The Gospel Doesn't Promise You a Healed Mind
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Every winter my hands become scaly and cracked. The dry, cold air pulls the moisture from my skin, along with my regular housework of washing dishes and diapers. And the frequent handwashing that comes with having a baby doesn’t help much either.
Every commercial or advertisement for hand moisturizers always sounds so promising. No more cracks, no more dry skin, no more itchiness, no more calluses, no more peeling…the list goes on. They all look so promising, but I’ve come to only trust one brand. But even with this one product, the moisturizer eventually wears away, and I am left with dry and cracked hands once again.
The prosperity gospel also makes lots of promises.
There’s an idea preached in the evangelical world that boasts great promises of healing, as well: the prosperity gospel. It comes in many variations with a variety of promises, all of which eventually leave us dry and weary again. Perhaps you’ve heard this variation:
Depression, anxiety, heartbreak—you are not bound to living that way. You don’t have to suffer anymore. Come to Jesus and find freedom.
This is a false gospel. This gospel motivates people to believe in it by presenting your best life now if you’ll just come to Jesus—and it’s a damning lie. Jesus doesn’t take away your suffering; rather, he promises it (John 16:33). And because we live in a fallen world, your body will fail you—both mentally and physically. Yet, the true gospel presents a truth much greater than this prosperity gospel could ever conjure up.
The real gospel doesn’t promise us freedom from mental health problems.
Although the real gospel comes with awe-inspiring promises, it does not come with the promise of freedom from mental health problems—or any kind of suffering, for that matter. We are not promised healthy earthly bodies. We do not earn our health through faithfulness, either.
Instead, we see the apostle Paul, a major writer of the New Testament, burdened by a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble, despite his pleas (2 Cor. 12:6-10). We see the various psalmists in the Old Testament crying out to God with despair and fear. We see the prophet Jeremiah wrapped in sadness in the book of Lamentations. If anyone was changed by the gospel, it was these; yet, God allowed their sorrow.
God’s eyes and ears are not closed to our pain.
It’s not that God’s eyes and ears are closed to our pain. It’s not that God’s hands are tied so that he can’t work a miracle. It’s not that the devil has been given free rein to wreck our minds and God is forced to sit back and watch. And it’s not that we need to pick ourselves up, dust the sorrow from our pants, and move on. As Christians we will suffer mental agony at times, whether it’s in the form of anxiety, depression, heartbreak, or something similar.
We live in a world broken by sin, and with that comes the thorns and thistles of not only physical suffering but mental suffering, as well. It’s not because we are less than Christians. It’s not because our faith is weak. It’s because we are humans living in a fallen state.
God uses our suffering for greater things.
The beauty of being a Christian is not that God takes away our every ache and pain, but our hope is that he is using it for greater things. Romans 8:28-30 proclaims,
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
He is at work in our hearts, even through our mental health. He is at work sanctifying us, teaching us to treasure him rather than this world or perfect bodies, bringing us closer to our siblings in Christ, and revealing his strength in our weakness. And as this chapter of Romans goes on to say, it is Christ who not only sanctifies us but also keeps us. He will hold us until the end, even when our minds threaten to make us give way.
Jesus gives us total freedom from the condemnation of sin.
The prosperity gospel says, “Come to Jesus, find freedom from all financial, physical, relational, and mental burden.” But when we believe in Jesus, we have a better hope than any of those earthly freedoms could present.
We didn’t (or shouldn’t have) come to Jesus to find earthly freedom and success. We come to Jesus because we realize our sins have condemned us. We realize the Holy God requires perfect obedience if we are to have eternal life with him, but we are filthy sinners whose best works fall short.
Recognizing all this, we come to Jesus because we know he lived the perfect life we could not; he died on the cross, taking our punishment and giving us his righteousness. This is the gospel—not freedom from mental struggle. As the apostle Peter wrote to the suffering Christians dispersed by persecution:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Pet. 1:3-9)
Because we belong to Christ, we know that he does not let our earthly suffering go unused but rather strengthens us by it like fire purifies gold. We know Christ raised himself to life, paving the way for us to be raised by him to eternal life, where there will be no more tears or pain. Yet, greater than all this—the gospel says our prize is Christ himself. In this our joy abides: looking up between the thorns of this world to the glory to come in eternal life.
Know the lasting freedom of the true gospel.
If you are depending on coming to Christ as the remedy to all your mental health problems, you will be mightily disappointed. This is simply another version of the prosperity gospel that invades our churches through books, podcasts, music, bloggers, and online sermons.
Friend, if you were deceived by this false gospel, I am sorry. I’m sorry for the pain they caused you with lack of assurance because you couldn’t muster up the faith to get over this anxiety or depression.
Dig your roots deep into the true gospel. Hide it away in your heart, and have it memorized to encourage and protect yourself from lies such as this. Find hope in what the true gospel proclaims: freedom from the penalty of sin and condemnation, and the hope of resurrection and eternal life with Christ himself.
Lara d’Entremont is a wife, mother, and biblical counselor-in-training. You can find more of her writing at laradentremont.com.
Christians Get Depressed Too: Hope and Help for Depressed People by David P. Murray