Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Prosperity Gospel Trap

The first time I ever heard the term "Prosperity Gospel" was from former supermodel and business successful woman Kathy Ireland.  She was telling us about how she had managed to leverage her successful modeling career into establishing several thriving businesses.  She expressed her thanks to God for these blessings, and then threw out a word of caution.

She stated that she does not believe in the Prosperity Gospel.  And then she referenced books like "The Secret" and "The Present" as some of the guiding books of this movement.

I confess, being a believer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, my curiosity was piqued by her reference to this Prosperity Gospel.  I hadn't heard of it before, so I did some research into it.

I found that it is called variously the Prosperity Gospel and Prosperity Theology, and it seems to be founded primarily on the notion that God manifests his pleasure with individuals through their material wealth or lack thereof.

In others words, Rich = Righteous and Poor = Evil.

Wikipedia (yes, I know it isn't the most authoritative source) points to its origins in the US in the 19th century and links it to televangelism and mega churches.

Like any screwed up approach to God's teachings, Prosperity Theology starts from some truths and quickly descends into the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture - which is always a sure-fire formula for ending up far away from what Jesus Christ taught.

The basic premise of Prosperity Theology is that physical and spiritual realities are inseparable.  At this point they are on solid ground since God said,
"...verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created."

So, where does this crowd wander off from sound doctrine and into the marshland of human philosophies?  I think it is the same place Job's friends did.

You may recall the story of Job.  It shows, among other things, that this notion of material wealth and health as a sign of God's favor or its absence as a sign of His displeasure is a lot older than 19th century America.

Job was a prosperous man and Lucifer claimed that if Job lost his prosperity, he would curse God. God let Lucifer take away all of Job's material wealth.  Still, Job did not curse God.

Lucifer claimed that if Job lost his good health, he would curse God.  God let Lucifer afflict Job with painful boils all over his body.  Still, Job remained faithful.

Job's friends and even his wife came to him and said, in effect, "If you hadn't committed some sin, God would not have allowed this disaster to come upon you."  They urged him to confess his sins so that he could be restored to good health and fortune.  Job maintained that he had done all that God commanded him and had to hidden sin to repent of.

His wife urged him to curse God and die.

Job remained faithful and of his losses he said, "God giveth and God taketh away.  Blessed be the name of God."

Job realized, and taught, that God gives us prosperity, or takes it away from us, for His own wise purposes.  In any case it is never our own.  It is always lent to us.  God, after all, owns the Earth and all that is in it.  It is his "footstool."  So, any wealth that comes to us in this life is a loan from God and a test from Him to see if we will worship the wealth, or the God who made the wealth.

In the end of the story of Job, Lucifer is frustrated because Job doesn't measure God's favor or disfavor by his own wealth and health.  Rather, he knows that God does everything for the sole purpose of helping us to come joyfully back into His presence, having endured the vicissitudes of this life without giving our hearts and minds to the things of this world.

Some critics of the Prosperity Gospel say that it is nothing more or less than idolatry.  In case you aren't clear on what idolatry is, this particular sin is about putting anything ahead of God, be it money, health, pride, self, or.... well, I think you get it.

It is easy to see how it is a very small step from believing that your wealth and health are indicators of God's favor and worshiping that wealth instead of the God who gave it.  To put it another way, it is worshiping the creation instead of the Creator.  And, adherents to the Prosperity Gospel aren't alone in their idolatry.

A few years ago, while I was trying to grow my business I read the books that were part of the foundation of Napoleon Hill's book "Think and Grow Rich."  One of the principles Mr. Hill talks about is envisioning your objective, seeing the money in your hands.  Unfortunately, this may have put me in conflict with the need to keep God at the center of my life.  I have realized that there is a balancing act that we need to maintain regarding goals and God.

I believe the solution to conflict between goals and God lies in putting God at the center and then making sure that our goals are guided by God and aligned with His will for us as individuals.

Tom Sheppard is a business consultant and coach to small business owners and individuals. He is a recognized author with dozens of titles in business and fiction to his credit. One of his endeavors is to help those who want to see their own book in print. He does this through his trademarked Book Whispering Process (TM). 

 The author is not an official spokesperson for any organization or person mentioned herein. 

 (c) Copyright 2015 A+ Results LLC. All Rights Reserved. 

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