Why Did My Loved One Die After I Prayed for Them to Live?
When it comes to the belief that God heals today, we see three opposing groups. The first group is convinced that God does not, under any condition, heal people as recorded in the Bible. The second group believes that God can heal, but we have no control or power through prayer because only God determines who is healed and who is not. The third group believes that healing was a provision in the atoning work of Christ, and that through the prayer of faith, God can save the sick and raise them up (James 5:14-15).
For those who have prayed and petitioned God for healing on behalf of a friend or loved one who was suffering from a disease or sickness, only to see the person pass away, there is always the question of why God did not answer the prayer and heal the person.
There can be many reasons why a person is not healed. This is where believers must trust the sovereignty of God and not fall into bitterness and unbelief when someone we love passes away.
We are each created with free will. This means that we are given choices that will affect our lives, short term and long term. Many of the moral, spiritual, and cultural choices we make will either agree or disagree with the Bible, the written Will of God. While it is God who has the power of life and death, He also has the ability to extend a person’s life or to shorten their life. King Hezekiah was sick unto death and was instructed by Isaiah the prophet to set his house in order because he was going to die (2 Kings 20:1). After weeping and praying, before Isaiah left the palace courtyard, God reversed the death sentence and added fifteen more years to Hezekiah’s life (2 Kings 20:6). It is clear God had set a time for Hezekiah to depart, but his prayer extended his life span. The king did not want to die and chose to pray for additional years.
In all spiritual blessings, the willingness of the person to resist or submit to the plan of God will determine the blessing or the lack thereof. The Holy Spirit is an agent of conviction to draw a sinner to Christ. I have felt and witnessed this Divine pull in the human heart in hundreds of altar calls in my ministry. I have watched grown men walk a church aisle and come to an altar weeping. I have observed others, sitting like stone with their arms folding, unmoved by the same presence felt by the other seekers. One submitted his will while the other resisted with his will.
There is a difference when a person, as Hezekiah, prayed their own prayer through weeping for God’s divine intervention, and a group of believers standing in place for another person to receive from the Lord. There is no difference in the power of prayer or the ability of God to hear, but there can be unseen attitudes and opinions within the person being prayed for that can make a difference in whether or not their need is met.
Two personal experiences will illustrate what I am saying. Years ago, at my wife’s home church in Alabama, a precious and godly woman became sick with cancer. The church began to pray for her healing and total recovery. I was agreeing with the church in prayer. As I prayed, the Holy Spirit, who knows all truth and shows you things to come (John 16:13), revealed to me that this woman was suffering and wanted to go and be with the Lord. She was ready to “go home.”
I said to Pam, “The Lord impressed me that this woman has a desire to go to heaven, and our prayers are hindering the desire of her heart!” The woman passed away, and those who prayed for her healing at her church were disappointed. However, the pastor’s wife told the people that, days prior, when she visited the suffering saint in the hospital and told her that the church was praying for her healing, the woman replied, “I appreciate their prayers. But I have lived a good life and I am ready to go to be with Christ. I would rather go on instead of staying here.” When I heard this I realized that those praying for God to heal her were actually praying against her will and her choice. She wanted to see Jesus and we wanted to keep her here!
A second example comes from a minister’s wife who was suffering with cancer. Her husband was noted for seeing marvelous answers to prayers of faith. The man not only fasted and prayed for his wife’s healing, but he brought in men of great faith to agree for her healing. But even after all that prayer, she passed away. He was devastated and began to question God. Why would God heal others, but not his own wife? Seeing his despondency, his wife’s best friend came to him and said, “I want to tell you something you need to know. Your wife and I had many long discussions when she was sick. She told me on several occasions, ‘I know God can heal me and I know my husband loves me and wants me well, but I really want to go see Jesus and be with him. If I tell my husband, he will be upset because it’s against his prayers, so keep this between me and you.’ ” This new revelation brought him comfort because God had not failed him, but had actually answered his wife’s prayer, allowing her to go home to heaven. When we are praying for a person’s days to be extended, I often remind believers that a fellow believer can go to heaven sick but you can’t get into the kingdom an unrepentant sinner!
The prophet Elijah performed sixteen different miracles in his ministry. Prior to his departure, he transferred a double portion of his spirit to his servant Elisha (2 Kings 2). Bible scholars identify that Elisha preformed double the miracles that Elijah did. In fact, after his death, a dead soldier was thrown on the bones of Elisha and the soldier revived and stood on his feet (2 Kings 13:21). Elisha raised a woman’s son from the dead and had amazing power with God (2 Kings 4). With such a close walk with God, one would think this outstanding prophet would live to be old and possibly be taken up in his own chariot of fire! However, later in his life we read, “Elisha had become sick with the illness of which he would die” (2 Kings 13:14). In 2 Kings 13:20 we read, “Then Elisha died and they buried him.” Why would the Lord translate Elijah alive and allow the man with the double portion to lie on a sick bed and pass away?
There is an enigma as to why the righteous suffer and why good people die of sickness, even after prayer. There is not one answer, but there are some Biblical principles that might answer the question. First, the physical body will not live forever and it is appointed unto men once to die (Heb. 9:27). All the prayer in the world will not keep you living on earth forever. It might extend your days, but one day, your physical body will say, “I’m done!” and you will close your eyes and wake up in the next world. Thus, when a person reaches their latter years, whether that age is seventy, eighty, or ninety, they have an unbreakable appointment with death.
