The Prosperity Gospel and the Truth About Suffering


A sweet friend of mine took to Facebook to share the news of a new and difficult diagnosis she was trying to process. She was grappling with news of a condition that will be a life long struggle with pain and disability, and she was turning to her friends online for some much needed support. 
A few comments down, it happened:

“Don’t speak that over you. You do not have *diagnosis*…I rebuke that in the Name of Jesus! God wants you well. Speak healing over yourself.”

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Just a day earlier a well meaning connection had sent me a private message on Facebook, suggesting I should listen to a sermon titled that exact same sentiment: God Wants You Well. The sermon description included the lines “[Religion] even tries to make us believe that sickness is a blessing. That’s just not true. God wants you well.” Seems like a pretty positive message right? I mean, Jesus DID go around healing the blind and asking the lame to walk, so clearly He doesn’t want anyone to be sick…right? He only wants blessings for His followers: all the good and perfect gifts from the Father, and everything else? Well those are the attacks of Satan – obviously.

Friends, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but as great as that sounds? It’s totally not Biblical – not even a little bit.

Take a seat, grab your coffee and your Bible if its handy, and lets dig in together to see what God REALLY says about suffering. I’m taking on 7 key points where we can compare the teachings of the prosperity gospel side by side with God’s word, and see just how much they don’t sync up.

The Prosperity Gospel says: Rebuke Suffering
The Bible Says: EXPECT Suffering

1 Peter 4:12
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as thought something strange were happening to you.

1 Thessalonians 3:3
…that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.

1 Peter 4:19
Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good

1 Peter 2:21
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps

The New Testament is absolutely littered with references to suffering, especially if you dig in to the writings of Paul. (There’s a guy who did his fair share of suffering. )We’re reminded time and time again of the truth that suffering is to be expected for followers of Christ. When Jesus told us to pick up our cross to follow Him? He was preparing us for the reality that the Christian walk would in no way guarantee us “health, wealth, and prosperity.” Quite the opposite. Paul tells us in Thessalonians that we are destined for suffering, choosing a word that communicates the idea of the very purpose for which something was created – like a salt shaker is made to hold salt. As appealing as it is to believe that a life following Christ is one where we leave our troubles behind us, the truth of Gods word sheds light on a very different reality.

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The Prosperity Gospel says: Leave suffering behind and claim joy instead
The Bible says: Rejoice IN your suffering and BECAUSE of your trials

1 Peter 4:13
But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed

James 1:2
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds

Romans 5:3a
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings

2 Corinthians 12:10
For the sake of Christ then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The gospel’s position on suffering isn’t just different from what we’d expect – it’s wildly countercultural and seemingly illogical. Rather than urge us to “speak healing” over ourselves or “name it and claim it” when we long for relief, we are called instead to stand steadfast in our sufferings and openly embrace them. In order to truly count it all joy and find contentedness in our weakness, we have to stop pleading with God to take those very weaknesses away. The truth that we are called to rejoice in our sufferings directly contradicts the idea that our focus should be on healing, and the Christ follower is taught that our greatest strength is actually in our weakness.

The Prosperity Gospel Says: Name and Claim God’s gifts of health, wealth, and prosperity
The Bible Says: Suffering IS God’s Gift

Philippians 1:29
For it has been granted to you for the sake of Christ that you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake.

“It has been granted to you.” It’s not a lack of faith, it’s not a punishment for sin, it’s not the attacks of Satan: it’s a gift from the God of the universe especially to YOU. And I’m speaking from experience here. Lyme disease came into my life as a teenager, bringing chronic pain, fatigue, and increasing handicaps and disability – and I can confidently testify that it has been a 15 year love letter from a God who is passionately pursuing me in the form of my suffering. Herein lies one of my biggest issues with the prosperity gospel: it would have me take the precious gift of my disease and attribute it to either a lack of faith or a spiritual attack from Satan, rather than the gift of a loving Savior who’s drawing me to Himself.

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The Prosperity Gospel Says: God wants to see you prosperous so you can focus on your relationship with Him
The Bible Says: Suffering is the way to a deeper intimacy with Christ

Philippians 3:10
that i may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death

Psalm 34:18
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit

James 4:8a
Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.

