A Time to Kill and a Time to Heal

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A Time to Kill And a Time to Heal

We live in a world of cruelty, violence, and death. At times we wonder whether there is any overruling power behind the chaos and confusion we see around us; and yet the Bible says there is "a time to kill, and a time to heal" (Eccl. 3:3). Quite obviously, it is God alone who can give life, and it is God alone who can take life. In each case, God claims this prerogative. He declares, "I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal" (Deut. 32:39). How this can be interpreted and understood in the framework of human experience constitutes one of the great themes of biblical revelation.

"A time to kill, and a time to heal" (Eccl. 3:3) are startling words indeed, and for this reason people throughout the centuries have interpreted them in various ways. Some scholars have thought that they refer to war. Others have limited the meaning to surgical operations performed with a view to saving life. Still others have maintained that the text is speaking of the execution of criminals and the defense of the oppressed. Before we jump to conclusions, however, let's give attention to:

The Problem of Killing

It must be pointed out from the very start that killing is a direct result of sin. Until our first parents bowed to the enticements of sin there was no such experience as death; but then sin came into the world "and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Rom. 5:12). Notwithstanding the fact that killing results from sin, however, the taking of life can never happen without the knowledge and permission of a sovereign God. Thus the Bible teaches us that there is killing within the permissive will of God, and that there are two main forms of killing in this category.

There is, first of all, suicide, which is the murder of one's self. Concerning suicide, God insists, "You shall not murder" (Ex. 20:13). There have been infidels in all ages who have advocated self-murder as a justified means of release from trial and difficulty, but thinking men as far back as Aristotle have generally considered it as cowardly and unreasonable under any circumstance. No man has the right to take his own life, any more than the life of another. The Word of God makes plain that the length of days is one of the tokens of divine blessing, and it is interesting that the Scriptures do not mention one single instance of a good man who committed suicide. Normally, suicide is not the act of a moment; it is the climax to a process. Men and women commit suicide when they resign themselves to the inexorable law of sin. The Bible says, "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23); and again, "When desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (James 1:15). Suicide merely hastens the outworking of this law within the permissive will of God.

Then there is homicide, which is the murder of one's fellow man. Once again, God commands, "You shall not murder" (Ex. 20:13). To violate this divine commandment is to commit murder. Needless to say, there is more than one way of killing our fellow man, and it does not always necessitate the lowering of ourselves to the methods and motives of a gangster or terrorist. But as in the case of suicide, homicide is but the accelerated outworking of the law of sin. It is true that in homicide innocent people are often involved, but it must be recognized that after death comes the day of judgment, when the real culprits will have to answer before a holy God.

The Bible also teaches us that there is killing within the directive will of God. A study of Scripture seems to indicate that in the sovereignty of God there is directive killing for two purposes.

The first is what we might term the consumptive purpose. Under the Mosaic system, innumerable birds and beasts were slain every year for the sacrifices. So it seems plain from the Holy Scriptures that it was legal to eat the flesh of animals, of birds, and of fish. Indeed, even Christ Himself ate of the Passover lamb and partook of broiled fish (Luke 22:15; 24:42).

The second has to do with the corrective purpose of killing. The sixth commandment does not prohibit lawful killing in the case of self defense (personally or nationally), nor does it prohibit capital punishment (of an individual or a nation). Even before the giving of the law God declared: "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man" (Gen. 9:6). From these stern words we are obliged to acknowledge that there is a place in God's directive will for capital punishment. So it is written, "He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death" (Ex. 21:12). History, both sacred and profane, makes it perfectly clear that the Almighty has used nations to work out His own corrective purpose. Isaiah refers to the Assyrians as "the rod of My anger" (Isa 10:5), and Habakkuk indicates that the Chaldeans were raised up as instruments of judgment (Hab. 1:6). It appears, therefore, that there are times when war is sovereignly directed to punish evil on a national or international scale. The fact that innocent people are killed in the process only serves to magnify the sacrifice that is involved in dealing with the exceeding sinfulness of sin.

