Many theologians have attempted to understand sin in the context of God’s foreknowledge and predestination. The works of Augustine, Scotus, and Calvin are examples of this line of thought. More recently, some theologians have advocated a view of sinfulness in which God (perhaps by choice) is without foreknowledge of our actions and thus moves and suffers with us as we sin or evolve. Clark Pinnock, William Hasker, and David Basinger are among those who argue for the “openness of God.”
Just as Calvin and others would argue from Scripture for the omniscience of God across eternity, so the advocates of “openness” argue from Scripture that a God who can change His mind or regret an action cannot know the future. Both of these positions (and variations within them) can lead to paralysis in healing prayer, the first because of the fear that everything is already determined anyway, and the second because God may not be perceived as able or willing to help. This paper acknowledges but will not attempt to critique or weigh the relative merit of these contrasting views. Not only are the details and areas of disagreement and debate substantial, but they are also outside the scope of this project.
The approach in Resurrection’s training is substantially and intentionally much simpler: Sin hurts people, and this has lasting consequences. “Sin is not only an act of wrongdoing but a state of alienation from God.… It signifies the rupture of a personal relationship with God, a betrayal of the trust He places in us.” According to this definition, wrongdoing and the consequent alienation from God are the essence of sin. The way it’s “supposed to be” is life as God designed it: a holy, unfractured wholeness, with people in intimate communion with Him. People are sinners because they commit wrongful acts, and these acts alienate them from God.
While there may be sins that involve no physical action (e.g., Matthew 5:28: “I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart”), the sins in view in this study are primarily those that involve the harm and exploitation of others and the consequences that flow from what Cornelius Plantinga calls “evil acts” that “violate shalom.” These consequences can be addressed through human acts (aid, counsel, and medicine, for example) and by seeking—through prayer—direct intervention from God. This understanding is accepted and testified to by those who minister healing prayer, and it is taught during trainings.
Sin and Victims
There are two sides to sin: the sinners and the sinned against. All people are both, sometimes even as the consequence of the same sin. Nevertheless, the church must recognize that there are some, like murderers and rapists, who are egregious sinners, and others, like victims of rape or violence or those oppressed by evil regimes, who are profoundly sinned against. For such individuals the issues of confession, forgiveness, salvation, and sanctification take on extra dimensions and demand serious reexamination. The ministry of Jesus eloquently testifies to this. The powerful, the self-righteous, and those who cheated others were the targets of His anger, while the poor, weak, and powerless—the suffering and oppressed—were the principal audience for His proclamation of the Good News and were the primary objects of His healing.
Theologian Andrew Park has given the West a name for the oppressed and their condition: han. It is a Korean word that as a common noun refers to a state of oppression and victimization that is a consequence of sin against a person, whether the cause is an individual or an institution. It also refers to those who suffer even in the absence of someone who has sinned against them, such as victims of polio, accidents, or natural disaster. As a proper noun, Han refers to the victims of sin and other innocent sufferers. It also is used to refer to victims who are the cause of, or are complicit in, their own suffering.
Though an extrabiblical term (not unlike Trinity), han is a useful, single, short word for a broad category. Park explains it this way:
There is hope at the very foundation of our existence.… Hope is the window of the soul. That is, when we look out and look forward, we can exist. When it is frustrated, hope turns into han, a psychosomatic pain. Han produces sadness, resentment, aggression, and helplessness.… It is the hardened heart that is grieved by oppression and injustice.… When people are betrayed by those they have trusted, they become hopeless and experience despair. Children who have been abused often mistrust their parents and fall into hopelessness and despair. This hopelessness is not sin but han.
The book of Exodus provides an early and essential insight into the nature of the Han. After the Israelites moved into Egypt, the Egyptians, who had been saved from famine by Joseph’s prophecy and wisdom, accepted them as neighbors, and the Israelites apparently enjoyed comfortable lives. But later a king arose in Egypt who did not remember Joseph, and he enslaved the Israelites and made their lives bitter and hard. God was not punishing them, and they had done nothing to harm the Egyptians. Nevertheless, they were stripped of rights, oppressed, and abused. They became hopeless; they entered han; they became Han.
Their attitudes were emblematic of Han: They did not believe that God would rescue them, and when Moses interceded for them with Pharaoh, they accused him of making their lives worse. They preferred to remain in han rather than endure the travail needed to free them, even though God promised to prevail on their behalf. Even Moses, the one God called and equipped to lead them to freedom and abundance, was afraid of the victimizers and considered himself incompetent to lead the Israelites.
If sin is the state of the sinner, han is the state of the sinned against and the suffering. There are sinners, and there are Han. Both need forgiveness, salvation, and loving, healing ministry, but the nature of the ministry to each is quite different. Acknowledging this can deepen insights gained from Scripture and may even open up some Scriptures that, like Numbers 14, have previously seemed opaque, confusing, or troubling, particularly as Scripture seldom testifies to a causal connection between sin and the suffering of disease.
