I wholeheartedly believe God responds to the prayers and requests of those who have faith. All throughout the gospels we see Jesus healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, casting out demons, and even resurrecting the dead according to people’s faith (Matthew 8:13; 9:29). At one point, he even blames his disciples’ inability to cast out a demon on their “little faith” (Matthew 17:20). The Bible draws an undeniable link between human faith and God’s power.
But I also believe everything else taught in the Holy Scriptures. I am confident that God doesn’t always heal the sick, raise the dead, and instantaneously deliver people from various patterns of temptation—even in those whom great faith exists (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)!
God does make absolute promises in the Bible. We can be absolutely assured that if we come to Jesus, he will never cast us out (John 6:37). We can be absolutely assured that if we confess our sins, God will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:19). We can be absolutely assured that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to resist (1 Corinthians 10:13). We can be absolutely assured that God will finish the work he began in us (Philippians 1:6) and keep us blameless until the Day of Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23). We can be absolutely assured that God will cause everything—including every bit of suffering we face—to work for our good (Romans 8: 28). We can be absolutely assured that God will comfort us in our various afflictions (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
However, God doesn’t make any promises to always heal our diseases, restore our finances, or make our temptations to sin go away in this life. Sometimes he responds to faithful pleas for these things . . . and sometimes he doesn’t. It is erroneous, biblically, to believe God will never respond to requests for things he hasn’t promised, but it is equally erroneous to believe God will always respond to requests for things he hasn’t promised. Despite what the prosperity gospel teaches, we can’t formulize how God moves miraculously on this side of eternity. The “believe it, name it, and claim it” junk is light-years from orthodoxy. Life will be the utopic, prosperous bliss we all desire . . . but not until Christ ushers in a new world at his second coming (Revelation 21:1-4). Until then, struggles and sufferings will continue to be a thorny pain in our side that God uses, in some mysterious way, for our ultimate good.
The prosperity gospel is not my favorite thing to write about. Many of my friends and family members are caught up in its grip, and it seems every time I vocally negate the twisted things flying out of the mouths of people like Benny Hinn, Paula White, or Kenneth Copeland, tense conversations with those I love quickly follow. But I am so burdened by the damage this false gospel inflicts that I can’t help but continue to speak and write about it. Just this morning, as I was listening to Christian radio, this woman preacher said, “Healing is yours, but only if you will take hold of it! When you speak words of faith, your physical body responds!”
This. Infuriates. Me.
I think much of my burden to set straight the crooked teaching of the prosperity gospel stems from personally suffering at the hands of it. Most of my readers know I have experienced same sex attraction since I was very young. Though I wasn’t a believer, I grew up in the Bible belt and was exposed to a lot of “Christian” teaching. People didn’t talk about the gay stuff much (unless they were degrading gays in their sick attempts to be humorous), but my understanding was that God wouldn’t allow anyone who really believed in him to continue being gay. If a person—if I—would entrust myself to Jesus and have faith that he would remove my attraction to men, he would most certainly do it.
In September of my junior year in high school, I ran to God and his Church in desperation. I didn’t want to be the person I was. I didn’t want to be gay. I didn’t want to keep living a double life. I didn’t want to go to hell. So I turned to Jesus for the “change” I had heard he would bring. Every time the church doors swung open, I was there. Throughout the worship, preaching, and response time, I would plead with God to rid me of this heinous thing inside of me. Every week—shoot, every day!—I mustered up all the faith and belief that I had and begged God to pluck these desires out of my heart.
One afternoon, a few months into my spiritual journey, my sister and I got into a heated argument and she screamed, “Everyone knows that you’re gay!” I don’t know what we were fighting about, but it ended in that moment. I shrunk away into my room and cried. I don’t know if she was right; I don’t know that “everyone” knew I was gay. But I did. I knew I was gay. For months I had been practicing what I understood Christianity to be. I was going to church and ceaselessly praying for the God of miracles to take away my attraction to men . . . to no avail. I was still just as into guys as I was the first Wednesday night I knelt down in that church pew.
So I quit.
I quit Christianity, God, and the Church. Because he didn’t remove this ailment from my life, I assumed God wasn’t real, or he didn’t give a crap about me. I hated him. I dove headlong into heavy addiction and promiscuity for the next five years until I became a Christian through understanding the true gospel at the age of 21.
Today, as I look back on that four month stint in high school when I exposed myself to the things of God, I so wish I would have heard something besides the prosperity gospel. I wish I had heard the real gospel! I wish someone had explained that my desires were a result of original sin, and though Christ’s redemption frees us from the power of sin now, full freedom from the presence of sinful desires won’t come until he returns. I’ve shared before, I don’t believe that, at that point in my life, my deepest desire was to know and worship God. I just wanted to be made straight. So it’s possible that I would have rejected even the true gospel since it wouldn’t have immediately transformed my romantic and sexual desires. However, it’s equally possible that, had I heard and understood what the Bible really taught about sin, redemption, and faith, I would have begun following Christ earlier in life and been kept from the damage I inflicted on myself from age sixteen to twenty-one. During those five years of rebellion fueled by despair and bitterness, my mind and body were ransacked by sin and damaged in ways from which I am still recovering . . . and probably will continue to recover from for the rest of my life.
My story is not unique. I am not the only one who has been adversely affected by the prosperity gospel. I have friends with various afflictions—one having a chronic disease since birth—who have been encouraged by Christians to have more faith in God so that they could be healed. Like me, they “pleaded the blood” and “claimed healing in Jesus’ name” only to be left in their afflictions. Doubting God’s existence or goodness, these friends left Christianity behind. Some returned later, as I did, after someone helped them to understand the true gospel. And some have yet to return.
The prosperity gospel is no harmless thing. It is not a “secondary issue.” It perverts Christ’s gospel, makes promises God doesn’t make, leads people to misplace hope, and leaves multitudes confused about who God is and what he has done (and will do in the age to come) for the world through Jesus. And this is why I hate it with all my heart. My prayer is that God will show those who espouse the prosperity gospel their error and use them to proclaim the true gospel. In his redemptive work, Jesus immediately provides what we need most: forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God. The fullness of our redemption—sinless perfection, untouchable health, and unimaginable prosperity—is yet to come. Until that great Day, things will not be perfect. We will suffer. We will get sick. We will be uncomfortable in various ways. Our hope is not in all that we can get in this life; our hope is in Jesus and resurrection to a new life.
“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” – 1 Corinthians 15:19