Note: I originally wrote this in April 2008.
If you turn on the television to a religious channel or attend certain churches, you will hear that if you pray hard enough or have enough faith, that God will grant you good health as well as financial success. This is commonly called the “health and wealth gospel” and, as with many heresies, there are scriptures one can find to support it. Matthew 7:7-11 is an example. But the idea that we can pray our way to earthly riches and good health is simply not supported by Scripture.
First, we have the example of the Apostle Paul. One of the greatest servants of Jesus Christ who has ever lived, Paul wrote 13 books of the Bible that are critical to our understanding of the Christian faith, especially justification by grace through faith. But Paul also had what he called a “thorn in the flesh”, which many Bible scholars believe was a serious physical ailment. If one could be healed if he only had enough faith, wouldn’t Paul be the first one to be relieved of his ailment? But The Lord told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Of course, Jesus Christ was poor throughout his life, noting at one point that “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20) If all that is standing between us and earthly prosperity is simply having more faith and praying, then why was Jesus Christ Himself basically homeless? Did Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God who was without sin and whose death takes away all of the sins of the world, simply not have enough faith in His Father?
Of course, there were more examples. David, who was chased and persecuted by King Saul; the prophets who were murdered; Steven, who was stoned to death for preaching the Word; and the violent deaths of the Apostles. The list goes on and on, with the most obvious refutation of this heresy being the Book of Job. According to the “health and wealth gospel” heresy, all of these great men would have enjoyed prosperity and healing if they only had more faith. How arrogant is it to claim that earthly prosperity is ours to claim, as if the great men and women of God throughout all time who suffered in this life did not have enough faith?
In fact, in Psalm 73 the writer speaks of how he is jealous because the wicked prosper here on earth, and his faith was shaken. If earthly prosperity is the result of faith in and obedience to God, why would the wicked prosper while the righteous do not? If financial prosperity was a sign of faith and obedience, then why did Jesus say that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24)? According to the “health and wealth gospel”, being rich is evidence that someone is following God.
Both physical health and financial success can be idols to our hearts. Furthermore, we can become filled with pride (which is a form of idolatry) if we believe that earthly blessings are a result of us somehow “deserving” them by having enough faith. As if the Creator could ever owe anything to the created! Everything we have is a result of God’s wise and holy will, and we do not “deserve” anything from Him. And in truth, that is the most liberating thing of all, because we know that God is in absolute control.