(Image courtesy of https://www.churchmilitant.com.)
Difficulty, pain, suffering, adversity, obstacles, setbacks - choose your favorite term - none of these are natural, just as death is not natural.  All difficulty is a result of sin.  Thinking that these negative things are a natural part of the created order and neglecting to treat them as a result of God's curse on His creation for sin is a fundamental flaw in "positive confession theology" (otherwise known as "name and claim it" or "health, wealth, and prosperity gospel").  This false gospel angers me more than just about anything else simply because it is not true.  (There are some who would argue that the term "false" is a little too strong; I disagree.  The reason this is false is because it is not true.  Jesus did not die for me to have everything I ever wanted in this life.)

The men I am about to name have a serious worldview crisis: they view this world as the main stage; they talk very little, if ever, about the reality of eternity.

Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, John Maxwell, Danny Gokey, and Jon Gordon are all men I would consider to be positive confession theologians.  They all teach the similar idea that the human potential is limitless; that if we can just tap into our inner-selves with enough positive-thoughts and high-achieving goals we can do anything.  Such maxims as "when you believe, the impossible becomes possible" (Jon Gordon) are popular among these men.

The doctrine these leaders promote sounds so good that it is leading millions around the world into darkness.  How?  Because man is not the center of the universe.  God is.  Man is not even the center of his own life!  God is.  To have our focus so intently on ourselves is to miss the purpose of man's existence entirely.  We are not here for ourselves or even for each other; we ultimately exist for God.

So much has already been said and done to refute the errors taught by many of these men, but each of us has our own sphere of influence, so I thought I would assemble my thoughts on the subject here for my readers.

In short, these men teach that you can have your best life now, and that Jesus died to overcome life's difficulties in order for you and I to have health, wealth, and prosperity.  In other words, He died for you and I to experience success.  "As long as we are positive enough and believe in ourselves enough, we can do anything," they would say.  Men like this are constantly trying to lead themselves and others to greatness.  But this is such a slippery slope.  For one, this denies the truth of human depravity, which says that none of us is good.  We can easily be misled into thinking that we don't need a Savior as long as we are distracted with dreams of power, prestige, and prosperity in this life.  For these reasons, I am gravely concerned with the widespread acceptance and practice of such a misleading worldview.

But there are some helpful resources to combat against this idea that God wants us to be prosperous in this only.  Some of the ways preachers and Christian leaders have begun to refute the error of this false gospel in the more recent past is by producing a documentary entitled "American Gospel: Christ Alone."  If you have not yet seen this long, but extremely insightful documentary, I recommend you do.  However, this is not a new heresy; it is as old as sin (no pun intended).  Men have long been seeking an answer to the problem of evil in the world.  Many have produced false gospels which promote earthly success and the false idea that God exists to make us happy and healthy in this life.

Another way the local church has begun to rebuke this false gospel is through intentional teaching on the need for Christians to develop a theology of suffering, which means that we must learn to view suffering rightly in God's economy.  This is vitally important, and I am thankful for men who have helped the Church regain a proper view of sin and Christ's work.  Here is one interview to get you started on a path to better understanding difficulties in your life: "The Doctrine of Suffering" (Desiring God).

One of the most tragic teachings of these false teachers regarding difficult situations in life (also called obstacles, setbacks, adversities, and toxicity by these men) is that they, by and large, view them as things that God will change if we have enough faith and perseverance.  However, the question that none of these men will ever address is, "What does it mean when the difficulty I am facing never changes?  What happens when I never overcome?"  These men don't have to answer these questions.  In fact, all of these men lead very successful lives, by the world's standards.  They have lots of fame, money, and influence.  Yet one thing they will all experience, along with all the rest of us, is death.  Death is the great equalizer.  Their fame, money, and influence will die with them.  Then what?

My mother-in-law is a nurse in an intensive care unit (ICU).  She has seen firsthand numerous families who have come to visit their loved ones who are in critical conditions.  She has also seen a number of these families claiming that God will heal their loved one and that they will continue to "persevere" and "believe" that things will change.  When things don't, however, these families are left reeling.  They have no solid ground.  "My circumstances didn't change.  My difficulties weren't overcome.  What happened?"  And some of them will walk away from the faith that they claimed they once had.

