Let us, first of all, understand that the Bible clearly teaches that God HEALS our sicknesses and diseases. To quote from a prior Q&A:
“He tells us in Exodus 15:26, ‘If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you.’
“We are also told how healing from sickness has been made possible. We are healed by the stripes of Jesus Christ who gave His life for us, and who was tortured and beaten so that we can obtain forgiveness of our sins and healing from our sicknesses and diseases (Psalm 103:1-3; Matthew 8:16-17; 1 Peter 2:21-25; Isaiah 53:5).
“Generally, God instructs us, when we are sick, to call for the elders of the Church of God — the body of Christ, a spiritual organism — to pray for us and to anoint us with oil (a symbol of the Holy Spirit) and to lay hands on us, so that we can be healed (James 5:14-15; Mark 16:18).
“Many times, a ministerial visit may not be possible, as the sick person might live in a remote area. If this is the case, then elders are permitted to pray over a cloth, anointing it with a drop of oil as the symbol of the Holy Spirit, and asking God to heal the sick person who will receive this cloth. This is based on numerous passages in the Bible, showing us that people were healed when they touched the garments of Christ (Mark 6:56) or the aprons or handkerchiefs from Paul’s body (Acts 19:12).
“We understand, of course, that there is no magical importance attached to an anointed cloth. It cannot and will not heal anyone. As mentioned, it is through the stripes of Christ that we are healed.
“When a person who is sick receives the anointed cloth, he is to place it on his head and pray to God (as the minister would already have done when anointing the cloth) that God would heal the sick person from the sickness. Since our faith must be in God, and not in any man or in the anointed cloth, the cloth should be destroyed immediately after it has been used.”
From this it follows that many times, God may begin to heal a sick person when he or she places the cloth on his or her head and prays to God for healing. On the other hand, we have seen over the years that God may heal a sick person, or begin to heal him or her, prior to the receipt of the cloth, or, for that matter, prior to the arrival of the elders to anoint the sick person with oil and pray over him or her.
This might be based on numerous circumstances, including the faith of the sick person asking for a ministerial visit or a cloth. God looks at the heart of a person, and since He knows all of our thoughts, He might decide to heal a person when he or she fulfils his or her responsibility in the process of healing–that is, to ask for anointing. Many times, God looks at the outcome of a matter as if it had already occurred. Romans 4:17 says that God “speaks of future events with as much certainty as though they were already past” (Living Bible). In fact, we are told that we ARE healed by the stripes of Jesus Christ (compare, again, Isaiah 53:5). It does not say that we WILL BE healed. In God’s eyes, physical healing of a faithful and believing person is a foregone conclusion–even though God does not always intervene immediately. He may wait with our healing for numerous reasons–including, to test our patience and unshakable faith in Him.
We find an interesting example in Scripture, in Matthew 8:5-13. A centurion came to Christ and asked Him to heal his servant who was at home, paralyzed and dreadfully tormented. When Christ was willing to go to the centurion’s house to heal the servant, the centurion replied that all that was necessary was a command from Christ. Based on the great faith of the centurion in God’s healing power, Christ told him that his servant would be healed, “as you have believed,” and even though Christ never touched the servant nor saw him, the servant was healed “that same hour,” when Christ spoke the word (verse 13).
This means, then, that our faith in God is not to be restricted to actually receiving an anointed cloth; rather, we should have faith that God can and will heal us whenever it pleases Him. But, we are still to follow through with His command to ask for anointing. It is then up to the elder to decide whether to personally visit the sick person for anointing, or whether to send him or her an anointed cloth. Having shown God that we are willing to obey Him in everything, we can and should have the faith that God will heal us, in accordance with His will, whenever He chooses. To repeat, there is nothing magical about the anointed cloth. IT does not heal anyone. We must be careful that we don’t place our faith and trust in the cloth, rather than in God.
In any case, even though a sick person who has asked for anointing already feels better, or has been completely healed, by the time of the arrival of the ministry or the cloth, the procedure of anointing and praying over the sick person, or of applying the cloth, should still be carried out and followed through, thereby showing God our diligence and our gratitude for His ongoing intervention.
When should we ask for a cloth or an anointing through God’s elders?
Basically, if we are too sick to go to school or to work or to attend Church services, we are “sick enough” to ask for anointing. Even though we might be suffering from a flu or a cold which might “cure itself” in time–if this means that we would be unable to attend Church services, we should immediately ask for anointing to be healed, in order to be able to follow God’s COMMAND to attend Church services (compare Hebrews 10:24-25). [At the same time, if we feel that we are too sick to attend Church services on the Sabbath, but are not too sick to attend a party in the evening, then we were NOT too sick to attend Church services, and God does not look lightly at such casual and indifferent conduct toward Church attendance on His holy Sabbath.]
Can or should we ask for a cloth more than once, if God does not heal us after the first anointing?
This is most certainly permitted in a more serious sickness. Mark 8:22-25 relates an account when Christ put His hands on a blind person twice, before he was healed of his blindness. Paul asked God three times to be healed from a “thorn in the flesh”–a serious sickness (2 Corinthians 12:7-8)–and based on all the Scriptural evidence, we conclude that he did so by asking three times to be anointed for that same sickness. In that case, due to God’s specific plan and purpose, Paul was not healed from his sickness (verse 9). However, this Scripture shows that it is not wrong to ask for anointing or a cloth more than once for the same sickness. On the other hand, as stated, we must never place our faith in elders who anoint us, or in an anointed cloth. Our faith must always be in God, our Healer. Therefore, if a repeated request for an anointed cloth for the same sickness would become tantamount to a misplaced faith in the cloth, then such a request would be inappropriate.
Please refer to our booklet, “Sickness And Healing–What The Bible Tells Us,” for a more in-depth study of the subject of God’s healing.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link