What Christians Need to Know About the “Prosperity Gospel”
There is no doubt that God wants his people to be in good health and have loving families, fulfilling careers, and wealth. The Bible is full of God’s promises to us that these things will come it us if we have faith and follow His will. Some TV pastors and other ministers preach that if we believe, the windows of heaven will always open and pour blessings down on us. Some people call this teaching the "prosperity gospel" and refer to some ministers who preach it as "prosperity pastors."
The prosperity gospel promotes the idea that if we have enough faith and live according to the principles of Christian living, that God will always reward us with wealth, good health, and prosperity. Some pastors preach that if Christians give generously to their church or ministry, God will greatly bless the givers.
The teaching that our faith, our service to certain causes, or how much money we give to a Christian group automatically determines how we are blessed is not found in the Bible. Instead, scripture reveals that human life is full of struggles, heartache, loss, and grief. We suffer through difficult trials such as illness, financial struggles, unemployment, and dysfunctional families. Jesus predicted that we would have troubles, but told us not to worry about them because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).
Job was described in the book of the Bible that bears his name as a blameless and upright man who feared God and shunned evil. At first glance, he appears to prove the prosperity gospel to be true. He had a big family, wealth, servants, and many possessions. God actually bragged about him being a righteous dude but then decided to allow bad things to him. Job lost his children and his flocks, and his body was covered with painful sores. Even with his losses, Job accepted his situation and did not accuse God of wrongdoing.
Instead of being supportive, his friends were critical of him. They looked for ways to blame Job for his plight such as claiming that he must have sinned to have lost his blessings or did not do good when he had the opportunity. God was not pleased with how they treated Job.
Job asked God why he as a righteous man had to suffer. God did not reveal His reasons for allowing Job to go through those trials, and instead reminded him that He was the rule of the universe. Humbled, Job acknowledged his weak humanity and prayed for his friends. God eventually blessed him again with health and wealth.
Factors that impact our blessings
Some people are more blessed than others, it is true, but the reasons why are not always clear. In Job's case, he never learned why his many blessings were taken from him. It is clear that he was not to blame for his state. Sometimes there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why some people have great marriages and families, wealth, and good health while other people do not. This is part of the human condition. Jesus said that we would always have poor people with us (Matthew 26:11), for example. There are some situations, however, that do impact whether or not we are blessed by God.
The impact of other people in our lives: Some problems can be traced back to past generations. For example, I might have been rich and living in a German castle like the photo here if an ancestor of mine had not gambled away the family wealth and estate. I am certainly not rich now, even though I consider myself to be a woman of strong faith. The poor choices and mistakes of our ancestors can impact our lives today.
Other people can make bad decisions that deprive us of certain blessings. For example, a man's decision to divorce his wife means that the wife no longer has the blessing that come with being part of a couple such as the benefits of having a partner and living with two incomes.
Unconfessed sin: Un-confessed sin can cause our minds to be in torment with guilt and shame and can make us physically sick (Psalm 32:1-3, 38:2-4). We may truly believe, but our sin will create a barrier between us and God until we repent of it.
Mistakes and poor choices: Bad decisions and mistakes can have a negative impact on us and our loved ones. God often choses to let us suffer the consequences of our actions. If we overeat and indulge in a nutritionally deficient, high-fat diet, for example, we will become obese and may develop chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular conditions. Our faith won't make us healthy.
Why the prosperity gospel does not work
Christians who have this belief may make desperate attempts to be "good" at living the Christian life and try to stir up their faith. They expect their lives to improve because they are trying so hard and giving a lot of time and money to worthy causes, but may find that their lives stay the same or actually get worse.
In time, they start to lose their faith and even resent God for seeming to not notice their efforts. Christians who believe this principle may take risks like investing in schemes that will fail, leaving them disillusioned, hurt and confused. They become frustrated when they compare themselves to others and wonder, why are other people blessed and I am not?
Unfortunately, people who believe in the prosperity gospel also tend to judge people who are poor, have health problems, family crises, or are unsuccessful in their efforts at work and life. Like Job's friends, they automatically assume that people is not being blessed because they do not have enough faith, are sinning in some way, or are failing to do the right thing such as helping the poor or giving generously to Christian charities. God is is not pleased with this attitude and condemns this kind of thinking.
Saved by grace, not works
Is it possible to have a strong faith in God, to have repented, and to be committed to living the principles outlined in the Bible and still have a chronic illness, be financially strapped, and have family troubles? Yes. Job's life is just one example.
The apostle Paul states in Romans 3 and 4 that no person is righteous – not one. We cannot earn God's blessings with anything we do. Even faith itself is a gift from a gracious God and not of ourselves. We should not compare ourselves to others and focus instead on working out our own salvation (2 Corinthians 10-12). There are going to be people in our lives who seem to have it all even though they are evildoers, but we should not fret about them (Psalm 37:1-4). God will deal with them in His time.
God does want to give us the desires of our heart at some point. He is a loving Father, however, who will sometimes allow us to go through times of deprivation, heartache, and suffering for our own good, as a consequence for our harmful actions, or for reasons that we do not understand. We do not always know why we do not have certain blessings, but we can be assured that God has our best interests at heart. Certain blessings will come to us.
The prosperity gospel implies that we are not blessed because we are doing something wrong. Thankfully, our blessings do not depend on anything we do, but are given to us by the grace of God. We should hold onto hope and continue to pray for blessings, no matter what our situation.
© 2016 Carola Finch