Depression and the Prosperity Gospel: A Toxic Mix

I was involved in a movement called by different names. Word of Faith is what we liked to call ourselves. Today it is more likely to be called the Prosperity Gospel. Looking back, I think going in with undiagnosed clinical depression added a whole other dimension to just how tormented I was. I’ll try to explain what I mean.

Vulture hoarding dollars and gold.
Give me your money, and God will bless you with health, wealth, abundance, and victory.

For one thing, I expected to get healed of a number of pre-existing conditions I had. They told me the healings we read about Jesus and the Apostles doing in the New Testament were for believers today. And any church that didn’t preach that and believe that was dead, because they didn’t believe the Bible. That’s the way they describe traditional churches, dead because they believe their “dead traditions” over the Bible, which is the Word of God. And here’s a quick public service announcement. If the idea ever occurs to you to tell your mother her church is a dead church, DON’T. Nothing good can come of it. Trust me.

They had me convinced for years if I’m not getting healed, I didn’t have “enough faith.” I had to get “more faith.” I would spend more time in prayer, more time meditating on the right Bible verses, until I believed and did not doubt. And I would get to a place where I’d think, “Surely, I have enough faith now.” Still, it didn’t work.

They could never answer the question, “How do I know I have ‘enough faith’?” And if I ask why it’s not working, or what am I missing, is that a negative confession? Because if you make a negative confession, that will undo all the prayers you made before. It will cancel all the prayers you made in faith. Just one negative confession, and Phft! It’s like you never prayed or believed at all. Everything you confessed before, believing and receiving, it’s just gone. You have to start over.

They would say, “Don’t believe your circumstances. Don’t believe your symptoms. Believe only the word of God that says ‘By his stripes you were healed.’ You are not the sick trying to get healed. You are the healed that the Devil is trying to put sickness on. Don’t let him. Keep believing you have it, and you will have it.”

Okay, I believe it. I won’t surrender to the Devil. But I can’t stop myself from thinking, “How long do I have to believe I have it before I have it?” To put it another way, How long do I have to fake it before I make it? I could never get “enough faith” to make it happen. I believed all that for years, even though no one could give me a definitive answer on what “enough faith” meant. Did it mean having no doubt? How can I have no doubt when I’m doubled over from the pain of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

But I stayed true to the faith. I prayed and believed and received my healing the way they taught. I confessed healing scriptures like Isaiah 53:5 the way they taught me, and I wasn’t getting healed. Either I or the Bible was wrong. It couldn’t be the Bible, so it had to be me, right? So I doubled down, listened to more tapes to build up my faith, because “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” Romans 10:17. What you keep hearing over and over again, you will believe. So if I hear over and over again that I’m healed, God promised healing, and claim verses like Isaiah 53:5 and1 Peter 2:24, and I keep hearing that over and over again, maybe eventually, I will believe it and not doubt anymore. I continued to confess only healing, never sickness, and if I did, I would repent and get back to confessing healing.

It only works if you believe in it, and this is the “it” you have to believe. Anything you say, positive or negative, if you believe it, it will come to pass. That is why it was called the Word of Faith. You must speak (word) and believe (faith). You have to believe you already have it, and thank God as if you already have it, and then you will have it. So I believed I already had it, and I really tried to keep believing I already had it, and I was careful to only confess positive things and thank God as if God had already answered my prayers, but doubts wouldn’t go away.

After I turned away from the Word of Faith (aka, Prosperity Gospel), I could finally admit I was never healed. But I couldn’t admit that before, because they taught me that if I speak as if I am sick, that would cancel out all my prayers. This is why when you hear testimonials from people saying, “I had this heart condition (or whatever they claim to be healed of). I was taking medication for it, but I’m healed now by the power of God. I don’t need medication anymore,” you don’t know if that’s real or if they are saying it “by faith.” And that’s the danger of it too. They have a heart condition that requires medication, but they are “believing for their healing.”