Second, the physical body is created with a system of nerves, arteries, and vital organs. The lack of exercise, the wrong types of food, stress, and addictions will lessen the length of your days. It has been said that smoking one cigarette takes about eight minutes off your life. Alcohol abuse kills brain cells, and illegal drugs affect the liver and other organs. When a person, after years of abuse, comes down with cancer or some other disease that shortens their life, they should never blame God for allowing it to occur. The law of reaping what the person sowed through abuse of the body simply caught up with them.
Third, we live on an earth that is under the dominion of spiritual forces that work against men and against the purposes of God. These demonic entities can, at times, bring certain types of infirmities upon the human body, as witnessed when Jesus expelled spirits of deafness, infirmity (Mark 9:17-25; Luke 13:11-12), and other maladies caused by evil spirits (Luke 7:21).
Finally, mankind has created technology to advance his causes, often polluting the air, the water, and even the food supply as a result. All of these combinations can shorten the lifespan of a person.
Many righteous people who are in covenant with Christ and following his Word are not addicted to substances and chemicals, and they eat properly, exercise, and do what is necessary to live a healthy lifestyle. Yet they still become sick. This leads me to the question, do medicine and prayer mix?
Several years ago my wife went for a mammogram and the doctor spotted something in one of her breasts. After tests, it was determined to be the early stages of breast cancer. Below is an article printed in the Voice of Evangelism Magazine that she wrote concerning some difficult decisions:
“I have heard Perry say that believers will always be tested by the level of the Word we believe and ministers by the messages they preach. In Mark chapter 4:14-20 when hearing and receiving the Word, Satan attempts to steal it, using various circumstances. Our family believes in Divine Healing, and Perry’s father has witnessed countless people healed of diseases and sicknesses through his prayers. Perry himself was healed of meningitis as a teen. We have walked in health for years. Thus, I was surprised when my mammogram revealed a very small clump of cells in my left breast that were later identified as cancer cells.
Since cancer does not run in either of our families, I asked my doctor what could have triggered this. In brief, she informed me of research which seemed to indicate that when an older woman continues on birth control pills, the extra estrogen could trigger breast cancer. Using her suggestions I made the necessary adjustments related to birth control. The more important issue was the cancer cells. I knew I had the choice to simply move on and through prayer believe I will be alright. I also knew there was (and is) healing power in the Communion, which I began taking every day since the initial report. I selected outpatient surgery to remove a small section where these cells were located. The next decision was very difficult. They suggested about 28 days of radiation, because the cut was very close to some of the cancer cells that were removed.
I sat down with Perry and asked for his wisdom. Honestly, if he would have said, “Don’t take radiation, I believe you’re O.K.,” I would have not followed through with radiation treatment. Perry was very understanding and loving toward me and he said the following, which I believe may be a word of wisdom to someone else who may experience a similar, sudden physical problem. He said, “Pam, if you have a Rhema word, which is a ‘quickened word’ from the Lord that everything is well, then you do not need radiation. But if you have not received a Rhema word and you avoid the radiation, then over time you could mentally battle thoughts, wondering if all is well. If you think you could struggle with the mental attack, thinking that it might return, then do what you feel is best and continue to take Communion, believing God to preserve and keep you in the future…”
I know what it means to receive a powerful Rhema Word from God and at that moment I did not have a clear quickened word in my spirit. Thus I proceeded with the radiation and got it out of the way. I maintained my strength and felt well throughout the process and continually received the Communion at home each morning. The Communion was a source of strength and helped build my faith that the Lord could and would preserve my physical body for the future.
This was a trial that millions of women experience each year. I told Perry that it was not a coincidence that, as his new book on healing was going around the world, I would experience this attack. Why? Because we are all tested by what we believe and by what we teach. After sharing the message of God’s healing covenant with the nation, we experienced a test of our own. A test, however, is no sign of defeat: it is only a test. As Perry said, “God wants us well and we must use all methods available to maintain our health: prayer, eating right, Communion, and at times even the medical profession.” I’ve heard Perry say, “When I get a severe headache, I pray and at times it leaves. At other times it doesn’t so I take an aspirin.” If you are in a test, do what the Lord tells you do and follow what you sense is best. After all, it only a test, and afterwards you will have a testimony.
Some who believe in healing become critical if a believer mixes prayer with medicine. However, the goal of both prayer and medicine is to bring healing or a cure to the disease or sickness. Both are two different methods with the same goal in mind. I have said that if I am having a severe headache, I have asked for prayer from my staff and at times the pain instantly ceased. At other times, the pain remained, so instead of sitting at my desk suffering, I took a few aspirin. And sometimes I just need to drink water and the headache goes away.
Did God Hear Your Prayer?
If you prayed for someone to be healed and they were not, it does not mean that God did not hear or that He does not heal. When Miriam criticized Moses wife, causing God’s anger, the result was that she became stricken with leprosy. Moses cried out and asked God to heal her, and the Lord said that Miriam should remain outside the camp for seven days, as the Almighty wanted to teach her a lesson on disciplining her mouth (Num. 12). The prayer was answered and she was restored, but not at the moment the prayer was offered.
When David impregnated Uriah’s wife and set up her husband to be killed so David could marry the woman, Nathan the prophet came to David and pronounced a judgment on David’s house for stealing a man’s wife and conspiring to see that her husband was killed in battle. Part of the judgment was that the child through Bathsheba would die. After the child’s birth, the baby became sick and David fasted and prayed for seven days, seeking God to heal the infant. The child instead died and David arose and worshipped God. Since the decision was made in heaven for the child not to live, all of the prayers of David could not change the situation (2 Sam. 12).
There can be many reasons why a person is not healed. This is where believers must trust the sovereignty of God and not fall into bitterness and unbelief when someone we love passes away. In fact, if the person was a believer I seriously doubt, once in the confines of heaven, that they would desire to return to earth!