Suffering’s not only a gift: it’s a love letter. It’s the God of the universe personally pursuing each one of us, calling us into a deeper intimacy with Him. When I hear proponents of the prosperity gospel calling us to “claim” our way out of disease and suffering, I can’t help but liken it to a date with my husband: how would he feel if he got us a babysitter, made reservations, and brought me to a beautiful romantic dinner for two, only to have me spend the whole date trying to go home where I can more comfortably lounge in front of the television? How would he feel if I spent the whole date complaining about having to wear a dress or shave my legs and how much I would rather just be back in my pajamas? Our God is passionately pursuing us in our sufferings – how are we responding?

The Prosperity Gospel says: God wants to make you well
The Bible Says: God wants to make you more like Him

Philippians 3:10
that i may know Him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death

2 Corinthians 4:8-10
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Romans 5:3-5
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us

James 1:2-4
Count it all joy my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have it’s full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Suffering doesn’t just bring us closer to Jesus, it’s the tool he uses to make us more like Him as well. The prosperity gospel misses the mark when it teaches us to avoid suffering, the same way it would be imprudent for an athlete to skip training or a musician to skip rehearsals. If our goal as Christ followers is to become more like Him, then we need to recognize and embrace the role suffering plays in this process. When we incorrectly attribute all of our trials to being “under attack” spiritually, we take our focus off our Coach and miss out on important chances to grow.

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The Prosperity Gospel says: God wants to bless you with earthly comforts and riches
The Bible Says: God doesn’t want us too comfortable on this earth, so we can’t forget that heaven is our home

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
So do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 5:6-8
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Philippians 1:21-23
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

Philippians 3:8
Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

Revelation 21:4
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away

The key point missing from the prosperity gospel view of suffering is this: this world is not our home, and our perfection will never be found on this side of eternity. I can confidently claim healing from Lyme disease and pain – absolutely – but I am never given any guarantee that healing will come while I still inhabit my earthly shell. Furthermore, Lyme disease has presented me with an invaluable blessing by serving as my “glasses” of sorts when viewing this temporal world. When your body lives in near constant pain? It’s a lot easier to long for heaven. When your health continues to deteriorate? Its a lot easier to remember this world is not your home. The truth is that suffering is truly our default state in this earthly existence, not a “season” we need to press through or a trial we need to overcome. Our perfect healing will come when we finally leave this earthly shell behind and step into an eternity with our Savior.

The Prosperity Gospel Says: Rebuke people’s sufferings and speak healing over them instead
The Bible Says: Acknowledge people’s sufferings and mourn with those who mourn

2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

Here’s the thing, the prosperity gospel actively damages our ability to be effective ministers of Christ. Imagine this for a moment: your spouse has just lost a long battle with cancer and has passed away. You take to Facebook to share the news and express your sorrow, only to have the first commenter respond, “Don’t speak that negativity over yourself. You do not have sorrow!! I rebuke that in the Name of Jesus! God wants you HAPPY. Speak joy over yourself!!” How invalidating right? How ridiculously deaf to the very real pain and loss you would be justifiably feeling. There is a time to mourn, and we as Christians are called to jump in and mourn right along those who are in the grip of sorrow (Romans 12:15 commands us to do exactly that.) The truth  is that we show the same lack of empathy when we respond to those facing illness and other very real forms of suffering with an empty call to simply “speak” their way out of it. Once we have openly embraced our own sufferings, we are equipped to get into the trenches along side those in their own seasons of struggle and loss. Just as we receive comfort for our sufferings in Christ, we are called and equipped to minister that same comfort onto others.

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Comments

  1. Rona says

    Right on. We have a friend who suffered from debilitating depression, for 9 years, and he has an incredible testimony. Not about God curing him, but causing him to rely totally on God’s strength. In his weakness HE is strong. For the better part of the 9 years he kept crying out to God to cure him. The breakthrough came when he was about to lose his wife, and he cried out instead, “God, I can’t do this. You need to take over.” In his testimony about his journey he says that he is still depressed—but he now has no expectation that Gid will cure him. He realizes now that it was never about him. The change in him is amazing—he exudes joy that’s contagious.

  2. says

    Spot on!!! Thank you for sharing this! There is such a delicate balance between seeing everything as an attack of the enemy when something bad happens or seeing things as all rosy and God just wanting us all HAPPY…He doesn’t call us to be happy, but holy…to be IN the world but not OF the world…and ultimately He desires relationship. So good!!❤️

  3. says

    So very well written and truths so wonderfully expressed. That second to last point is the one that resounds with me the most. I want to be home with Him!