For those who think that directive killing is only an Old Testament concept, there is that 13th chapter of Romans, where we read: "There is no authority except from God.... Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil" (Rom. 13:1-3). To make his point, the apostle Paul adds: "Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake" (Rom. 13:3-5).

Then there is killing within the redemptive will of God. The supreme example of this is the precious death of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Because of your sin and mine it was necessary that One should die in the place of many, if the human race were to be redeemed. So Jesus willingly exposed Himself to the stroke of divine judgment against sin. The Bible tells us "Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit" (1 Pet. 3:18). Because of that death you and I can live eternally.

The principle of redemptive killing can also be applied to our own self-life in order that we might live entirely unto God. "If [we] live according to the flesh [we] will die; but if by the Spirit [we] put to death the deeds of the body, [we] will live" (Rom. 8:13).

There is a time to kill, and whether that moment of destiny falls within the permissive, directive, or redemptive will of God is not ours to question. Your responsibility and mine is to bow to the sovereign will of Deity and to exclaim with Job, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). Until we accept God's will in this regard, the problem of killing will always be a problem. And while on this side of heaven we shall never be able to understand everything, it is possible to have a faith in the ultimate overruling of God in the affairs of men, even in the presence of killing.

But now let us turn to the other aspect of our subject:

The Promise of Healing

There is no passage which speaks to this ministry of healing more eloquently than the closing verses of James (5:13-20). To study this passage is to discover that there are five aspects of this promise of healing.

1. The Promise of Emotional Healing. "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms" (James 5:13). The emotional life of a Christian community is tremendously important. God intends that we should live emotionally balanced lives that are unaffected by the extremes of unrealistic optimism, on the one hand, or unbearable pessimism on the other. Our individual joys or sorrows can affect the life of the whole community. James teaches that if there is an affliction or a sorrow in the life of the church, it should be brought to God in the fellowship of prayer. If there is merriment, or more literally, "the enjoyment of soul health," this, too, should be shared in prayer. So whether it is praying or praising, both are part of the life of the church.

Thus the answer to the emotional problem is fellowship in prayer. I use the word "fellowship" deliberately, for we, as members of the church, are not isolated entities. No one can say, "I am not wanted," or "I do not matter." We are an integral part of the church, and if God is going to use us as a corporate Body, the first lesson we must learn is that of fellowship in prayer. As we share our sorrows and joys in the communion of prayer, the emotional problems will be solved and the church will know an emotionally balanced life.

So we are to "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2); and again, to "rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15). Here, then, is the secret of emotional healing.

2. The Promise of Physical Healing. "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (James 5:14-15). It is quite clear from these verses that the purpose of God is that the church should enjoy relatively good physical health. If there is continual sickness, it can be indicative of something radically wrong. Suffering and sickness are ultimately caused by Satan and sin.

Paul, who had "a thorn in the flesh" attributed it to the devil. He called it "a messenger of Satan to buffet me" (2 Cor. 12:7). It is true that this was allowed by the Lord in order that through the weakness of his body the power of Christ might rest upon him. Other sicknesses, however, are caused directly by sin, as is evidenced by the physical condition of certain believers in the Corinthian church. Having referred to their unworthy conduct, Paul adds, "For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep" (1 Cor. 11:30).

Sometimes the Lord allows sickness to prove and perfect His people, as in the case of Job. Addressing the devil, He said, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth" (Job 1:8). And it will be remembered that through the process of suffering Job was proved and perfected.

Other times, the Lord allows suffering in order to punish and purify. Concerning the immoral person who was found in the Corinthian church, Paul had to urge the members to "deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:5). And then we are familiar with those words in Hebrews 12, verses 6 and 10: "For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.... For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness."