The observation that all people are both sinners and Han should not become an easy excuse for perpetrators of evil acts. It will not do to say, “I could not help myself. I am a victim, and I was acting out of my pain.” When victimhood is real and deep, it needs to be acknowledged, but it should not serve as an excuse for people who do not want to face up to their own sinfulness. When people sin, they are culpable, and they need to be forthright in confessing it regardless of their circumstances.
On the other hand, the victims of sin should not be led to confess guilt or complicity if it is not there. Nor should they be summarily dismissed because some people are unwilling to believe, for example, that an upstanding, educated adult would sexually abuse a child, even though that is often the case. This is self-evidently true in the lives of those who were abused as children, but it is often true in other circumstances as well. It can be damaging to the individual who was harmed, and to his or her understanding of God’s justice, to imply or insist that he or she must have been a willing participant in a sin in which he or she was simply a victim.
Thus, the sinned against must neither be pushed to confess nor be condemned for something they did not cause. Equally, the victimizers should not be carelessly excused because they claim victim status themselves. Both issues must be dealt with in each person. Every individual is sinner and sinned against, victimizer and victim, the cause of suffering and a sufferer. Jesus demonstrated this caution in His encounter with a man blind from birth:
Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” (John 9:1–3)
Here Jesus says that this man’s han, his suffering, is not the result of anyone’s sin. His blindness is his condition, and Jesus heals it, revealing the works of God. This should be a chastening reminder to those who believe in karma and imagine that disease is always the outcome of or punishment for sin.
All people who have understood their own sinfulness and accepted the forgiveness offered freely through the sacrifice of Jesus naturally want others to experience the freedom and release this brings. This is the reason Christians devote their lives to ministering in prisons, working with addicts, supporting missions, and holding Bible studies in their homes. It is the reason they gather with others to praise and worship God. They have understood and accepted the Good News, and they want to share it. This is the very foundation of our civilization, at least in principle.
The Han—and this includes the average person as well as those greatly sinned against—also need this Good News. Like all people, they are sinners in need of redemption, prisoners of their own sinfulness in need of freedom and release. But they are also prisoners of the sin of others, bound spiritually, emotionally, and often physically by the actions of others. This means they also need healing and release from the sin done to them. Unfortunately, they are often invisible in our congregations, their complaints seemingly unwelcome and their needs largely ignored.
Healing does not come automatically when the sinned against confess their own sins; it is not a product of their being forgiven, although being forgiven can be the beginning of the journey to healing. One illustration of the distinction between being forgiven and being healed is found in all three synoptic gospels. Here it is as it appears in the book of Mark:
Again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (2:1–12)
This encounter is rich with implications, both for forgiveness and healing. Jesus was preaching to a crowd that filled a house and spilled into the street. After four of His listeners heard the Word, they attempted to bring their paralytic friend closer to Jesus. When they could not get themselves and the bed through the crowd, they cleverly pulled open the roof and lowered their friend next to Jesus. They had heard the Word and responded to it by faith, thinking that Jesus would heal their friend. Instead, Jesus pronounced forgiveness: “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven you’” (v. 5).
In doing this, Jesus challenged their understanding of who He is. The Good News of God’s willingness to forgive was proclaimed, sinners in faith accepted it, and forgiveness was granted. It is a familiar pattern to modern believers as this is exactly what sinners throughout the world have experienced, generation after generation. It is what we believe and teach about God’s provision for sinners. But it was a new teaching then, and some of the scribes present considered it blasphemy: “Some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this?’” (v. 6).
Why blasphemy? Because according to the Law, only the sinned against or God can forgive sins, and since this man had not sinned against Jesus, His forgiveness of the man’s sins was an assertion that He was God. And this, the scribes reasoned, was blasphemy.
The paralytic was still on his bed, not healed, and Jesus knew what the scribes were thinking, so He challenged them even further: “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’?” (v. 8–9).
Well, which is easier to say? It does not take any power simply to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” but it clearly takes divine power to heal a paralytic and send him walking home carrying his own litter. And so Jesus healed the man and proved His point: “‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’—He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house’” (vv. 10–11, emphasis added).
Jesus made explicit what the scribes had reasoned in their hearts. He claimed the power to forgive sins, and He demonstrated it by showing that He had the power to do what they reasoned would be more difficult. He miraculously healed the paralytic, something they knew had to come supernaturally from God. Those present realized the implications: “All were amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’” (v.12).
Consider what had happened: The Word was proclaimed; it was accepted in faith; sins were forgiven; and then the paralytic was healed. Scripture does not reveal the reason for the man’s paralysis. It may have been the result of a birth defect, a disease, an accident, or an injury caused by another. We do not know. But we do know that his suffering, his han, did not end with his coming to faith. His healing was a separate and miraculous event that occurred in the presence of the power of God. It was a divine act.
Scripture is replete with examples of healing at the hands of Jesus and His followers. A review would easily demonstrate that healing is not an instant consequence of faith in Jesus, though faith and healing regularly lead to each other. In the case of the blind man in John 9, his acknowledgment of Jesus as Son of God happened quite some time after his healing; in other cases, healing comes after faith; in still others, healing comes because of faith. Faith and healing are related, but not in a mechanistic or necessarily sequential way.