This is just one aspect of the problem with this false teaching that says being positive all the time will change your circumstances.  This is simply not the case.  It is true that this principle applies - within reason - to a number of things: in the business world, on the athletic field, and even in parts of the Christian life.  But to take this "positive energy blanket" and throw it over everything is ridiculous.  This is because no matter how strong your positive-outlook on life is, it will never lift the curse of difficulties.  This is because difficulties, pain, suffering, and death are all a result of the curse because of sin!  Therefore, there is no hope or overcoming these things apart from the grace of God through Christ!

Perhaps one of the things that upsets me most about this "movement" is the fact that the words "positivity" and "negativity" never occur in the Bible.  This is because the Bible offers us a solid foundation based on something greater than ourselves or our personal experiences or circumstances.  When the apostle Paul was in the midst of suffering (talk about someone who knew what it was like to suffer!), he never once said something as foolish as, "I know that my circumstances will change.  I will continue to believe that my God will give me what I want - even if I 'just haven't seen it yet.'"  No, no, no!  Paul did not endure suffering and imprisonment and nakedness and beatings for such a foolish, self-centered gospel!

Instead, listen to what Paul did say in 2 Corinithians 1:3-11:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.  And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again.  (See also 2 Tim. 4:16-18; Paul knows that the Lord will save him, even in death, despite all his earthly difficulties.)  On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

Paul rested surely in the hope of the finished work of Christ!  For Christ alone has provided the only answer to man's problem with pain, suffering, and death: His own death and resurrection!  It is in the resurrection that one has perseverance to face today, forgiveness from the sins of yesterday, and hope to face tomorrow.

I challenge any "positive confession theologian" to give me an answer to the question, "What happens when I don't get healed?  What happens when all my striving, goal-setting, willful determination, and positive persevering gets me nowhere?"  I tell you, friend, their answer will be this:
"Have you been praying and you still have no answers?
Have you been pouring out your heart for so many years?
Have you been hoping that things would have changed by now?
Have you cried all the faith you have through so many tears?
Don't forget the things that He has done before
And remember He can do it all once more
It's like the brightest sunrise
Waiting on the other side of the darkest night
Don't ever lose hope, hold on and believe
Maybe you just haven't seen it, just haven't seen it yet
You're closer than you think you are
Only moments from the break of dawn
All His promises are just up ahead
Maybe you just haven't seen it... yet..." ("Just Haven't Seen It Yet" by Danny Gokey).
Just think for a minute what their answer is: you haven't seen your miracle yet.  So hold on.  Persevere.  Think positively.

This sounds good.  But let's look a little closer.  They are telling you, essentially, God will answer your prayer if you just believe a little longer.  This is simply not true!  The Sovereignty of God's purposes trump your circumstances!  How dare these false prophets trample upon the sovereign Lordship and Kingship of the only eternal, infinite, and all-knowing God of all creation.
“[God] does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand” (Daniel 4:35).
“Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases” (Psalms 115:3).
Dear Church, we must develop a correct theology of pain and suffering.  We must put our trust in the sure hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We must understand and hold to the truth that difficulty is not a natural occurrence designed to give you greater blessing after you have passed through it.  Difficulty is a result of the curse of God on man for his sin; and there is no overcoming this curse without the atoning work of Christ.  And if we think that just because we believe in Christ and His blood has, is, and will atone for our sins, that we will live a happy, blessed, successful life, think again.  In fact, pick up your Bible and see where the believers ended up for holding to Christ.  Read Foxe's Book of Martyrs and see where the men and women who believed in Christ ended up.  All of their lives were far from healthy, wealthy, and prosperous.

But each martyr is a pleasing aroma to the Lord and He knows their names, even the hairs on their heads.

And you, too, saint, called of God, saved by Christ - you, too, are known and loved by the Father of all good things.  In your suffering, in your pain, in your difficulties - know that the Father has numbered all the hairs of your head, that He is working for the good of all those who love Him and are called by His purpose, and that He is making you more into the image of His Son - His Son who was known by the prophet Isaiah as "the suffering servant."  Hold tight, dear beloved son or daughter of God, for your Heavenly Father is preparing a place for you of precious stones and jewels that moth and rust cannot destroy and thieves cannot break in and steal.  Put your treasure there and let your heart long for your Heavenly home, not this earthly rubble that will end in fire and death.

"If Christ’s head was crowned with thorns, why do we think ours should only ever be crowned with roses?" (Tim Challies).