I need to confess before God, the world, and particularly those of you who are reading this column, that I have issues with the "prosperity gospel." If you don't know what I mean by "prosperity gospel," just Google it. Basically, at its core, it promotes the idea that faith in God results in material prosperity and personal health. If you just believe strongly enough, then God will bless you abundantly, and if you are struggling then you must not have enough faith.
This thought has been around for a long time, but more recently it seems to have become so mainstream that it is influencing not only religion but also politics and cultural norms. After all, if the poor just had enough faith, then God would be blessing them, too. In this way, the prosperity gospel is strongly connected with the "protestant work ethic" that asserts that one's (Protestant) faith in God leads to hard work, resulting in achievement and reward.
The protestant work ethic, first coined by Max Weber in 1904, has been so ingrained in the United States' understanding of capitalism that it isn't questioned. "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps" and "he's a self-made man" are colloquialisms that rose out of that cultural norm. Abraham Lincoln's humble beginnings, as well as the modest background of Bill Clinton, added credibility to their political aspirations: they had worked hard and achieved much, which spoke to the strength of their character. The idea that hard work results in success is so ingrained in our culture that those who are not successful are automatically deemed either lazy or incapable.
These two trains of thought, the prosperity gospel and the protestant work ethic, not only come out of Christian thought but label financial and material success as God's blessing, and label poverty, difficult times, illness and physical ailments as a just reward for a lack of faith or a poor work ethic. And this just isn't Christian!
Possibly the most current popular prosperity gospel pastor is Joel Osteen. I believe that Joel Osteen is a very good man, and I don't doubt that he is sincere in his faith in God. But I don't agree with his theology, and here's why: The Book of Job and real life. Bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen -- tornadoes, still-births of babies, cancer, bankruptcy, depression, the loss of a job or divorce -- and they happen to those who are good, hard-working, intelligent and filled with faith in God -- just as often as they happen to someone who is sinful, lazy, incompetent or atheistic.
I don't believe that I can work my way into heaven, or pray or "right" believe my way into heaven. I believe that God loves me, and God blesses me, solely because God is a God of love, of mercy and of grace. While I do believe that hard work ordinarily leads to the positive reward of a job well done, I do not believe that in any way reflects God's approval -- or that God loves me more because of anything that I can do or believe.
Sadly, a society who justifies the way they treat the "least of these" based on the norms leading out of the protestant work ethic and the prosperity gospel has turned their back on Jesus' mandate that when we minister to the least of these we minister unto Jesus' own self (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus identified with those who our culture labels as "unblessed," at the same time that Jesus called them blessed: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20).
A nation which embraces a cultural norm of disdain for a person, or people, based on whether they exhibit the signs of prosperity is a nation which cannot in any way consider itself "Christian," God-fearing or even moral. There. I've said it. It's out of my system, and has hopefully given you -- the reader -- something to ponder.
NAN Religion on 07/20/2019
Print Headline: Prosperous isn't equal to blessed