Bearing all this in mind, it is quite clear from the passage before us that God intends that healing for His people should come through faithfulness in prayer. The words are clear, "And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up" (James 5:15). The faithfulness in prayer must be accompanied by the anointing with oil (which is symbolic of the Holy Spirit's part in healing, Rom. 8:11), the praying of the elders, and the confessing of every known sin. And in response to such faithfulness in praying, God promises divine healing within the bounds of His permissive will. Sometimes His permissive will is death itself which ushers the believer into the realm of perfect health and peace. To be with Christ is "far better" (Phil. 1:23).

3. The Promise of Personal Healing. "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (James 5:16). The healing mentioned here is not necessarily physical. It is more likely the healing of disharmonies and divisions in the life of the church, a healing of relationships. God's purpose for every local church is that it may enjoy "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3). Such harmony is described by the Psalmist as "good" and "pleasant" (Ps. 133:1).

So James maintains that when there is disunity in the church there must be forgiveness in prayer. This same truth was enunciated by the Lord when He said: "If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matt. 5:23-24). In response to such forgivingness in prayer there can be personal healing.

4. The Promise of National Healing. Elijah "prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit" (James 5:17-18). James brings the prayer life of Elijah into this context to illustrate how "the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (v. 16). God had scourged His backsliding people with a drought. In answer to the prayer of a simple man—for he "was a man with a nature like ours" (v. 17)—we read that "the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit" (v. 18).

National healing can come to a country when men and women like Elijah know fervency in prayer. It is "the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man [which] avails much" (James 5:16). God emphasizes the same truth when He says, "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chr. 7:14).

5. The Promise of Spiritual Healing. "Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20). Although prayer is not specifically mentioned in these two verses, it is quite obvious that James intends this spiritual healing to be linked with the power of prayer. The secret here is friendliness in prayer. Only such loving friendship will restore the erring brother or convert the straying sinner. As we pray for the erring brother, let us ever remember Paul's words, "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted" (Gal. 6:1). The required discernment, meekness, and tenderness for this spiritual healing comes only through the power of prayer. Then as we pray for the straying sinner, let us recall that the Lord Jesus said, "If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?" (Matt. 18:12). No wonder the Good Shepherd was called "a friend of ... sinners" (Matt. 11:19). He was ever after the lost sheep.

Spiritual healing can be effected only through a friendship which is willing to plead and bleed for those who have strayed. So Isaiah reminds us, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way" (Isa 53:6). But with that fact there is the other truth, "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed" (Isa 53:5).

So we have examined the problem of killing and our hearts have been solemnized; but thank God, there is the promise of healing for problems that are emotional, physical, personal, national, and spiritual. We are living in a broken world, a bruised world. Talk to anyone on the street, in a taxi cab, or in an airplane and you will discover the hurt, the harm, the hopelessness in human lives. The Bible says, "If one member suffers, all the members suffer" (1 Cor. 12:26). Of course, this is true of the church of Jesus Christ; but in a sense, it is true of this whole creation. Scripture informs us that "the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now" (Rom. 8:22). And then Paul adds, "Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves" (Rom. 8:23). Why? Because we are linked to a groaning creation. God in heaven feels it, and if we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then we ought to feel it. But thank God, with all the hurt there is healing. And through the "wounding" and "bruising" of our blessed Savior we can know holiness, and we can minister healing. With Peter we can reflect on the One who "bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes [we are] healed" (1 Pet. 2:24).

Think on These Things (Phil. 4:8)

The subject of this chapter vividly brings to mind the massacre in Littleton, Colorado. There was the killing. Two male teenagers who were rootless, restless, ruthless, and, alas, remorseless, murdered twelve of their peers and a beloved teacher and coach. This is what the human heart, without Christ and the moral constraints of God's laws, is capable of perpetrating. God help us! But there was also the healing (still on-going). Who did people turn to? The Church, of course! When Larry King interviewed the parents of Cassie Bernall, who was cut down by a bullet to her head—even as she was testifying to her faith in God—Mr. and Mrs. Bernall, like Jesus on the cross, spoke healing words of forgiveness. The peace they modeled was truly remarkable! There is a healing joy that comes when we decide to "forgive those who trespass against us."

— Time for Truth, A

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