The Nugget of Truth in the Prosperity Gospel

The Question

I’ve never heard anyone say this this but you can find a good deal of support for the prosperity gospel in the Bible. The Psalms go on and on about how God watches over the righteous and rewards the wicked. A good example is Psalm 1 It says about the man who walks in God’s law:  “He is like a tree planted by rivers of water, bringing forth its fruit in its season. His leaf does not wither, but in all that he does he prospers”. Of the wicked however, it doesn’t have such nice predictions.

This is also a recurring claim in the book of Job albeit by less reliable characters. Job’s friends argue that Job must deserve the evil he is undergoing because God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked. All you have to do is repent, they say, and God will return you to your wealth. There’s an even more damning verse in the Psalms. It says: “I have never seen the righteous forsaken, or his seed begging for bread” (Psalms 37:25).

That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s the whole “if you’re suffering, you must have done something to deserve it” mentality. You can probably explain those verses in a different light if you try, but doing so for all the passages will quickly get exhausting. If we are to champion truth like our God does, we must be willing to see things we don’t like in the Bible. And if you’re willing to see it, certain verses in the Bible do proclaim prosperity for the righteous and punishment for the wicked, but two things keep a Christian from buying into the prosperity gospel. Firstly, the fact that the righteous do suffer – take a good look at the book of Job. Secondly, the Bible also affirms the fact that following God’s law is no recipe for avoiding trouble. David, Isaiah, Job, and Solomon all lament the tendency of life to go well for the sinner and badly for the righteous. The Israelites did suffer for 400 years in Egypt, and the Bible places the blame on the sin of the Canaanites, rather than the Israelites.

What then is one supposed to make of this? I imagine that somewhere in she Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, this is listed as one of the Bible’s numerous contradictions. I hate to disappoint you, but I don’t have an answer. But don’t worry. I’ll take my best shot at it and maybe at the end of this post, we’ll have a workable answer.

The Answer

Firstly, we have examples for both claims. Case in point: Job

  1. The Righteous Prosper: The book of Job opens by telling us about a very righteous man named Job. What would you know, Job is also a rich man. God blessed him with wealth, children, and security. He fulfills the verse about the righteous not begging bread. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, flourishing and producing abundant fruit.
  2. The Righteous Suffer: But Job’s prosperity brings an adversary. It seems that left to his own devices, God would continue to bless Job, but Satan claims that Job only worships God because of the blessings. So, in the blink of an eye, Job’s fortune turns around. His children all die and all his wealth is lost. His wife and friends turn against him (brilliant chaps, those). Job becomes miserable; kind of like the guy who goes to church all his life, pays his tithes, volunteers with the kids ministry and suddenly loses his job, house, and wife. Some well-meaning individual might tell him, “just have faith” or “repent of your sins” or “God has a wonderful plan for your life”, etc.

In the end Job gets his prosperity back, but he suffers a good deal before that happens. There’s the reason you should never listen to the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible about contradictions. Sometimes, two statements that seem contradictory might both be true because they are not mutually exclusive. The righteous do prosper, but not always. The wicked do suffer, but not always. It’s all about the endgame. I think (and this is my totally unsupported opinion) that God is generous as a rule. Unless he has a reason not to, he’ll give you the world. That’s why he blessed Job. Like Nick tends to say, we have a good Dad who gives good gifts. He owns the entire world. He doesn’t need an excuse to give it all to his children.

But don’t say that the righteous never suffer. The next time someone tries to pitch you something that looks like the prosperity gospel, don’t dismiss it out of hand.

Of course, there’s a catch. God blesses the righteous with good things, not with what they want. That’s the whole point of the “Seek God and all other things will be added to you” teaching. Feel free to serve God because you want a Porsche, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.

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Tracy

I’m Tracy

One thought on “The Nugget of Truth in the Prosperity Gospel”

  1. Considering the Biblical propensity towards hyperbole, it seems correct to consider that the Psalms use this figure of speech until shown otherwise. Following God’s law will be a net (not absolute) positive for yourself and/or others compared to not following God’s law.

    No one is always good or always bad (e.g. Ecclesiastes 7:20): the choices made will have consequences. A doctrine that good or bad choices have good or bad consequences is very different from saying that you are being punished by God for those choices (e.g. by having some natural calamity happen). The prosperity gospel makes the promises of the Bible to be more prescriptive (rather than descriptive) than is justified.

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