A listener named Ian in Australia writes in to ask, “Pastor John, how would you preach from Psalm 103:3 which says, ‘God heals all your diseases’? Do we just spiritualize this — he heals us from the disease of sin — or take it in the ultimate sense that one day, we will be healed in heaven? There are many Christians today who die of awful diseases.”
This is an absolutely crucial question, because Psalm 103:3 says God “forgives all your iniquity” and “heals all your diseases.” Here is one of dozens of places in the Psalms that seem to promise things that are so idealistic, so far beyond anybody’s ordinary experience. And so, we really do need an answer to this question, not only how to teach them, but how to believe them, how to enjoy them.
The Devil’s Misapplication
What comforts me and has helped me, perhaps as much as anything in wrestling with the absolute statements of blessing in the Psalms, is that Jesus knew this problem, and the devil knew it, and the way they interacted about it is very illuminating. The devil knows Psalm 91. It is one of those psalms that is just amazing, like the arrow “will not come near you” (Psalm 91:7). “You are going to be protected. Nothing is going to harm you” (see Psalm 91:5–14).
The devil quotes this to Jesus standing on the top of the temple. And he says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written” — and the devil is quoting the Bible — “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’” (Luke 4:9–11). In other words, he is saying, “Jesus, jump off from here because the Bible says angels won’t let you die jumping off this temple.” He is tempting Jesus by quoting him in Scripture, just like he “heals all your diseases.” I mean, they are in the same category — “He never lets you dash your foot against a stone. You can’t fall off a cliff if you are a Christian. And you won’t get any diseases, or, if you get one, you will be healed.”
Do Not Oversimplify Psalms
And Jesus answered him and said, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Luke 4:12). For Jesus, the devil was quoting the Bible at a wrong time in the wrong way for the wrong end. Jesus had come into the world to suffer and to die. He was going to be crushed. Therefore, all the psalms of never coming to harm or always being delivered could not be applied directly to Jesus at any given moment. He came to die. So, to try to apply the psalm to the best of men would be a misapplication. And Jesus knew it, and Paul knew it. In fact, Paul saw that the Psalms themselves would not allow this kind of simple application to every person at any time. Psalm 44:22 says, “For your sake [God], we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” Now, in that context in Psalm 44:22, that is not owing to God. Judgment is not owing to God, to their sin. In fact, they have been faithful, and they are being slaughtered, which is why Paul quotes it in Romans 8 as part of what Christians can expect. He says,
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Romans 8:35–36)
Paul quotes the very psalm that says we will be killed and destroyed. So Christians can expect this.
Now against that backdrop of the New Testament and Jesus and Paul helping us not oversimplify the absolute statements of blessing in the Psalms, what do they mean? And here is my threefold answer.
1. All promises will be fulfilled.
There is coming a time when all of these statements — all of these promises — will be fulfilled in Jesus and in all of those who are in Jesus in the new earth, in the ideal world. And all those promises will not prove to be overstatements. All sins will be forgiven. All diseases will be healed, eventually. And Jesus has forged a way through suffering. He calls us to forge the way through suffering into the full experience of those psalms in the age to come.
2. Some healing will come now, all will come soon.
Second, in this world, God does heal. And all healing that comes to us, comes to us from God. And so, we should look for it, ask for it, and thank him when he gives it. But the final promise of no more death and no more disease will come in the future.
3. We are more than conquerors.
And, third, even our diseases and our calamities are not defeats. That is what Paul is saying. In them all, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). They work good for us now in all the ways that count. And they prepare “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Now and Later
That is how I would teach my people to read that psalm. He “heals all your diseases” means that he will heal them in the age to come. He heals them often now. And when he doesn’t, they will get healing that is even better.