Saturday, October 27, 2012
I believe in the prosperity gospel
I had a sickening epiphany today. I realized that I believe in the Prosperity Gospel. In spite of the fact that I think it’s one of the most widespread and destructive lies of Satan in the church today I realized that, to a degree, I’ve come to believe in that which I hate. Residency has been tough spiritually. The struggle with temptation and sin has often been a losing battle. Compared to the past year, my life in medical school and in seminary before that looked like “victorious living.” I’ve also become more cynical in the past year. This morning I realized why. It’s because I’ve developed a sense of entitlement that God should just take it all away. In spite of praying for decades that various sinful desires would leave me they are still here and as strong as ever. Sometimes, by God’s grace, I feel strong and those temptations seem to have little power over me. But other times I’m weak, like in the past year, and those temptations have much power over me. But the temptation to sin has never completely left me even at my best times.
And somehow I came to the place where subconsciously, at least until this morning, I felt that God was not holding up His end of the bargain. The belief that God will make our lives easy has a name. It’s called prosperity theology. Instead of Christ alone being our portion, instead of Christ alone being enough, we must add on financial prosperity, good health, success in business and victory over sin. If these “blessings” are not seen in the life of the Christian it is attributed to not praying the right magic words, or not having enough faith, or perhaps not “declaring” correctly, whatever that means. And while I find Word of Faith style Christianity to be ridiculous I realized this morning that because of my frequent prayers and Bible-reading and participation in the Sacrament I had somehow come to expect that God was going to make things easy.
I realize that there are Bible verses which seem to indicate that God sometimes blesses with financial prosperity or with healing and with other tangible material goods. But I’m perfectly willing to get into a proof-texting battle with anyone and remind them that we’re also promised the hatred of the world (John 15:8), tribulations (John 16:33), family strife (Matt. 10:34), suffering (1 Peter 3:17), persecution (Matt. 5:11), the painful-feeling discipline of God (Hebrews 12:11), thorns in the flesh which remain in spite of prayer (2 Cor. 12:7), and captivity to the law of sin which dwells in our flesh (Romans 7:23). Prosperity and good health may be blessings from God although in our sinful state, needful of constant humbling (2 Cor. 12:7), I think the Psalmist’s words “It is good for me that I was afflicted (Ps. 119:71)” are more likely to reflect what truly is a blessing.
Ultimately, true blessedness has nothing to do either with prosperity or affliction. True blessedness is that which can say, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:12-13).” True blessedness is that which is based on the objective reality of Christ and His work outside of ourselves, outside of our poverty or prosperity, outside of our sickness or health, outside of our victory or failure. The Psalmist speaks of the true blessedness when he writes, “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him (Psalm 32:2).” Christ Himself speaks of this blessedness when he corrects his own disciples who were mistaken about the locus of true blessedness. When the seventy-two returned to Christ they were rejoicing over the fact that the demons were subject to them. They were rejoicing in the miraculous, in that which is tangible in the here and now. But Christ offers them a word of correction – He commands them not to rejoice in these things but instead to rejoice that their names are written in heaven (Luke 10:17-20). Instead of being filled with sorrow because the false expectations of a damnable and false “gospel” are not fulfilled in me I should rejoice in the fact that my name is written in heaven and has been since I was baptized as a little baby in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is only this assurance, this looking to Christ, who sympathizes with us in our temptations, and Christ's perfect work on the cross, where He became sin who knew no sin, which will ever give me the strength to resist sin and to seek after God. Instead of believing that God is going to make things easy I must know that His grace is enough even in the midst of the worst strife. I pray that God will cleanse me from the delusion of “prosperity,” and that He will rid His holy Church of this evil leaven.