Published on Page A13 of the October 28, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
God want you to be rich? A recent Time magazine cover story explored
the boom being experienced by a church in America that concentrates on
To be fair, aside from the occasional reminders about giving tithes,
most churches rarely preach about money and good stewardship over
material possessions. Preachers can be passionate about family issues,
sex, or even politics, but they are likely to avoid talking about
money. Maybe they feel that a believer’s stand on that issue should be
obvious (“The love of money is the root of all evil” -- 1Timothy 6:10).
Maybe they think there are far more pressing issues that need to be
discussed with the congregation. Or maybe they just find talking about
the subject a little disconcerting (like I do), but the end of it is
that most believers develop only a rudimentary understanding of
biblical principles regarding how to handle this ever present concern.
No matter how rich or poor you are, money concerns are likely to
hound you. After all, money affects your lifestyle, your plans, your
reactions to certain things, even the way your family or your church is
run. I’ve been with people who don’t know where their next meal is
coming from and I have worked with one of the richest men in this
country, yet both wake up in the morning and go to bed at night
thinking about the same thing: how to get more money. And yet Jesus, in
His most important sermon, seemed to dismiss it altogether (Luke
12:27). Why would you even concern yourself with such things, He asked.
His seeming total disregard of money is backed by the promise that
God will take care of you; all you need is to have faith. But while
this is easy to believe when you are typing an article in an
air-conditioned office, it is quite another thing to sing, “God is
good, all the time,” when your stomach is churning with hunger and your
little girl is tugging at your shirt, demanding to know when she could
have her milk.
Perhaps this is the reason those who already believe find prosperity
theology so attractive. For why shouldn’t you have both Jesus and a
prosperous life, after all? If you believe that the Father loves you,
that He is able to do anything, and that He owns everything, why not
pray for and expect an affluent existence?
Prosperity theology is not without biblical verses to support it.
The Bible is replete with promises of abundance and blessings for those
who follow the way of the Lord. For a person who wants to believe in a
God who promises not only salvation from sin but also prosperity in
this life, Joel Osteen and his upbeat television sermons would seem
like a voice straight from heaven itself.
But as Time noted, the biggest problem with prosperity theology is
that it shifts your attention from the gift-giver to the gift itself.
“God becomes a means to an end, not an end in Himself,” a Southwestern
Baptist preacher was quoted as saying. This makes one no different from
the 19-year-old girl who marries a multimillionaire octogenarian
because she “really loves him.” If we find this girl’s act repulsive,
how would it compare to accepting the blood of the Messiah so we can
have that sports car?
For the believer without discernment, it would be hard to
distinguish this shift in focus. Like all effective lies, prosperity
theology has some elements of truth which it changes into something
else. Instead of eternally standing in gratitude and awe for the
redemption of one’s soul, the focus of adoration shifts to “gaining the
whole world and also my soul.”
Prosperity theology can also foster discontent. Osteen’s
best-selling book, “Your Best Life Now,” focuses on financial gain and
material wealth, sugar-coated to look as if that is what is meant by
the Scriptures. In Osteen’s view, believers should expect bigger and
better things because God cannot wait to pour out His blessings on
them. He implies that because God wants to help you, the world will
give you preferential treatment. In other words, God wants to make it
easy for you.
This flies in the face of what Jesus actually said: that the world
will deny you because after all, the world denied Him. The New
Testament is full of warnings and reminders that the Christian life
would be narrow and difficult (Matthew 7:14) and that we should be
ready for trials and persecutions (2 Timothy 3:12). In seeking to make
one “feel good” and “get more out of life,” prosperity theology twists
the Scriptures for its own insidious ends.
Prosperity theology also implies that people who are suffering are
those who lack faith. However, Rick Warren, author of “The
Purpose-Driven Life,” scoffs at the idea that God wants everyone to be
wealthy. “Baloney,” he says. And I agree. The very idea that faith
automatically converts into worldly blessings speaks of a kind of
arrogance worthy of a Pharisee. What about the blind or those who have
cancer or who live in war-torn places? And what about the ones who die
despite all the prayers, and the ones who fail even though they have
absolute faith in the one true God? Are we all egoistic, spiritual
retardates to claim that it’s their fault that they didn’t get better?
This is my second most important problem with prosperity theology
(the foremost being the shift of adoration from the gift-giver to the
gift): that our attention is directed to what happens to us instead of
what we become despite what happens to us. Knowing the God of the
Bible, I get the impression that He is far more concerned about our
character, about how we react to Him, more than what happens to our
physical bodies. Remember that dude named Job?
Although it cannot be denied that God blesses everyone -- both
believers and even His enemies (Matthew 5:45) -- He wants more for us.
Scratch that: God wants the best for us, and that certainly goes far
beyond material wealth.
All of my childhood and adolescent years, I have wondered why God
allowed me to be poor. Now I know. I know I need to experience poverty
so I would become more and more like His son rather than have a more
difficult time going to His kingdom than the camel passing through the
eye of a needle.
Mark Isaiah David, 25, is an assistant manager at GMA Network Inc
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