We live in a society that offers an array of varying forms of healing. A simple Google search will lead you down what seems to be a never ending path of means to get healing, whether it be physical healing, emotional, mental, or so-called ‘spiritual’ healing. From Medical Doctors, to Psychologists, to Chinese medicine, and alternative therapies, there are countless professionals aiming to provide different types of remedies. But what does the bible teach us about healing? The Lord is our great physician; the healer of our wounds (Jeremiah 30:17), so we must look to the Bible to learn His view on the matter. As Paul writes, all of creation is for us to learn from- to know God in a deeper way (see Romans 1:20), so we can look at the process of a physical healing and see how this parallels the way the Lord heals our inner selves. The Early Church understood that true healing begins from within the soul, and this is the most important healing we, as God’s children, will go through.
Our bodies have a natural healing process, designed to operate collectively to restore health when disease or injury has impacted us, or to fight against sickness. This physical healing process happens from the inside, out. For example, if we contract a virus such as influenza, our body’s natural immune system internally produces cells that fight against foreign invaders to evict the virus from our body over time (1). We usually experience a number of outward symptoms, i.e. coughing, sneezing, running nose, fever, and so on- all of which are our bodies’ way of informing us that a) we are unwell, and b) the sickness is being fought. After our body has fought off the virus and we have completely recovered, we no longer experience the physical (outward) symptoms. The healing process begins inside the body, unseen to the natural eye.
So, how does the healing of our physical body parallel the way the Lord heals our soul?
Firstly, we must investigate what our inner self is. In Scripture this is referred to as the “inner man” (see Ephesians 3:16 below) – being within both males and females, or the “innermost being” (see John 7:38 below). In the New Testament the Apostle Paul writes “May He grant you out of the rich treasury of His glory to be strengthened and reinforced with mighty power in the inner man by the [Holy] Spirit [Himself indwelling your innermost being and personality].” (Ephesians 3:16 Amplified Bible). John writes “He who believes in Me [who cleaves to and trusts in and relies on Me] as the Scripture has said, From his innermost being shall flow [continuously] springs and rivers of living water.” (John 7:38 Amplified Bible). Other translations of this scripture describe the “innermost being” as the heart or the belly. The term inner in Greek refers to the soul or the conscience (2) and the term belly refers to “the soul, the heart as the seat of thought, feeling, choice.” (3). The Hebrew translation for these terms (in scripture: inward, among, within) refers to our thoughts and emotions (4). So, we can see that our inner self is referring to our soul, or heart, which is where our thoughts, emotions and passions reside; also known as our conscience (see Hebrews 10:22 below). The Early Church confirms that our inner self is our soul/heart. Clement of Alexandria wrote:
“Let the light then shine in the hidden part of man, that is, the heart; and let the beams of knowledge arise to reveal and irradiate [illuminate] the hidden inner man, the disciple of the Light, the familiar friend and fellow-heir of Christ.” (5)
Here we see that Clement understood the inner man to be the heart, not the physical organ of the heart, rather the hidden part within us- our soul. He explains that the light, being the Word of God (ref. Psalm 119:105) is what illuminates our hearts. In Scripture, illumination refers to the revelation of God’s Word- something that is unknown or hidden (in darkness) to us, being revealed (brought to light).
Clement and other Early Church scholars taught that we can have a sickness within our soul. In his work The Instructor, Clement wrote:
The physician is not evil to the sick man because he tells him of his fever, – for the physician is not the cause of the fever, but only points out the fever; – so neither is He [God], that reproves, ill-disposed towards him who is diseased in soul. For He [God] does not put the transgressions on him, but only shows the sins which are there; in order to turn him away from similar practices. (6)
Clement outlines that the disease in our soul is sin, and out of God’s mercy to us He reveals our sin to correct our ways and bring healing. King David declared to the Lord “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). David understood that it is God’s Word, that is to be inscribed on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33), that prevents us from having sickness (sin) in our soul and brings about an inner healing. The Apostle Paul exhorts the Church of Ephesus in writing, “that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:26-27). He also writes to the Hebrews “let us draw near [to God] with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22). Was Paul referring to a physical washing? Certainly not, as physical water can only wash our outer selves, doing nothing for our inner man. When rebuking the Pharisees, Jesus taught that the outer washing is not what matters, but the inner cleansing of the soul is the true washing (Matthew 23:26-28). Water is symbolic of the Word; the cleansing agent that purifies our souls from all impurities (blemishes).
