Bible B.S. + American Dream = Poison
“God is good and wants good things for you,” the preacher says. By good things, he (or she) means money, cars, and easy living. Who wouldn’t want to believe that? “For you to reap the harvest of God’s blessing, you have to plant a seed and water it.” And by plant the seed, the preacher means give his (or her) ministry money. This is the “prosperity Gospel.”
The Bible teaches the principle of tithing, of giving a portion of our earnings to His work. The Bible also teaches that God does want to bless us, but those blessings happen in the context of a relationship, not of a business contract; and while He blesses some people materially, it is never deserved and it is never a promise.
Such promises are believable because: 1) the preacher preaching them is has obviously been so blessed, judging by his (or her) suit; 2) we live in a very money- and image-driven culture, so we want that kind of blessing; 3) key Bible passages are taken out of context or are redefined in a way that makes such promises seem plausible; 4) the people in the greatest financial need desperately want a way out.
After encouraging a community to help those in need, Paul reminds the Corinthians: “And God is able to make all grace come to you in abundance, so that you may always and under all circumstances and whatever the need be self-sufficient.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)
Joyce Meyer, in her booklet “Prepare to Prosper,” transforms into this this passage into: “And God is able to make all grace (every favor and earthly blessing) come to you in abundance, so that you may always and under all circumstances and whatever the need be self-sufficient [possessing enough to require no aid or support and furnished in abundance for every good work and charitable donation].” (p. 21, Warner Faith, 1997)
Grace has everything to do with God’s favor, but it is, by definition, unmerited. Grace can have material benefits, but not always. This self-sufficiency should not be interpreted individualistically, as we Americans are wont to do; Paul uses the you-plural and this is a letter written to a community. They together will have enough together for whatever material, emotional, and spiritual circumstance may arise.
Later in 2 Corinthians we see Paul wrestling with grace in a way utterly foreign to the prosperity Gospel: “…there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’…” (2 Corinthians 12:7b-9a).
Paul was in pain. We don’t know the details, whether it was some physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual problem. But we know that he asked God to take it away, and God said, “No.” Why? Because God’s unmerited favor is enough, Paul, so you will have to live with the pain and be humbled by it.
God wanted Paul to suffer, the same way that He wanted Jesus to suffer, the same way that He wants you and me to suffer: that is when life is the most real, when we can draw closest to Him, and when we might draw others closer to Him. (Romans 5:3-4; John 12:24; Philippians 2; etc.)
God promises that life with Him is good, but not easy. The prosperity Gospel is a big fat lie.