Critics of the view that healing is in the atonement often respond with Jesus’ words in John 11:3-4. Upon hearing the news that Lazarus was terminally ill, Jesus responded to his disciples, saying “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Somehow this passage is supposed to overturn the multiple passages that show sickness and disease is Satanic oppression. It is also interpreted that God mysteriously wishes for some to stay sick, and that somehow brings glory to Himself. I think a closer examination of the story of Lazarus give no such credence to this interpretation.
We see throughout scripture that sickness and disease in themselves give no glory to God. On the contrary, God gets glory through healing! For example:
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—”I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.” (Luke 5:24-26)
When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. (Luke 13:12-17)
This is just a small scriptural sampling that demonstrates that the healing of the disease is what brought praise and glory to God. Sickness in itself was an opportunity for Jesus, just as sins against us can give us opportunity to respond in love and mercy, and that brings God glory.
In contrast, Lazarus’ death raised questions in the hearts of his two sisters about Jesus’ goodness. (vs. 21, 32). Also, some of Jesus critics asked “could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”. This is the typical problem of evil we see so often raised in our day. If Jesus is God’s all-benevolent, powerful Messiah, how could he let this happen to his friend? Yet we see that Jesus didn’t offer a theodicy. In response to the crowd, we read that Jesus was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled”.
I submit that most of the Bible translators dropped the ball, so to speak, when translating these verses. The Greek word for “deeply moved” is ἐμβριμάομαι, which means “I snort (with the notion of coercion springing out of displeasure, anger, indignation, antagonism), express indignant displeasure with someone”. Jesus was deeply indignant. Indignant at whom? We read in 1 Corinthians 15:26 that death is an enemy. We see also in Hebrews that one of the reasons Jesus became incarnate was ” that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” Death did not glorify God, rather Jesus was angry at the one who had power over death.
What happened in this classical bible narrative that glorified God?
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:40-45)
It was God raising Lazarus’ from the dead that glorified God, not the sickness that led up to it. That was the enemy that Jesus was antagonistic against. Had Lazarus remained in the tomb, and Jesus’ prayer had been left unanswered, would God have been glorified? Would Jesus still be viewed by his disciples as God’s chosen Messiah if he simply said “God has his reasons” or “it must not have been God’s will”?
So we see that by taking this verse out of its setting and building a doctrine around it, we greatly err and rob people of their faith. Healing and miracles glorify God, acquiescing to sickness does not.