So, what are we supposed to do with this prosperity Gospel idea from the last post? Promises of reward for Jesus’ followers permeate the Gospel message.
We cannot lie about the promises that the Gospel entails. In fact, we would be crazy to consider such a decision. Yet, we still have to ensure that our message about Christ is true. That truth must reign in our hearts. The first thing is to realize that the problem with Jesus’ promises does not rest in the promises themselves.
When we cross over the line into preaching “prosperity Gospel” as opposed to the true Gospel, what has taken place is that we have hijacked the promises so that they suddenly start to conform to our own notions of them. God does not desire to restrain good things from his people, but when we take over his promises, we have essentially taken God and placed him on a leash. Prosperity Gospel attempts to train God–to make him bark and sit and fetch at our command.
If we have trouble placing our finger on the issue with the doctrine of prosperity, let us remember that this is it. As C.S. Lewis said regarding Aslan, “He is not a tame lion.” God does not require the instruction of our roughshod expectations so that he may know how to treat us rightly. When Jesus said that he came that we “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), he did not mean a realization of the American dream, but he also did not not mean the American dream.
Would God not rather have his people living in good homes and plenty of food rather than poverty? I think that the answer to this question is yes. He does not rejoice in the suffering of poverty. We may look to the Beatitudes, but there, Jesus speaks primarily (if not solely) about a person’s emotional or spiritual state of affairs rather than the physical. Indeed, in the proclamation about the rich person’s ability to enter into the kingdom of God, Jesus says that this seemingly impossible task is possible with God.
So, we come back to the promises of Jesus. When it comes to those promises, Jesus says that he wants, even longs, to give what we ask for (Luke 11:9-13). We must not misconstrue this to mean, though, that God has given us the right to demand things of him. In order to understand the value in this idea, we would be wise to place the prosperity promises alongside another kind of promise that Jesus makes throughout the Gospels: the suffering promises.
While Jesus speaks to us a message that should give us peace, he also reminds his disciples that trouble will come in this world (John 16:33). Jesus also assures us that, since the world hated him, we will also encounter the world’s hatred (John 15:18-20). That hatred led to Christ being brutally murdered on the cross.
So, ultimately, Jesus makes two kinds of promises to those who seek to follow him: peace and trouble. I believe that I can say this with full integrity; if you are encountering one of these things but not the other, then you may want to do a heart-check on your relationship with God. For Paul spoke of having a peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). How can peace be misunderstood if it comes during times of peace? Rather, if we are going to have this strange peace, then I think it is safe to say that it will coexist with the struggle.
Now, does this mean that life will not get so difficult that we will not be angry with God or depressed? I should hope not because who among us has not encountered dark days that genuinely tested our faith? When I say that we may need to do a heart-check, what I mean is that such introspection needs to be something we are doing consistently week-to-week if not hour-by-hour.
So whether you feel an insurmountable pain or some incredible pleasure, always be sure to draw in close to the Lord and his Spirit.
There is more still that I would like to discuss about this idea. This has been leading up to the topic implied by the title.