“I believe I am healed. I receive my healing. I am confessing I am healed. I am healed. Therefore, I don’t need medicine anymore.” The vast majority of people who do that end up dying. Or if the condition is not life-threatening, they keep saying they are healed, even though there is no difference in their condition. That is how it was for me. I couldn’t bring myself to say I wasn’t healed, because I was taught if I did, I was giving up on God, and I would lose whatever progress I had made toward having my healing manifest in my body.

Now, if you can, imagine on top of that I was living with clinical depression. That means my brain chemistry was out of balance, which made my brain naturally predisposed to depression. I can’t remember anything more depressing than thinking God had made all this perfect health and abundant wealth available to me, and I couldn’t get it. My prayers were not being answered, because I didn’t have “enough faith.”

I know now part of the problem was my clinical depression was undiagnosed. I didn’t know my brain was predisposed to magnify all the depressing thoughts I was getting from trying to live according to Word of Faith doctrine. They didn’t cause clinical depression in me, but they definitely made it worse.

Declaring Healing Is Not Healing

In one of the conventions or revival meetings I went to, the preacher onstage declared the entire body of Christ was healed of depression. I wasn’t sure how to receive it. On one hand, it felt great to hear it. In fact, it was awesome. I didn’t know I had clinical depression, but I had struggled with depression at times. I didn’t have to worry about depression anymore. Or did I?

I tried really hard to believe it, because I knew it wouldn’t work unless I believed it. It only works if you believe in it. Not believe in God. Believe in it. Believe whatever you say will come to pass. If you don’t believe it will come to pass, it won’t work.

So I tried really hard to believe it. But at the same time, I wondered if he could really do that. Can he just declare an end to depression for every Christian on the planet? Of course, he did not mean every Christian when he said “the body of Christ.” He only meant the “real” Christians, the ones who were born again and read the Bible exactly the same way he did. But that is still a lot of people, tens or even hundreds of millions worldwide. How could he just declare an end to depression for all of us? We were healed of depression for the rest of our lives. Every Christian on the planet. Really? Maybe it was just every Christian who believes in Word of Faith doctrine. But still, really?

By their own doctrine, it only works if you believe in it. Faith comes by hearing. The only people who heard it were those of us in the building. So how could the entire body of Christ believe it if they never heard it? Even as I was trying to believe it, it made no sense.

What gave him that idea? He probably heard something. He says he hears the voice of God from his solar plexus, so I’m guessing he heard, “Declare an end to depression for the body of Christ.” So he did. He claims we are seated in heavenly realms with Christ, and all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Christ. Therefore, we as the body of Christ have all authority in heaven and earth. We have authority over depression. And he is only speaking what he hears from God, so I’d better believe it, or God will be disappointed in me. Again.

I know now that whatever he said did not come from God. Whatever he heard, it was not the Holy Spirit. And no, he did not have authority to declare an end to depression for every Christian worldwide. He did not have authority to do that even for everyone who was in the building. Yes, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mat 28:18 NRSV). But what does that mean for us? Continuing in verses 19–20.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

(Mat 28:19–20 NRSV)

You see? He said he has all authority. He did not say we have all authority. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …. None of his instructions there have anything to do with declaring an end to depression or any other mental illness. It does not give us any authority to heal anyone of anything, whether the illness is physical or mental. Why did God wait nearly 2,000 years to whisper it in some preacher’s ear, “Declare an end to depression for all true believers”? If it were that easy, God could have done that as soon as Jesus rose from the dead. God could have had one of the Twelve Disciples declare an end to depression for all true believers, and I never would have been born with clinical depression.

Do I have to tell you I got depressed again? In fact, more than a decade later, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. So much for the end of all depression. Did that mean I wasn’t really part of the body of Christ? That I wasn’t really a true believer? That I didn’t have enough faith to please God? Should I have believed in my healing despite my feelings or in spite of my symptoms? I did for as long as I could. But with disappointment after disappointment, unanswered prayer after unanswered prayer, at some point I couldn’t keep faking it. I couldn’t keep believing things that all the evidence said were not true. Especially when a specialist told me, “You tested high for depression in every possible way.”

