If you follow Jesus you will have your sins forgiven. Your shame will be wiped away to be replaced by the Father’s smile on his beloved daughter, his beloved son. Your fears and afflictions from evil spiritual forces will be defeated by the victory of Jesus on the cross. But they are not the good news.
I’m a charismatic, and plenty of others who would claim that label believe some fairly kooky things. It thus occasionally falls to us to carefully disassociate ourselves from what others might believe.
It’s pretty normal that we would occasionally denounce what is commonly called the ‘Prosperity Gospel’—essentially that if you follow the way of Jesus God will bless you financially. You will become rich, or sometimes healthy and rich.
This is a pernicious lie from the pit of hell, but I don’t have a lot of desire to spend time writing about why it is. Here’s the challenge I’d like to offer instead: I think most Christians I know believe something pretty similar.
I think that because I think I do.
Let’s back up a bit. We’re very careful to exclude financial blessing from the blessings that God will give you if you follow the way of Jesus. This is not to suggest that God could not bless us financially—as though Adam Smith’s invisible hand was a spiritual force not under Yahweh’s ultimate command—nor to say that if we receive wealth we shouldn’t thank God.
The problem comes when we imply that finances come as a reward for obedience.
Yet, there are plenty of passages in the Bible that suggest that God does bless the obedient. I think it’s a very reasonable thing to say. Normally we would want to qualify blessing to exclude health and wealth as a rule. Which I would happily agree with.
Here’s the rub. I believe that if I am obedient that God will bless me with comfort. I think it’s likely you do too. This is a lie. I believe that he will secure me gainful employment, a nice house, and a middle-classed lifestyle. God had given me much of the window dressing of middle-classed life, and some of it has come in ways that were frankly miraculous. I am deeply thankful, when I remember to be.
The problem is that if I think it’s a reward—even though I would deny I do if asked—and I experience pain, or even simple discomfort, I’m thrown for a loop. The problem is that I have, and I think we have, a doctrine of blessing that only works for middle-classed knowledge workers like me. The problem is that it’s a doctrine of blessing that would make no sense in South Sudan, or India, or North Korea. The problem is that it’s a false gospel.