Let’s talk about the prosperity gospel. Some of you know what I’m talking about. Its theology has inculcated our churches. One of the poster children for this stream of thought is Joel Olsteen. This doctrine is one of personal empowerment – a health and wealth gospel – a religious belief among some “Christians” who hold that financial success and physical well-being are always the will of God.
The problem? It is anti-Biblical. 1 Samuel today flies directly in the face of that whole school of thought, which I could argue is not Christian. It is a lovely self-help trajectory. But it has nothing to do with the Bible.
This is why I put Christian in quotes up there. This is certainly not a Christian concept. And while Joel Olsteen is very encouraging, positive, and uplifting, and while Joel may in fact be a Christian, he certainly doesn’t look like one from what I have seen and read. True prophets don’t always tell you what you want to hear to feel good. True prophets sometimes challenge, afflict, and correct. Joel needs to turn from his wicked ways, repent of his sin, and embrace something other than the devil of the greedy eye. He might also want to pick up the Bible and read it from time to time.
And no, this “verse” isn’t in the Bible: “God helps those who help themselves.” (Did you know there are tons of USAmericans who actually believe that it’s in there?)
What we learn from Scripture is that there are days of plenty and there are days of want. The rhythms of life come. Harvest comes. So does famine. And when famine comes, is our faith secure? What we learn in 1 Samuel is that prosperity has come for some, and not for others – that buried in the mysteries of God and the mysteries of this life, God’s goodness will ultimately endure. The oracle against the House of Eli is devastating. Early death. Tragedy. Yet we as readers are invited into the grand sweep of the goodness of God only as we turn the page and encounter the call of Samuel. What was an omen for one meant a new day for another family.
As random tragedies strike and cancer afflicts, sometimes these kinds of questions come: Why me? I have always asked Why Not Me? There is enough brokenness in the world to go around and each of us at some point bears the curse of pain. So it is to be human.
This flies in the face of the prosperity gospel and those who would like to have you believe you can pray your way to success, happiness, and wealth. That is not how our God works. We do not believe in the Genie in the Lamp, but the God of the Universe
The story of the Gospel is pretty clear. Blessing comes only as we open our hands in sharing, not as we hold tight and horde wealth. The Sermon on the Mount, the Parables, the cross itself – these all grow out out of the grand narrative of God’s ultimate blessing. That through thick and thin, God will provide, most readily through the body of Christ, hands of sharing, wealth in generous spirits, success despite our momentary afflictions, because Christ’s love has power over death and pain. It is as we respond that God’s goodness comes, and God’s Kingdom reigns.
God’s Kingdom is not built on wealth – but on justice, freedom, dignity, respect, love, equality, and peace.
So…why me? Wrong question. The question is “What do I do next?” How is the community going to respond? How is the community going to respond to the evil around us every day? The question is why aren’t we doing more to correct the evils around us? Why are we so lazy to think God is going to deal with everything when we should be the hands and feet of Christ caring for one another better
May God bless you this day. And may you come to know more deeply the love of God in the eyes of the other. And may God’s kingdom reign. Today and always.
OK, rant over.