Do you sometimes wonder if bad things happen to you because you “don’t have enough faith?” If you do, chances are, you have heard a sermon or two (or more) based on the “gospel” of health and wealth. God wants you to be healthy! God will heal every time. . . as long as you have enough faith of course. Haven’t been healed yet? Well. . . we’ll all pray that God would reveal the secret sin that you are refusing to confess, so you can be healthy like the rest of us.
Friends, this is an absolute PERVERSION of the gospel. And might I be so swanky as to give it its own hashtag? #StuffHealthyPeopleSay (I’ve had this little joking/not joking hashtag for a while.) As a child (and now an adult) of chronic illness, I have noticed a few types of “theologies” that only healthy people espouse. Is there some Biblical basis for them? You bet! Very few false theologies have absolutely zero Scriptural backing. The Bible is one of those books that can be made to sound like it says almost anything if you are creative enough. (Side note: this is why systematic theology is so important. Anyone can take a verse out of context and build a theology around it. Systematic theology looks at the whole of Scripture to see what it says.)
Encountering the Health and Wealth Gospel
I remember a few years ago when my body was doing all sorts of strange things. We didn’t know it at the time, but I had cancer. The church John and I were attending had a guest preacher, and it was one of the most offensive sermons I have ever heard. The guy was actually a member of our church, so it was even harder coming from someone I considered a friend. I’d heard about the “health and wealth” gospel, but I’d never had anyone preach it from a church I attended. . . until that day.
I honestly can’t remember the first part of his sermon. It wasn’t until about halfway through, that he started drawing conclusions that I’ll never forget. The main message? All physical illness can be healed if you just had enough faith. In fact, he illustrated his conviction by recalling a time when his own child was sick with the stomach flu. He had had enough of the sickness and he told his wife, “Feed [child] a whole helping of baby food. Now feed [child] another one!” Slamming his hand down on the table he announced to the spirits in the apartment, “I WILL NOT HAVE SICKNESS IN THIS HOUSE!!!”
As a longtime sufferer of chronic kidney disease, and a newfound sufferer of some mysterious ailment, I sat in my seat with tears in my eyes. They weren’t tears of sadness or self-condemnation. No. Mine were tears of anger.
I wanted to march up to this man and demand that he say his message to my face. I wanted him to look me in the eyes and tell me that there was something I was doing wrong, that my faith wasn’t as strong as his, or that I didn’t pray enough, or that I didn’t read my Bible enough, or that I didn’t tithe enough, or that I didn’t want it enough, or WHATEVER. Whatever I was or wasn’t doing, it wasn’t enough to win God’s favor and be healed. I wanted him to say it to my face that my illness was my fault. Because make no mistake, that is essentially what he was saying. He just didn’t have to look into the eyes of the person he was saying it to.If you proclaim that God's will is that everyone be healed if they have faith, then be prepared to tell sick people TO THEIR FACE that their sickness is their own fault #StuffOnlyHealthyPeopleSay Click To Tweet
Healing is a touchy subject. It is true: Jesus never refused to heal anyone who sincerely asked. The times He didn’t heal, Jesus mentioned that there was an issue with faith. It’s right there in our Bibles. It’s a pretty hard theology to refute just using the Gospels, but if one looks at both the whole of Scripture, and church history, it is clear that the health and wealth gospel is a misunderstanding, and a dangerous one at that. So how should we approach it?
1. Be careful to not confuse hope with promises.
When you are dealing with someone who needs healing, you are dealing with someone who desperately needs hope. Unfortunately, some people interpret “hope” by boldly proclaiming over the individual that GOD WILL HEAL!! IT IS WRITTEN!