“High in every possible way.” And the funny thing is I only felt mildly depressed at the time. Should I have just rebuked that in the name of Jesus and said, “I don’t receive that”? Should I have continued living in denial? That is what the Prosperity Gospel would say, but I just could not pretend anymore.

Hearing God: Blessing and Curse

I thought the best thing about coming into the Word of Faith movement was they taught me how to hear God speaking to me. They would relay conversations they had with God and said I could have conversations just like that. They would even claim to be speaking directly the word of God live from the pulpit, with “says the Lord,” or “says the Spirit of God.” And they said I could hear God in the same way.

At first, it was thrilling, the idea that I could actually hear God speak to me. Prayer wasn’t just a one way conversation anymore. I would be in the middle of prayer, and in the midst of it, I would hear a still small voice inside me say, “I love you.” I didn’t just read it in the Bible, or hear it in a sermon or song at church. I heard God say it to me personally. And love, joy, and peace would permeate every cell of my body.

But after giving me that gift, they ruined it. Because that voice of love became a voice of judgment and condemnation. As month after month, year after year passed with prayers only being answered no, or at best not yet, their message that it was because I did not have enough faith took over.

Imagine thinking your prayers are not being answered because you don’t have enough faith, and then coming across a verse like Hebrews 11:6, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” So God is not hearing my prayers because I don’t have enough faith. If I don’t have enough faith, it’s impossible to please God. I’m a disappointment to God. How can that be?

“I’m doing the best I can. I’m trying to believe the way you told me to, or the way I’m supposed to, or the way that pleases you. I really am. But I need help. Like the man said to Jesus, ‘I believe. Help my unbelief.’”

I could hear the voice of the Holy Spirit saying, “Why don’t you believe My word? I promised in Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24 ‘By his stripes you were healed.’ I gave you My word. Do you think I’m a liar?”

“No.”

“Then why don’t you believe?”

“I do believe!”

“I see what’s really in your heart and mind. You still doubt.”

“Because I’m still having these horrible attacks of stomach pain and diarrhea.” (I didn’t know at the time the name for my chronic abdominal pain and diarrhea was Irritable Bowel Syndrome. But even if I did, I couldn’t have named it, because that would have confirmed I believed in the Devil more than God).

“So you believe your symptoms over My word? After all these years, your faith has not grown at all.”

“No, I believe your word.”

“You can’t hide from Me. I am inside you. I see the doubt in your heart and mind.”

“Okay, maybe I still have some doubts. But I’m fighting them the best I can. I can’t make them go away, but I’m not making any negative confessions. I’m confessing health, not sickness. What else am I supposed to do? What am I missing?”

Silence.

A brain that was chemically tilted toward depression, and conversations like that going on in my head. On top of that, I had an uncle, a great uncle, and a great aunt, all with terminal conditions. I prayed and confessed the Word of God as I prayed, so that should have forced God to heal them.

“… he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.”

(Psa 107:20 NRSV)

There’s the promise. As I pray for them, God is sending out his word, healing them, and delivering them from destruction. If I believe it and do not doubt, that is. I was standing on the promises of the Bible, which meant God had to answer. God had no choice, because God promised it “in His Word.” I didn’t know at the time these so-called promises in the Bible were all taken out of context.

But I was careful and diligent to follow their instructions, because if you don’t follow their instructions, you can’t blame them or God when it doesn’t work. It didn’t work.

Is it possible I missed something? Of course. I’m not perfect. It’s always possible I missed “something.” It’s always possible you missed “something.” But what exactly did I miss? I got all kinds of different answers. They could raise some possibilities of what a lot of people miss. But once I eliminated those, it should have worked. It didn’t work. Why not? They could never give me a definitive answer. But they seemed to be good at implying that it was somehow my fault.

Here’s the Reason It’s Not Working

If you’re in that situation now, let me tell you something. If you believe it has to be your fault that God is not healing you or someone you’re praying for, you will find a reason. Even if it’s not true, you will find “a reason.” After years of finding reasons to blame myself and eventually blame God, I found the real reason for it. You want to know what it is?

