I’ve been thinking about friends who suffer from chronic pain and the harmful half-truths they often hear from well-meaning, but unbiblical teaching — teaching that’s just-enough-off to be ruinous. Teaching that’s anathema to God and heaps pain on those already hurting. When blatant, I hate that sort of teaching. But if subtle in its creep, I have a hard time discerning when I’ve believed its dangerous lies. So, for sound truth that helps me straighten out my subtlety messed-up thinking, I’m grateful. I’m thankful for these words from an Ed Welch article that do just that:
A highly respected Bible teacher was talking about a particularly wretched month in his life: a frightening diagnosis from his physician, a late night call from a congregant who blasted him as a good-for-nothing pastor, a car accident with few injuries but a totaled car, and other miseries. He described a bleak picture. Everyone in the church was silent, riveted.
Then, after a couple of faith-filled but difficult weeks, everything worked together for good. His health was restored, the congregant apologized (it sounded like a manic episode), his car insurance company came through with more money than he could have hoped for, and, basically, all was well. Isn’t that like our God? He blesses his faithful people with the desires of their hearts.
There was applause and “Amens” as some people saw analogies in their own lives, and others hoped that one-day they, too, would be able to make similar claims for God. Meanwhile, there were people present whose experience was quite different. Unlike the teacher, they were not recovering from an ominous diagnosis, nobody even thought about them enough to blast them with a late night call, their clunker of a car had not been replaced by a brand new one, and nothing seemed to be well.
We usually want to be pleased for the pleasant circumstances of others, but remember that Scripture consistently warns us about the dangers that such favorable circumstances pose (e.g., Deut. 6:10-12). It is better then to rejoice with those who rejoice over the spiritual benefits that God has given because they are eternal, rather than rejoice over the evanescent good things that are seen—but are not eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Favorable circumstances are secondary to the signed and sealed blessings we enjoy in Christ. If our teaching illustrations do not make that clear, we will be guilty of three things: 1) we will bring heretical teaching into our churches, 2) we will further isolate those whose present hardships have become chronic, and 3) we will put people’s faith at risk because we are implicitly telling them to look at what is seen more than what is unseen. (Dangerous: Another Prosperity Illustration, Ed Welch, CCEF)
Do you hear the danger in the illustration that taught those people to look to the seen and not the unseen? That sort of teaching subtlety says, “If all turns out well, God loves me. If it doesn’t, He doesn’t.” That form of teaching is very different from God’s own words to us.
Hear the difference, from God’s mouth, through the verses Welch referenced:
“…when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers…with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Deut. 6:10-12)
“We wish you could see how all this is working out for your benefit…The outward man does indeed suffer wear and tear, but every day the inward man receives fresh strength. These little troubles (which are really so transitory) are winning for us a permanent, glorious and solid reward out of all proportion to our pain. For we are looking all the time not at the visible things but at the invisible. The visible things are transitory: it is the invisible things that are really permanent.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
In chronic pain (or not), these are God’s words to you today. Base your life on them. Remember them. Guard against, in both blatant and subtle forms, the dangers of prosperity teaching.
- A purpose in your pain: A thorn to pin aside the veil, these inward trials
- The place to go in your pain: Lean hard
- Who to call to when in pain: Upside down in a ditch of despair
- Glory to God in future/continual pain: kiss the wave, Don’t waste your pain