The abused must also discover the freedom that comes from forgiving their abusers. Why is this important? Because the wounded, and the many areas where healing is needed, are almost always tightly bound to the perpetrator, and victims of abuse do not receive full healing until they choose to forgive their abusers. They have legitimate claims against those who harmed them, and in addition to the crippling effects of the han they experience, they are tied to their victimizers by these claims. It is an issue that requires considerable sensitivity, particularly if action is required to prevent further abuse of others.
However, forgiveness is not always forthcoming. It has long been understood by the church and taught in Scripture that victims often desire revenge. This desire is a powerful one, and so Paul teaches:
Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17–21)
John Chrysostom (a.d. 347–407), in commenting on Moses’ plea for Miriam’s healing in Numbers 12:9–16, says:
Miriam and her company spoke evil of Moses, and he immediately begged them off from their punishment. No, he would not so much as let it be known that his cause was avenged. But not so we. On the contrary, this is what we most desire; to have everyone know that they have not passed unpunished.
That is, Moses would not even let their sin be known, but today we want the sin not only exposed, but also avenged. But desiring revenge is not the way God directs victims to act, and it is often harmful to their own healing.
Sometimes forgiveness is not forthcoming due to a misunderstanding of what forgiveness is, the error commonly being the notion that it is approval of the sinful act, which it is not. The word used in the New Testament for forgiveness (a;fesij, aphesis) implies a giving up of a just claim, of leaving behind the sin or injury. Forgiveness is not approving of or ignoring a wrong. It is intentionally releasing a just claim against a sinner by the sinned against. Rightly understood, forgiveness is necessary if the sinned against are to be truly free. John Bevere calls the refusal to forgive “the bait of Satan” because it leaves its victims trapped.
Further, forgiving others is central not just to the healing of the abused, but also to the forgiveness of their own sins, whether related to the abuse or not. Jesus taught this in the Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. (see Matthew 6:5–13)
Here, Jesus teaches us to honor the Father and move in His will, and He tells us that we must forgive those who have sinned against us and toward whom we have rightful claims if we are to be forgiven by God, who likewise has rightful claims against us. This is a constant theme in many of Jesus’ parables and teachings (e.g., Matthew 5:23–24 and 18:21–35), and the early church regularly reminded believers that they were not to take communion until they had first forgiven all who had sinned against them.
Clark Pinnock et al., The Openness of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994. “Open theology” was anticipated by advocates of “process theology” and the “social gospel,” including Herbert Spencer, Walter Rauschenbusch, Alfred North Whitehead, and the Divinity School at the University of Chicago (and even on through Pierre Theilhard de Chardin). In fact, this approach harks back to the Greek Heraclitus in the sixth century B.C. See especially Alfred N. Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company, 1929).
“In conformity, therefore, to the clear doctrine of the Scripture, we assert, that by an eternal and immutable counsel, God has once for all determined, both whom he would admit to salvation, and whom he would condemn to destruction.” John Calvin, Institutes of Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (London, England: Arnold Hatfield, for Bonham Norton, 1599), book 3, chapter 21, section 7 [http://www.smartlink.net/~douglas/calvin /indxbk3.html].
“Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10). “The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Genesis 6:6).
Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1984), 1012.
Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 10.
James Moore Hickson, The Healing of Christ in His Church (New York, N.Y.: Edwin S. Gorham, 1920), 17.
Andrew Sung Park, “The Bible and Han,” chapter 2 of The Other Side of Sin (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2001), 45.
Innocent here does not mean without sin; it means without culpability in this particular suffering.
Andrew Sung Park, The Wounded Heart of God: The Asian Concept of Han and the Christian Doctrine of Sin (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1993), 15–16. Park has helped the church realize that in focusing primarily on the sinner and salvation, for the most part it does not even see the sinned against.
L Gregory Jones, Embodying Forgiveness, A Theological Analysis (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 197–204.
Jennifer J. Freyd, Betrayal Trauma (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996), 36.
Larry Dossey, Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine (New York, N.Y.: Harper Paperbacks, 1993), 19.
Harold G. Koenig, The Healing Power of Faith: Science Explores Medicine’s Last Great Frontier (New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1999), 77–79.
Michael E. McCullough et al., To Forgive Is Human: How to Put Your Past in the Past (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 16.
Ruth C. Duck, “Hospitality to Victims: A Challenge for Christian Worship,” chapter 9 of The Other Side of Sin (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2001), 167.
Robert D. Enright, Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2001), 4.
Jeff Levin, God, Faith and Health: Exploring the Spirituality-Healing Connection (New York, N.Y.: John Wiley and Sons, 2001), 183.
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Acts 4, ed. Joseph T. Lienhard, reprinted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, ed. Thomas C. Owen (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 3:222.
Robert D. Enright defines the meaning, scope, and purpose of forgiveness in great detail and with great clarity in Forgiveness Is a Choice (Washington, D.C.: APA LifeTools, 2001). See especially chapter 2, “What Forgiveness Is…and What It Is Not.”
John Bevere, The Bait of Satan: Your Response Determines Your Future (Lake Mary, Fla.: Creation House, 1994).