They claimed God promised you things that God never promised you. That’s it. Here I was beating myself up for not believing God’s “promises” that God never really promised.

But the Bible says…

I’m gonna stop you right there, because they quoted the Bible out of context. That was their mistake and still is. Your mistake, just as it was mine, was that you believed them. The reason God didn’t give you the healing you asked for had nothing to do with your faith or a lack thereof. When people came to Jesus for healing, they didn’t all have perfect faith. But they all got healed. Sometimes he commended them for their faith, but sometimes their faith clearly had nothing to do with it. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all say Jesus would go into towns and healed every sick or injured person who was brought to him. Do you really think they all got healed because they had perfect faith? The kind of faith that would keep believing for their healing, even if their symptoms did not go away?

It’s possible that a handful of them had that kind of faith. But every one of them? Not a chance. Everyone did not have perfect faith, but everyone got healed. So no, anyone who tells you that whether or not you get what you ask for when you pray is all about your faith and whether you have “enough faith,” they are either lying, or they are deceived. I don’t care how many Bible verses they can quote. It’s like when the Devil quoted scripture to Jesus. The Devil was not speaking the word of God. It is not Biblical, and it is not Christian.

You simply believed the wrong people. That’s all. That was your only mistake. If you learn to read the Bible in context, that will all become clear. Just because they’re quoting scripture doesn’t mean they are speaking the Word of God. The Bible is only the Word of God when it is rightly read, rightly interpreted, and rightly applied. And rightly doing all that begins with three things: Context, context, and context. I’m telling you, no matter how many scriptures they quote to tell you God “promised” healing and prosperity to you in the Bible “if you believe and receive the promise,” their reading takes the Bible out of context. Therefore, it is not the Word of God.

My not getting healed, my great aunt, great uncle, and uncle who didn’t get healed, none of it had anything to do with my faith or any lack thereof. Yes there are a lot of promises in the Bible, but they are usually given to the community as a whole, to the nation of Israel or the church. They’re not to you and me as individual believers.

What Are We Promised?

Here are the only two things I feel quite confident the Bible promises you and me as individual believers: Forgiveness for our sins, and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. That’s it. That’s all you and I are promised as individuals. No promises of health, wealth, and success in everything you do. I’m not saying you’re going to be poor, sick, and a failure. I’m not saying you can’t pray for healing or success. I’m saying God never promised that to you or me. As John says,

And this is the confidence that we have toward [God], that if we ask anything according to [God’s] will[, God] hears us. And if we know that [God] hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

(1Jo 5:14–15 ESV)

Well, there it says, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of [God]. But did you notice it says, if we ask anything according to his will, [God] hears us? There’s the rub. God answers according to God’s will.

It can be tough to understand why God wouldn’t heal you or your loved one. Maybe that’s why I stayed in the Word of Faith longer than I should have. I did not want to believe that it was not God’s will to heal me or anyone I prayed for. I’m not saying God won’t heal you. You can always ask, and maybe it will be God’s will for you. But when you go into it thinking that you can determine the outcome by believing and not doubting and quoting the right scripture, and even if it is not God’s will, God has no choice but to give you what you pray for, because you are claiming a “promise” from the Bible, and then it doesn’t happen, it’s at least twice as bad, especially for someone who is already prone to depression. Trust me, you do not want to go down that road.

God hasn’t healed me of my pre-existing conditions, so apparently that wasn’t God’s will. God didn’t heal my uncle, great uncle, or great aunt I was praying for. Why not? I don’t know, because I am not God. I can’t say I’m happy about that. But I can accept it. I am not God. Can you accept that you are not God? If so, congratulations, because that is the beginning of true faith. God is God, and we are not.

