one fell swoop leveling us to the ground.”

I did not ask the Lord, “Why me?” when I got hurt. We all have stories of suffering. In the twelve years John and I had been married, we had known trial and tragedy: financial hardship, sizeable rats in our Dallas apartment, the malfunctioning heart of our preborn son William, four major moves, further financial stress, and about a year before my injury, under the weight of his doctoral program, John brooked a scary bout of extreme mental and emotional fatigue. We have known fear that binds, sorrow so full it chokes, and circumstances that struck us like an axe—one fell swoop leveling us to the ground.

“Who Sinned?”

Nevertheless, we were not in the habit of asking, “Why did this happen to us? Why me? Why did I get hurt?” Rarely, if ever, does anyone receive an answer to the “why” question. And a close reading of Scripture reveals that “Why?” isn’t even the question we should be asking. Consider this story from the apostle John’s gospel:

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1–3)

The disciples presented the same type of question that plagues us today. Why did this happen? Why is this man blind? And who is to blame? The blind man? His parents? God? There is an accusing tone, a finger-wagging betrayed in these questions, is there not? We know that sin and suffering are intertwined. This is evident throughout Scripture. But what is the cause of or reason for the specific suffering in our own lives?

What Question Do We Ask?

In his book Out of the Depths, pastor and theologian Helmut Thielicke referred to this very passage of John when he preached amid the ruin and rubble of Germany during World War II:

Do we not all know this troublesome questioner within us who in contempt or despair, in sorrow or accusation constantly asks, “Why?” This little word “why” is no torrent of speech. It is only a drop of three letters. Yet it can cause mortal injury to our souls.

Who does not know the despair that chaperones the question Why? Why did the dreams I had for my child never come to fruition? Why, after countless hours of sleep deprivation and financial sacrifice, did my child forsake and reject me? Why did all my hard work and effort result in a hostile job environment with seeming pointlessness while so many others seem to flourish happily? Why is disease, sickness, and violence stealing so many lives this and every passing day? Why did this evil thing happen?

But if “Why?” is not the right question, what question should, must we ask? To the broken and battered people who survived the air raid, Thielicke continued:

There is thus manifested a tremendous liberation, which Jesus brings to us in our need and in our bitter thoughts. For He teaches us to put our question in a way which is meaningful. He tells us that we should not ask “Why?” but “To what end?” In thus fashioning the question Jesus is a true Pastor. For when we understand the change, we are no longer choked with terror. We can breathe again. We can cry and not be weary. We can live by the profound peace in our hearts.

“Why?” turns us inward, and the more inwardly we gaze, the deeper and darker is our despair. Stuffing ourselves with self, we are ushered into a corridor of self-pity with its close companions, misery and bitterness. The question “To what end?”, however, turns our hearts back to our kindhearted Father who bids us come, to trust in Him, to rest in His promise that though sadness and grief, pain and hardship are ever with us now, He sees and is all the time working powerfully toward ends that are good, ends that are more beautiful and impossible than we could ever imagine.

A God of Ends

Many have braved far greater heartache than my family. Some have endured less. In the rehabilitation hospital, I was not bowed down so much by the question of why I got hurt, but I couldn’t help but wonder why I was being healed. Injured patients at the hospital watched my progress, and as they did, hope stirred in their hearts. But some despaired. I was getting better and they were not.

I am humbled as I think about what my life would look like apart from the healing that has occurred. I am humbled because I know other families also prayed that their loved ones would get better only to experience the silence of God. I will not presume, in such cases, to know the inner thoughts or plans of our triune God. Yet I trust that His ends are good. I am tremendously blessed by brothers and sisters in Christ who continue to cling to Jesus even when—especially when—the pain and suffering is nearly too much to bear. Thielicke says that God is a God of ends. The blind man is blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him. Rather than take the position of accuser, which leads us to discouragement and despair, we must set our eyes on Jesus and the ends for which He calls us. Allow me to leave you with the words of Thielicke:

Everything changes under our hands if with our hand in the hand of our Lord we are ready to march forward to the great ends of God. Our conscience is stained and we are guilty. But being in the hand of Jesus, we may ask with fear and trembling, “To what end?” and we may receive the answer of Paul: In order that grace may be mightier, the cross greater, and the Lord dearer to us.

For Further Reading:

Where I End

by Katherine Elizabeth Clark

Katherine Clark was just an average wife and mother with two young children when she was in a tragic playground accident in late May 2009. A...

book cover for Where I End