3 Questions for Bill Johnson

In the video below, Bill Johnson, Senior Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California, is asked three important questions: (1) Does God ever cause sickness?; (2) Does God ever choose not to heal?; and (3) What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh? 

Does God ever cause sickness? Johnson says, “You can only give away what you have.” So Johnson concludes that God can not give away sickness because He is not sick.

Johnson cleverly sets up the listener to make his conclusion by saying, “You can only give away what you have,” which is not true of God in the Scriptures. Does God ever cause sickness? Yes He does:

then the Lord will bring upon you and your descendants extraordinary plagues—great and prolonged plagues—and serious and prolonged sicknesses. (Deuteronomy 28:59)

Also every sickness and every plague, which is not written in this Book of the Law, will the Lordbring upon you until you are destroyed. (Deuteronomy 28:61)

so that the coming generation of your children who rise up after you, and the foreigner who comes from a far land, would say, when they see the plagues of that land and the sicknesses which the Lord has laid on it: (Deuteronomy 29:22)

And a letter came to him from Elijah the prophet, saying, Thus says the Lord God of your father David: Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father, or in the ways of Asa king of Judah, but have walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and have made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to play the harlot like the harlotry of the house of Ahab, and also have killed your brothers, those of your father’s household, who were better than yourself, behold, the Lord will strike your people with a serious affliction—your children, your wives, and all your possessions; and you will become very sick with a disease of your intestines, until your intestines come out by reason of the sickness, day by day. (2 Chronicles 21:12-15)

Does God ever choose not to heal? No says Johnson because, according to him, “[Jesus] does not decide not to heal people today because the decision two thousand years ago was to heal.” Johnson adds that the blood Jesus shed was to deal with forgiveness of sins and sickness. 

Many evangelicals like Johnson believe that it is always God’s will to heal, but many passages in the New Testament demonstrate otherwise. For instance, Paul wrote to Timothy saying:

No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities. (1 Timothy 5:23)

Obviously Timothy had frequent infirmities that God chose not heal. Paul also wrote:

Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick. (2 Timothy 4:20)

Certainly they prayed for Trophimus but apparently it was not God’s will to heal him. “God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them” (Acts 19:11,12), yet Paul’s close companions like Timothy and Trophimus were not healed in the same way.

Even the Apostle Paul prayed to God three times for healing but God’s grace was sufficient for his infirmity. Paul wrote:

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

This brings us to the final question Johnson was asked:

What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh? Johnson says, “I don’t know. It must have been annoying . . . but I don’t think it was sickness.”

Read the passage again. This thing, this messenger of Satan was identified by Paul as infirmities or sickness. Notice that Paul boasted in his infirmity which God allowed so that the power of Christ would rest upon him. If we think the power of God is always demonstrated in the miraculous, we need a paradigm shift in order to understand that actually the power of God rests upon us in sicknesses, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions and in distresses for Christ’s sake. The life of Christ manifested in the Kingdom of God in the way of the cross is described by Paul in this way:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)

The power of God is often demonstrated the most by transforming us into the image of Christ through trials rather than healing us or delivering us from them. God can heal and God is able to heal. Don’t read this article thinking otherwise. We should pray for healing, but our prayer, like Christ, must be: “Nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

And we must understand that God may have greater purposes in not healing us that the life of Christ might be manifested in us through a death pleasing and glorifying to God. We all have to die sometime and many of us will die of sickness. “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

I’m afraid Johnson’s false teaching is giving many at Bethel church and elsewhere a false hope and false description of God’s character. God can and does heal the sick and even raise the dead, but keep in mind that these miracles are rare occurrences. Let’s be balanced and biblical about the power of God.