Early Church Father, Origen, having a deeper understanding of water according to Scripture, referred to the Word of God as “healing rain” in the following excerpt:
The holy prophets discovered this divine faculty of sensing and seeing and hearing in a divine manner, and of tasting and smelling in the same way they touched the Word with faith in a way that was, so to speak, simultaneously sensing and non-sensing, so that it poured over them like a healing rain. (7)
Origen explains above that it is our divine senses (in our inner man/soul) that see, hear, taste, smell and touch the Word of God, that pours over us like rain.
Now that we understand the sickness within our soul is sin, let us look at what that sin is. In his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Origen clearly, and so eloquently explains what the sickness in our soul is. We read his explanation entitled The Diverse Forms of Spiritual Sickness below.
And, if you wish to see of what nature are the sicknesses of the soul, contemplate with me the lovers of money, and the lovers of ambition, and the lovers of boys, and if any be fond of women; for these also beholding among the crowds and taking compassion upon them, He healed. For not every sin is to be considered a sickness, but that which has settled down in the whole soul. For so you may see the lovers of money wholly intent on money and upon preserving and gathering it, the lovers of ambition wholly intent on a little glory, for they gape for praise from the masses and the vulgar; and analogously you will understand in the case of the rest which we have named, and if there be any other like to them. Since, then, when expounding the words, “He healed their sick,” (Mat_14:14) we said that not every sin is a sickness, it is fitting to discuss from the Scripture the difference of these. The Apostle indeed says, writing to the Corinthians who had diverse sicknesses, “For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep.” (1Co_11:30) Hear Him in these words, knitting a band and making it plaited of different sins, according as some are weak, and others sickly more than weak, and others, in comparison with both, are asleep. For some, because of impotence [ineffectiveness] of soul, having a tendency to slip into any sin whatever, although they may not be wholly in the grasp of any form of sin, as the sickly are, are only weak; but others who, instead of loving God “with all their soul and all their heart and all their mind,” love money, or a little glory, or wife, or children, are suffering from something worse than weakness, and are sickly. And those who sleep are those who, when they ought to be taking heed and watching with the soul, are not doing this, but by reason of great want of attention are nodding in resolution and are drowsy in their reflections. (8)
Here we read Origen explaining that the sickness, or sin in our soul are the passions and desires we put before the Lord, whether it be the things of this world – money, job, car etc, and even our family (and so on). The Lord wants us to love Him before all else. Notice Origen explains that these things we desire have a deeper root- for example being a lover of glory (being praised) comes from a deeper wound of wanting recognition by others. So, we must look even further beyond the outer appearance of our desires and be inspecting our hearts to understand what lies at the root of these things. The Early Church was adamant on the inspection of the soul; hence Origen explains that those who are asleep in their soul are those who do not reflect on the intentions of their heart (their soul).
In the Medical world, when a certain remedy is prescribed to a patient, and the patient does not use the medicine, it has no effect. The same applies to God’s Word. If we remain in our sin, and are not being set free from the things that plague our minds, we need to inspect ourselves, to see if we are applying the true medicine- having our hearts cleansed by the Word of God. James informs us that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20), so there is a requirement on our part- it isn’t good enough we hear God’s message and do not obey it; we must be doers of the Word, not merely hearers (James 1:22). Jesus said “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32). The Lord wants to heal us, and cleanse us from all our iniquities (Jeremiah 30:17; Jeremiah 33:6, 8); even the things we feel are impossible to be freed of- for “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27).
True inner healing, just like physical healing, begins from the inside, out. The water of the Word washes us, bringing an inner healing to our soul and transforming our mind and desires; renewing our inward selves (2 Corinthians 4:16). Ultimately the manifestation of this healing will show on the outwardly; in our deeds and our speech. What used to be a desire for the glory of man will be no longer, because we have the inner healing in our soul. The Early Church understood that the inner healing of a person was of vital importance and is done through a process of understanding God’s Word and applying it to our lives. At times a bodily wound is painful and takes time to heal, and this is often the case when it comes to inner healing, but those who persevere will be saved (Matthew 24:13). Are we being patient through the discomfort, allowing God to completely restore us? Let us continue to press towards the mark, allowing the Lord to complete the good work He has begun in us.
1) Lundquist, Erik. “Is The Body Designed To Heal Itself?”. 2019, https://www.tcimedicine.com/post/is-the-body-designed-to-heal-itself
2) Thayer’s Greek Definitions: Inner (G2080)
3) Thayer’s Greek Definitions: Belly (G2836)
4) Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Definitions: Inward parts (H7130)
5) Clement- Exhortation to the Heathen. Chapter XI
6) Clement- The Instructor. Book I, Chapter IX
7) Origen- Spirit & Fire (pg. 221)
8) Origen- Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Book X
All scripture references from The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010, unless stated otherwise.