Some of us feel entitled to the “good life,” equating hardship with a life gone awry. The prosperity gospel aligns with this ideology—that God ordains health and wealth for Christians. “Name-it-and-claim-it” theology further perpetuates this notion that Christians can up their luck by speaking positivity over situations to alter outcomes. Taking bible verses out of context, and cutting and pasting them to make crowd-pleasing sermons, prosperity gospel preachers apple-polish the gospel (Rom. 16:17-18).
Pastor Joel Osteen has preached, “Maybe Alzheimer’s disease runs in your family genes, but don’t succumb to it. . . . If you’ll rise up in your authority, you can be the one to put a stop to the negative things in your family line. . . . Start boldly declaring, ‘God is restoring health unto me.” But can we override God’s sovereignty? Christians do receive power from the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). But this involves power to do his will, not power to thwart his will. In Philippians 3:1–6, Paul spoke of a false circumcision that breeds this type of self-sufficiency. But if we could end our own unhappiness, then debt, divorce, and diabetes, would disappear from human experience. This “Be your own Santa Claus” mindset leaves us more hopeless when we realize we cannot control our circumstances.
In Luke Chapter 14, Jesus says that anyone unwilling to give up even his own life and all his possessions cannot be his disciple (Luke 14:26, 33). This defies the “health and wealth” claim that God wills happiness for all, and that strong faith (and perhaps a generous tithe) can undo sickness and poverty. Jesus does promise that the Father will grant his followers anything they ask for (John 14:14). However, God will not answer prayers that misalign with his will (Rom. 8:5–6). Randy Alcorn points out that prayers seen in the Bible focus more on intercession for those who require spiritual maturity and growth, rather than pleas for personal health and wealth.
Pastor Matt Chandler’s oncology team gave him fifteen months to live. Eight years later he survives, healed of a malignant brain tumor. In Chandler’s miraculous healing God showed a glimpse of heaven—a time when disease and suffering will not exist. But Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes in When God Weeps point out that Jesus came to preach, not to heal—that he used miraculous healing only as a way to catch the attention of doubters so that they would believe in his deity. They go on to blast several false claims of the prosperity gospel: (1) God healing physical disease will create a world of converts. But Jesus said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31); (2) God ordains financial blessing for everyone. But the Bible says a rich man will have difficulty entering heaven (Matt. 19:23–24); (3) God commissions happiness for us. But in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn . . . ” (Matt. 5:4).
The true gospel of Jesus Christ prepares us for hardship on earth. So why all the confusion? According to Alcorn most evangelical churches do not prepare us for the inevitability of suffering. And Satan has tweaked God’s truth to capture our attention, just as he did to Eve in Genesis 3. The goal: Make us feel entitled to something God “withholds” from us. But seeking happiness outside of God is always a dangerous undertaking. Money, health, and a perfect family life will not bring true soul fulfillment. C.S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain, upholds that if God does not take away the things we turn to for happiness, forcing us to rely on him, we “will be wretched.” God’s ultimate plan for humanity cannot involve the temporary Band-Aids of health and wealth. Could this be why he seems to “deprive” us of the things we think we need? I don’t know. Let’s ask Eve.