Thursday evening (this is Sunday) Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of our church’s Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. Twelve attended the meeting, and we studied the section “How True Are the ‘Health and Wealth Theology’ Claims About Escaping Suffering?” of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2010). As usual the study was preceded and followed by singing and prayer. It was also followed by a lunch in recognition of the next day’s being Valentine’s Day.
Alcorn opens the section with this story:
A woman lay dying of cancer. She had believed the teaching that says God will always bless with material abundance and good health those who obey him and lay claim to his promises. But now she also looked into a camera during an interview and said, “I have lost my faith.” She felt bitter that God had, she said, “broken his promises.” This woman correctly realized that the god she’d followed does not exist. But the God of the Bible had not let her down; her church and its preachers did. God never made the promises she thought he’d broken.” (How the Health and Weath Gospel Perverts Our View of Suffering and Evil)
Alcorn continues by commenting on the popularity of the “name it and claim it” message among religious people and by quoting how Crefto A. Dollar Jr., the author of Total Life Prosperity, defines it:
Biblical prosperity is the ability to be in control of every circumstance and situation that occurs in your life. No matter what happens, whether financial, social, physical, marital, spiritual, or emotional, this type of prosperity enables you to maintain control in every situation. (Crefto A. Dollar, Jr. Total Life Prosperity. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999. page x; quoted in How the Health and Weath Gospel Perverts Our View of Suffering and Evil)
Alcorn goes on to assert that the view is a false one, claiming that it misrepresents the Gospel and sets people up to believe with the woman in the opening story that God has been untrue to His promises.
Alcorn devotes the rest of the section to presenting the Biblical view of what Christians should expect regarding health and wealth. However before reading it in our Life group meeting, we read some Bible passages often quoted by teachers of the health and wealth gospel and discussed how those teachers might use them in support of their view:
– “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Malachi 3:10, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).
– “Ask and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7).
– “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
– “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:23).
– “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 2).
Although God will us from eternal suffering, He doesn’t promise that He will deliver us from present suffering. In fact He tells us in such passages as the following that we will experience it:
– “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).
– “It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29).
However He offers us encouragement:
– “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13; I understand “no temptation” to refer to trials in general rather than just to the temptation to idolatry that Paul warns the Corinthians against in the surrounding verses).
– “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12).
Alcorn suggests that we should use times of financial hardship to repent of past greed and foolishness and should accept that God can accomplish His purposes even when we lose our health and he chooses not to heal us. He observes that although sometimes God heals people, such healing is temporary and all of us going to die eventually unless Jesus returns in our lifetime. As Alcorn observes, “Only resurrection healing will be permanent!” (Alcorn, If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? page 59)
Thus instead of supporting the “name it and claim it” teaching of health and wealth theology, the Bible challenges Christians to proclaim with Paul, “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).