Archives For suffering

I’ve ripped on health & wealth theology (also called the prosperity gospel) for a long time.

What I’d like to do here is slow down and examine the intent behind health & wealth theology, what parts are true biblically, and what parts come from reading the Bible incorrectly.

When the New Testament gives verse after verse promising Christians we will suffer, and most of the early Christians did suffer and die for their faith, beating up on the caricature of health and wealth theology has always felt too easy.  That caricature being something along these lines:

If you start this video from the beginning you’ll hear the theology that goes along with these sort of antics, which is essentially that you have to give money to the church (and already very wealthy pastors in a lot of these cases) in order to get blessing, a.k.a. money from God in return.  So this brand of health-and-wealth theology serves as a get-rich-quick scheme to pastors and offers God as a slot machine to churchgoers.

So this brand of health-and-wealth theology serves as a get-rich-quick scheme to pastors and offers God as a slot machine to churchgoers.

I’m beginning this article with the worst (and most notorious) form of prosperity gospel so you can see why it’s been so easy to beat up on it using basic and obvious Scriptures.  But this type of caricature is not the whole picture behind health and wealth theology.  Let’s first look at where adherents of H&W theology draw from in Scripture, followed by looking at a more complete way of understanding these texts.

The video above covers the “wealth” side of health and wealth, with the other side being “health.”  This one is more self-explanatory, that God wants you to be healthy, and has a lot more New Testament scripture to back in up.  These Scriptures focus around the miraculous healings Jesus and his disciples did and how healing is listed in the New Testament church’s spiritual gifts inventory in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11.  Another vein of New Testament scripture you will find prosperity preachers using are New Testament verses on prayer where it makes it seem you can demand something of God by having enough faith, and he must give it to you.  So you demand money or health, and he must give it to you. Continue Reading…

Suffering is one of the most common reasons people doubt God.

If God is so loving, how can such bad things happen?

Trite statements by Christians only make this worse:

Something good will come out this, just wait.

God has a purpose for everything. 

Something good will come out of rape, child abuse, or the premature death of a loved one…

As if God were committing atrocities so we’d learn a lesson later.

I want to propose that most people live with the expectation that this world is heaven, so when they discover (through observing or experiencing suffering) that it isn’t, they are devastated.  Specifically, their idea of God is devastated.

This is a very complicated topic because we are indeed eternal beings, yet we do not live in an eternal world.

As eternal beings, we long for heaven.  Not just heaven as the place or destination, but a state of being without suffering, pain, disease, and death.  This is, in fact, what we were created for so it makes perfect sense we’d still be hardwired for this.  What we long for is a world without the effects of sin, while we live in the midst of a world riddled by these effects.

Continue Reading…

Too often in Christian circles it’s taught that if you have faith, pray and obey, God will take away your problems.  If you are worried, give those worries to God and he will solve them.  If you’re going through a challenging time, God will fix it.  Things typically don’t work out this cleanly in real life, often leaving people wondering what they did wrong, or why God abandoned them.  Thankfully the Bible tells a different story.  Continue Reading…

What does the Bible say about suffering?

Turning off the kitten videos and finding God in lament

I preached on Lamentations a couple of weeks ago, a book that rocked my world, and continues to rock my world.  Essentially Lamentations is the prophet Jeremiah weeping in sorrow over Israel (Judah) finally losing the Promised Land.  We’re talking the worst brutality on earth.  We’re talking people eating their own children brutality (Lamentations 4:10).  Taking place from 605-586 B.C., God brought in the Babylonians to destroy the land and take the Israelites into exile in Babylon (remember Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego?  All that happened in exile in Babylon).  The devastation of the Promised Land wasn’t a random happening, it was all a part of the covenant (think ‘marriage covenant’) God had made with Moses in ~1400 B.C.  It was very clear (Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28, et al.), gruesomely clear, that if Israel worshiped idols that this is what would happen to the land.

Most of the 900 years between the Mosaic covenant and Lamentations’ destruction of Jerusalem was filled with the exact thing God told the Israelites not to do: idol worship.  God would bring prophets to rebuke and warn the Israelites to stop worshiping idols, sometimes they would stop for a short period, but they’d always dive back in, usually worse than when they started.  As the centuries progressed, the warnings became more and more pronounced: God will take the Promised Land away if you continue this.

They continued.

God took the Promised Land away. Continue Reading…

I had the opportunity to preach at Trinity Church in Lansing this past Sunday on Romans 8:31-39.  Romans 8:31 and Romans 8:37 are home run verses that we love (and I love), but if we’re not careful they can become verses we take out of context and use to formulate a theology that bad things will never happen to us if we are Christians.

How often has something really bad happened to someone and they have one of the following responses: “God, you could have prevented this from happening and you didn’t, thus you don’t love me,” “God I must be a failure in your eyes / not a good enough Christian, or else this bad thing wouldn’t have happened,” and “God you weren’t able to stop this bad thing from happening, thus you are a weak God, or even worse, you are an evil God.”  With the final statement of all three of these being therefore I am leaving you.

The truth is we can’t understand the triumphant verses of Romans 8:31 and Romans 8:37 without also understanding what the “these things” are that the verses are referring to.  They are referring to the suffering described in Romans 8:17-18 and Romans 8:35-39!

Ever heard of Christians being fed to the lions in the Roman Coliseum?  Check again who Romans 8 was written to…you’ve got it, they are one and the same people!  The Roman Christians were lion food.  In Romans 8:35, Paul is so specific with the people about the type of suffering they will undergo as Christians.  And he never tells them the suffering will stop.  What he tells them is that Jesus’ authority is greater than the authority of our suffering.  Jesus doesn’t offer a life without problems, he offers a life with One who is greater than your problems.

Jesus wins.  Our problem is we get the scenes of the movie mixed up.  We are living in the middle of the movie, with the authority of Jesus’ victory covering us, though we wait patiently for the final scene of the movie, when there truly will be no more suffering on earth, to take place.  When we get things out of order, our entire theology gets out of order and it’s no wonder we get blind-sided when trouble comes our way.

Knowing the end of the story not only brings incredible peace and joy (let alone give us the ability to not ditch our faith when suffering comes), it also unleashes us to a life of freedom and sacrificial obedience.  Having the authority of Jesus over everything the world can throw your way is like having a royal flush in poker: you know your hand will beat any other possible hand at the table.  What do you do when you have a royal flush?  You go all in!  You certainly don’t fold your hand.  Many Christians are afraid to take any risks in their faith, anything that might bring any sort of persecution or risk or jeopardize our comfort zones or sense of security.  We have the royal flush but never use it.  We never push the chips in to the center of the table, applying the truth that Jesus fills us up and nothing can separate him from filling us up.  Is there really any risk when you are holding a royal flush?

Praying Hebrews 12:27-28 has been life-changing for me and I hope it is for you as well.  Pray and ask God: God please show me your unshakable kingdom in the midst of the shakable kingdom all around, and then let me invest fully in your unshakable kingdom.  Pray this prayer and then keep your eyes open; it will change everything about how you use your money, how you use your time, how you share your faith, and the things you worry about and get anxious over.

I am so thankful for the authority of Jesus, as it is the authority to free me from slavery, from myself, and from death itself.