While yes, this does instill “hope,” what kind of hope is it instilling? We cannot declare what God will or will not do. He is not a Genie in a bottle, waiting for someone to rub his belly by saying a prayer with the right kind of faith. When you boldly declare what God will do, and especially when you state it like a promise, then what happens when what you have declared doesn’t happen? The problem is compounded. Not only is the individual still suffering, but now they also feel like God has lied to them. Please do not underestimate what this can do to a person’s faith.God is not a genie in a bottle, waiting for someone with the right amount of faith to rub his belly, and thus required to grant their request. Click To Tweet
Yes, we are to instill hope. But where does our hope come from? Our hope comes from what God has done (the cross) and what He has promised to do in the future (resurrection, and a restoration of this world.) Nowhere in Scripture does God promise to take away our present afflictions. Books like 1 Peter—predominantly written for people enduring suffering—would make no sense. Look at the New Testament. I can’t count the number of times that it tells us to endure suffering. I’d like to say “Even the Apostles endured suffering,” but that isn’t accurate. It is more accurate to state that the Apostles especially endured suffering! Now we can’t conflate suffering from persecution with suffering from illness. They are too different kinds of suffering. So is Scripture only referring to persecution and not to illness? I would say no, because of the passage in 1 Timothy where Paul is counseling Timothy about what to do for his stomach problems (1 Timothy 5:23). He doesn’t rebuke Timothy for his lack of faith, or failure to pray over the condition. No. He offered practical solutions.
2. We should have faith in what God can do, not what He will do.
There is a very big difference between these two statements. Many people condemn themselves for having a “lack of faith” that God will do such and such. They have been told by (often) well-meaning Christians that they cannot have any doubts about God healing them. When they don’t see results, they start wondering if it really is God’s will to heal them. . . and then immediately start beating up on themselves for their lack of faith. And then they start living in fear that even entertaining those thoughts is blocking their healing! Then they feel even more condemned, wondering if their lack of healing is their own fault! And then we have this massive shame-spiral all coming down on a person who is already sick. Friends, please help take this burden off of your fellow brothers and sisters who are suffering.
Please point them to Daniel and his friends. Before Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego went into the fiery furnace, they declared, “The God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know that we will not serve your gods.” (Daniel 3:17-18) (emphasis mine.) We are not called to predict what God will do. We are called to stand firm in what He can do, and then let Him be God.
Children are especially black-and-white thinkers, and this kind of nuance may not be obvious to them. People often behave like they have to choose between confidence and discernment. Do we proudly proclaim things with confidence, and ignore the grey areas of uncertainty, or do we wallow in the grey uncertainties, and not proclaim anything at all?
I think that when we have a proper view of Scripture, we can proudly proclaim boldness and victory like Daniel and his friends did, while exercising humility—recognizing that we may not always know the mind of God. When dealing with kids, this kind of reasoning is difficult but important to instill. We cannot and should not tell our kids that God has promised to do something unless we are absolutely positive that He has. Kids don’t forget broken promises. Which brings me to my next point. . .
3. Please do not be hasty to call something a “promise.”
Remember one thing: whatever “promises” you proclaim, must apply to all Christians, at all times. Anyone who espouses the “health and wealth” gospel is probably not looking at church history very closely. Nor are they probably informed about the contemporary persecuted church. How many Christians were imprisoned in the first few centuries of Christianity, only to be fed to lions or to die in jail? How many current people for that matter are suffering in prisons across the world for their faith? One has only to look at the website Voice of the Martyrs to hear stories of people who are—right this moment—being persecuted for their faith, and many of them are ill from all the beatings and torture. Does God promise us health, and wholeness, and happiness if we ask in faith? If you believe so, then I leave to you the important task of informing our present-day Martyrs and their families what real faith looks like, and that you are the one to teach them. Just let that soak in for a moment.Does God promise us health, and wholeness, and happiness if we ask in faith? If you believe so, then I leave to you the important task of informing our present-day Martyrs and their families what real faith looks like. Click To Tweet
There is a lot more I can say, but I will leave you to the podcast above. Rebekah and I did our best to discuss the important concept with grace, tact, love, confidence, and most importantly, discernment. If you are currently in a state of suffering, either from your own health, or ill-health of a loved one, the Mama Bears stand with you and pray for comfort, boldness, and healing. We rage against disease, knowing that we were not created for such a world as this. And we rage against sin, knowing that it is sin’s corrupting influence in this world that has marred a perfect creation. We boldly proclaim not only that our God is capable but He is willing to heal! We proclaim this with full knowledge that He sometimes chooses not to, for reasons we don’t understand. However, in spite of our sicknesses, and the sicknesses of our loved ones, we have hope, a hope that will be revealed when Christ returns. I hate running, but we are running a race at this very moment. Our bodies are tired, and our legs feel like they will give out. Some people’s races finish earlier than others. We are only responsible for what the Lord has given us, and we run as if to win the prize. The prize is being with our God for eternity, and I wish I could give you a small inkling of what that means. However, “no mind has conceived the things God has prepared for them.” (1 Corinthians 2:9. And most of all, I want the Mama Bears to know that Rebekah and I speak on this podcast not out of theoretical knowledge. We speak from experience, both of us with close family members currently suffering through terminal illness.
