Friday, February 8, 2013 – IT is interesting how this new twist on the Christian gospel has enjoyed a tremendous surge in popularity lately.
Inspirational guru and pastor Joel Osteen and his wife Victoria are perhaps two of the prime movers behind this movement today, and their Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas is currently considered the largest church in the United States. Closer to home, El Shaddai founder Mike Velarde preaches the same message to his thousands of faithful, inspiring them to pray for God’s material blessings in their lives. And, lately even esteemed Catholic lay preacher Bo Sanchez seems to have joined the bandwagon as well, publishing a number of books on the subject of the prosperity gospel.
At its heart, the gospel is nothing if not the belief that faith in God will result in material well-being for the believer—an extension of his “divine providence” that promises to all that their needs will be met, and that they will be taken care of.
“Believe in God and you will be prosperous” is perhaps not a bad way to summarize what this movement is all about.
Especially in today’s material world, the message has great appeal. Instead of the multiplying loaves and fishes to feed the hungry by the Sea of Galilee, today’s prosperity gospel preachers paint a picture of multiplying iPhone, iPads and cars to the faithful, giving them the hope that their material needs will not only be met, but that their wants will be satisfied too.
At face value, it is hard to argue with this. No doubt the greatest commandment, as Jesus himself taught us in Luke, is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself.” And being prosperous goes a long way in ensuring that we are able to love our neighbors, for surely the more we have in life, then the more we can share with them.
Ok, stay with this for a second. Prosperity, in and of itself, is not bad. But it always has to be construed against the fabric of Christian love for others that Jesus taught us all to have. The problem is, there is also the disturbing trend that often accompanies this gospel, which oftentimes clouds the understanding of Christ’s message—this belief in a “personal relationship” with Him, and the corollary that blessings flow vertically from God to man, akin with the relationship.
The prosperity gospel, when taken together with the exclusivist “me and God” relationship, often breeds self-centered and selfish Christians, who believe that the grace of God has been bestowed to them and them alone. “I prayed to God for an iPhone, and he blessed me with one. Thank you Lord for the blessings.” Peruse Facebook and you will see these all-too-common but disturbing signs of the selfishness and materialism I am talking about. God loves me, and is giving me all these material wants that I have.
One of the unfortunate truths about the human condition is that we twist God and our understanding of him, depending on the Zeitgeist of our times. And since we live in a world today where the material is everything, so it is in our understanding of Him.
Those of us who are believers in this message ought to read The Book of Job from time to time, in order to be reminded of the sobering truth about the nature of God’s grace, and how even the most righteous may not necessarily have the material blessings of this world. And those of us who are blessed materially also need to examine our reasons for accumulating our wealth. Are we doing so with charitable intentions in mind, or are we behaving like the dragon in “The Lord of the Rings,” who accumulates for the sake of accumulation?
To paraphrase the great Catholic president John F. Kennedy, perhaps we ought to also “ask not what God can do for us, but rather, what we can do for the greater glory of God.”