When you read the Bible in context, you see people who were both faithful (loyal to God) and full of faith (trusted God) were often poor. Some of them got sick. Some of them were persecuted and died young because of their faith, not in spite of it. And yes, sometimes God delivered them out of their afflictions. But in the end, Jesus and all of his Apostles died as martyrs. Do you think they were complaining, “God, you promised me long life in Psalm 91:16. I can’t die now. I can’t be crucified. You promised you would deliver me from my enemies”?

And God would have said, like Lynn Anderson, “I beg your pardon. I never promised you a rose garden.” Anyone remember that song?

I’m not being flippant. I’m saying don’t blame God for not keeping promises God never made. And don’t let anyone tell you it was because you did not have enough faith.

They tell us if we have this expectation that if we obey the commandments, and believe all the right doctrines, and pray the right prayers, and quote the right scriptures, and believe we received what we prayed for in spite of the cold, hard facts staring us right in the face, God will have no choice but to answer our prayers. It took me forty years of wandering in the Wilderness before I saw there is no way you can read the Bible in context and come to that conclusion.

Faith is not believing something that clearly is not real. It is not denying the facts. It is not believing you are well when you are clearly sick or broken. Faith that denies the facts is not faith. It’s denial. Faith is seeing the facts as they are and trusting that God loves you, no matter how crappy the facts are.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Rom 8:35-39 NRSV)

It doesn’t say a life of faith will be free of hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword. It only says none of that ever has or ever will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Salvation

As I neared the end of my sojourn with the Word of Faith, I was a wreck: spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and mentally. It’s a wonder I have any faith at all today. But I do. I love God and love Jesus as much if not more than back then. My relationship with Christ back then was like being in an abusive marriage, where at times I knew and felt His love, and it was awesome. But other times He beat the crap out of me psychologically for not having “enough faith.”

My relationship with Christ now is what it was meant to be all along. He is a loving father and brother, mother and sister to me. And neither COVID-19, quarantines, masks, social distancing, nor anything else in all of creation can separate me from the love of God in Christ.

And that is how I started to recover from both the Prosperity Gospel and depression. It begins with the truth. It begins when you face the facts as they are, even if they contradict your most cherished beliefs. You may have believed them so deeply it never even occurred to you to question them, until recently.

This pandemic may have you questioning things you never questioned before. Maybe you think you will grieve the Holy Spirit if you ask about something that you are supposed to believe. Or maybe you never really believed but have been afraid to admit it. Maybe you are afraid that if you stop believing this or that, you will go to Hell. And why do you believe that? Because it’s the truth, or because that’s what you’ve been taught? Because that’s the word of God, or because of some Bible verses taken out of context?

You know something is wrong. You will have to ask questions about God and about the Bible you never dared to ask before. Some people won’t understand why you need to ask these questions. You may not understand why you need to ask these questions. But God does. The only reason I’m still here is God stayed with me when I asked those unthinkable questions.

So going back to hearing the voice of God and what that was like, one of the toughest moments you can go through on your faith journey is when you realize you’ve been hearing a voice you thought was God, but it wasn’t really God.

The Abusive God Wasn’t God

Eventually, I realized the abusive voice wasn’t God. On the one hand, that was a relief. On the other hand, it was very disorienting. If I thought for years that was the voice of God, what does that mean? How could I have been so wrong for so many years? It caused me to question everything I thought I knew about what the Word of God really is, what faith really is, and what the truth really is. I felt confused and uncertain about everything. I figured if people in that church I belonged to at the time knew what was going on inside me, they would say, “Oh, David went to that cemetery — I mean, seminary — and they taught him not to believe the Bible.”

I didn’t care what they thought. I knew I had to get out. But strangely, I did not feel depressed. Because somehow I knew God was with me. Not an abusive God, not the one who condemned me for not having “enough faith” (whatever that means), but a God who understood what was happening inside me much better than I did. A God who showed me the offramp to my freedom. Somehow, I knew that in moving away from the false God I had been following, I was moving toward the truth. They may have thought I had taken the offramp to Hell. But Jesus did not say knowing the truth will send you to Hell. He said it will set you free. And so it did.

Grace and peace to you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s