Podcast – Summary of Main Points:
Two over-simplified extremes to avoid and why
- Miracles don’t happen anymore, Jesus only healed In Bible times
- It is always God’s will to heal if an individual has enough faith and has no unrepentant sin
– It’s dangerous to base God’s faithfulness on whether or not he performs a certain task and that sets people up for unbelief.
– turns our faith back into a works based faith
– we all eventually die, even those Jesus did heal, otherwise we’d be here forever constantly being healed
– separating scripture from its context can make this extreme theology believable so we need to be knowledgeable of what it was Jesus was actually doing and why.
– Jesus had specific prophecies about being a healer
– when God is about to do something big you see an increase of miracles but it’s usually accompanied by hundreds of years of inactivity. (Time of Moses, Elijah, Jesus, now)
– There is always a purpose in the miracles, and no one would know the difference if they were always happening.
– God tells Paul that His Grace is sufficient
– this condemns many faithful people or can cause you to label God a liar
Why is this important for our Kids?
- We have to prepare our kids how to view suffering through the Christian worldview so that they aren’t set up to think that God has failed them at the first sign of suffering.
- Every atheist will use their de-conversion story to try to sway others away
- Promises are meant for the people they’re given to and we can’t use them as God’s obligation for our lives.
- We can’t accuse God for not doing what we think He should do. Like Job we have to humble ourselves when we think we know enough to tell God what He should do.
So What’s the Balanced Approach?
- Be in persistent Prayer for God’s Will to be done
- Remember the constant widow (Luke 18) who always came to God asking. He never wants us to stop seeking his healing or encouraging others.
- His faithfulness doesn’t depend on his obligation to act how we want.
- There are blessings that can come through suffering.
Scripture, people and resources mentioned:
- Joni Eareckson Tada – Autobiography Joni- An Unforgettable Story https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=joni+an+unforgetable+story
- Billy Graham – https://billygraham.org/
- Craig Keener – detailed research on modern-day miracles https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_3_12?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=craig+keener+miracles&sprefix=craig+keener%2Caps%2C280&crid=24DGDY2KJJW3B&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Acraig+keener+miracles
- Psalm 19:12
- Isaiah 53
- Matthew 8:2-3
- Luke 7:22
- Isaiah 35, 42, 53 (in reference to the OT prophecy Jesus was responding to john’s disciples about)
- James 5:7-14
- Soteriology – The study of religious doctrines of salvation
– “We don’t serve a trained poodle. God doesn’t have to act on our behalf.” – Hillary Morgan Ferrer
– “There is not a paradigm that we can say should apply to everyone. It’s not one size fits all. That’s why it’s important for those of us on the outside to just come alongside someone and grieve.” – Rebekah Valerius
– “We can wait with hopeful expectation, but we don’t demand for it to be a certain way.” Hillary Morgan Ferrer
-“Labor in prayer, with hopeful expectation.” Hillary Morgan Ferrer
-“We have to have all the data, be good scientists, before we shake our fists at God.” – Rebekah Valerius
-“Satan is most humiliated when we have every reason to be angry at God and yet we choose to praise Him instead.” Hillary Morgan Ferrer