Monday, September 15, 2014

The Unfortunate Prosperity Gospel

What is the “prosperity gospel” I keep hearing about? Is it true to what the Bible says?

The prosperity gospel is the teaching that what God wants more than anything is for you to be happy, and He establishes this happiness in your life by blessing you with monetary wealth, bodily health, peace of mind, and positive relationships. If you have faith in this plan for your life, then God will lavish His great gifts upon you. Furthermore, suffering does not come from God but only from Satan, who does not want us to live abundantly.

This is a false teaching, and it is fitting that with yesterday's Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we would look briefly at how this message squares with the sacrifices and the crosses that are really inherent to the Christian life.

In Scripture we see that worldly prosperity can be a dangerous thing because it causes the prosperous to rely on their own merits and self-sufficiency instead of depending on God. This is, for example, why God reduced Gideon’s army from 30,000 to 300 before He brought them into battle (Judg 7:2-7). When they won it was a miracle, and it was easier for them to see that it was God, not their own might, that gave them the victory.

Note that It was not Satan that reduced Gideon’s army, it was the Lord. He didn’t lavish Gideon with more troops than he could ever need, He actually took troops away, so that God may be glorified. That is how God works.

But that’s just one example. The proponent of the prosperity gospel really has no way to make sense of the entire life of Christ. For one, Jesus should have been the richest of the rich. After all, who has more faith in the plan of God than Jesus? But what do we see? “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt 8:20). He was born in a feeding trough (cf. Lk 2:7) and upon His birth, His mother gave the poor person’s sacrifice in the Temple (cf. Lk 2:22-24; Lev 12:6-8).

What did He preach? Seize upon the prosperity that God has in store for you? No. He said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt 19:24). “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mt 19:21). “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Mt 6:19).

Furthermore, Jesus taught the apostles that they would suffer just like He did (cf. Jn 15:18-20). The Apostles didn’t live the prosperous life. They lived the life of sacrifice on behalf of Christ and the gospel. When Paul’s authority was challenged, he offered as his credentials the fact that he actually gave up prosperity for the sake of suffering. Go read 2 Cor 11:24-30. It’s one of the most powerful passages in all of Scripture.

Finally, the God of the prosperity gospel would have removed the thorn in the flesh of Paul after he begged God three times to remove it. But how did God respond? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Nowhere is that more clearly displayed than on the Cross, where Christ is the most powerful at the very moment He is the weakest. The Cross is the very antithesis of the prosperity gospel, and if we desire to be with Christ, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow him (cf. Lk 9:23).

For more on the prosperity gospel from a Catholic perspective, see the following articles:

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

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