For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.– Jeremiah 29:11
The prosperity Gospel has wormed its way into the folds of the church for decades. Where I live, on the Sunshine Coast, versions of it prevail among our many churches. Most churches I’ve been to wouldn’t say “trust in God, and you’ll be financially blessed” (though I have heard this on a few occasions). Instead, most churches default to preaching a prosperity, self-help, positive thinking hybrid message all tied up in the love of God and a love of self. I’m harsh, I know. It’s easy to sit here behind my laptop and bash on churches. Trust me, I know how I can come off. I just get frustrated with the shallow promises made by those in positions of influence over those desperately seeking substance and meaning. The Good News and good biblical preaching were never meant to offer cheap and easy answers to our challenging and complex lives. When I read the Bible, it meets us right at the crossroads of suffering and hardship. It never gives us one-liners to “speak into existence” or “manifest.” God never gives us meretricious promises to grasp on to. However, there is some truth to the hopeful expectation of prosperity and blessing. We find many such ideas in the Scriptures:
The first case of prosperity and human flourishing appears in Genesis 1, where God blesses humanity and tells them to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). Though it is important to note that the blessing is one of posterity, not material gain per se. In Genesis 2, God gives humanity a garden with every kind of tree that is pleasing to the eye and good for food (Genesis 1:29-30; 2:8-9) as well as gold, resin and onyx in abundance and rivers giving life to the land around them (Genesis 2:10-14). Animals dwell in peace with Adam (Genesis 1:30-31; 2:19-20) as humans (Genesis 2:21-25), and creation and God are in harmony with one another (Genesis 2:1-2). All is well. However, in Genesis 3, we have humanity taking more than they’re supposed to (Genesis 3:6). Greed, selfishness, and the desire to be like God takes over (Genesis 3:5, 22). Humanity’s connection to one another (Genesis 3:7) and the Garden are severed as they’re exiled from the presence of God (Genesis 3:24).
From here, God sets up an entire story where He chooses a people to flourish and be blessed in Eden-like spaces so that God may freely dwell with His creation. Yet time and time again, these people fail at creating these spaces even as God promises them blessings, prosperity and abundance (Genesis 12:2; Deuteronomy 8:18; Jeremiah 29:11; Philippians 4:19). It’s important to understand that the promises of God, particularly when relating to the idea of wealth and prosperity, isn’t something New Testament Christians can necessarily expect to come true in the present age. God’s promises are yes and amen in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). God does bless people beyond what they deserve. God does want good things for His people. Yet the very essence of the mission of God was to come in the likeness of sinful flesh (Philippians 2), in the brokenness of humanity as one who was with the poor and outcast, without splendour (Isaiah 53) so that we might lay our burdens onto Him as we meet head on the suffering of life (Psalm 55:22; Matthew 11:29; 1 Peter 5:7). Indeed, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13), yet what Paul means is that we are to learn to be content in every situation where we lack (Philippians 4:10-12). No matter the problem, Christ is enough.
Finally, the abundant life God wanted for us in the Garden will be again experienced in the coming age, in the new heavens and earth. Humanity will once again flourish where death and sickness will be no more (Revelation 21:4). There will be no more thirst or hunger (Revelation 21:6), no more division between humanity (Galatians 3:8; Revelation 7:9-17), and rivers of life flow freely once more to give life to the land with the tree of life, providing fruit to heal all the people (Revelation 22:1-5). Once again, God can dwell with His people, and all is in harmony (Revelation 21:3).
This blog is by no means an exhaustive theological reflection on this issue. However, even a small and concise overview like this quickly demonstrates that prosperity and human flourishing happen in a way the widespread prosperity, self-help gospel has come to fail so many people. You do not give $77.77 to a televangelist to get doubly blessed. You do not sow a financial seed into a project hoping to get that house or car you’ve been wanting. The real prosperity Gospel is God promising that the sufferings in this life are nothing compared to the glory we should anticipate experiencing in the next. Those in positions of influence who take advantage of those who can barely afford to feed their own families, who take advantage of those who are sick, depressed and broken – these prosperity self-help preachers are the most reprehensible of people and deserve nothing more than to meet God face to face.