Friday, July 10, 2015

Prosperity Gospel, Shifting Cultures and a Theology of Suffering

My son thinks I am a bully.  I know this because he told me so.  After punching him a few times and taking his lunch money I was shocked to hear him express this sentiment......Well, that isn't exactly what I did.  What happened was, and you can help me judge this decision, he had not eaten his vegetables at dinner so he couldn't have a sugary snack.  Therefore...BULLY. 

There is a tendency in all of us to desire things that aren't good for us.  At its heart this is simply a way of saying "sin".  We are image bearers of God, and that indicates that we are therefore designed as a reflection of the character and nature of God Himself.  When He gave His law to us it wasn't just a random list of do's and don't's, but instead a reliable witness and testimony to His very character and the outflow being our design parameters. 

The nature of sin is such that we are in constant conflict with our divine design.  Scripture tells us that our "flesh" is at constant war with God.  Our very deepest felt and innate desires too often betray this truth; We are broken.  And this brokenness, by its very definition and character, separates us from God. 

So what do we do when confronted with the reality of our brokenness?  We do two things that seem radically different, yet are different sides of the same self-centered destructiveness.

1-  We become legalists who take the Law as a personal challenge.  The promise and the goal of being a legalist is that we will; 1- Make ourselves right before God, and, 2- Be greatly blessed by temporal rewards because we are doing everything right.  This second part is most easily associated with what is called the prosperity gospel(notice the purposeful lower case g). 

Both practices of legalism are just different versions of prosperity teaching.  You do this, you get that.  If you DIDN'T get that, you are just not trying hard enough.....God finds your lack of faith....disturbing.....

2- We become Grace Abusers who reject the conviction of God's truth and place personal satisfaction and fulfillment of felt desires as the highest achievable standard because if, "God is all about love and Grace, he obviously wants me to be happy...."

Grace Abusers are just prosperity gospellers without any effort. 

It is of no small coincidence that as the 20th Century saw the growth of the prosperity gospel we also saw a rapid change in the moral compass of western civilization, and particularly America.  As we elevated personal satisfaction and happiness to a sacred place it is no wonder that the greatest modern heresy and bigotry is apparently practiced by those who say, "No!"

The Gospel of Jesus Christ has been co-opted as the get rich scheme of eternal self-pleasure.  If something makes you uncomfortable, calls you to reject something you enjoy, deny yourself and pick up a cross, it must be, by definition, wrong.  Mean.  Sinful. 

A gospel that promises temporal pleasure, whether materially, emotionally, relationally, or otherwise, is a gospel that will not sustain or survive. 

The truth of the Gospel is not found in the measurable and quantifiable "blessings" experienced by those who have put their faith in Christ, but it is instead found in the place where suffering and pain are met with joy and peace.  In John 16 Jesus makes a clear promise to his disciples, and to us as well. 

"I have told you these things, so that you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart.  I have overcome the world!"-- John 16:33

The context of John's 16th chapter is that those who are following Jesus can expect there lives to be more clearly marked by suffering than by personally experiencing victory.  Phrasing is everything.  Jesus does not end this warning with, "Do not worry, you shall totally overcome".  Instead he points to Himself and the ultimate hope and victory that is ours beyond this life because HE HAS already overcome.  He does not give ANY indication that this secured victory will translate into temporal successes. 

The modern Church has lost an essential theological bulwark.  A robust Theology of Suffering.  By this I do not mean some sort of wallowing and depressing resignation to be miserable.  The theology of Suffering is a recognition that life is broken and the World is in opposition to God, and those who follow Christ will not only still experience the temporal struggles that affect all people, but they can also expect spiritual challenges. 

But what did Jesus says in John 16:33??  He has overcome.  Our hope, the Gospel, is that even in the midst of great suffering, whether emotional, physical, relational and otherwise, God has come down, Jesus has carried that pain and the Holy Spirit dwells within us as a deposit of our faith and the source of our strength to face all things with Joy.  To, as Paul put it, count all our losses as gains for the sake of Christ! 

When we elevate personal comfort than all manner of things will not only become accepted, but, even advocated for as being "good".  That which was once evil is now contended for as good....When you or I believe that Christ's purpose was to make me comfortable today I have laid the groundwork for exactly that. 

Christ told us to count the cost.  And many walked away, because it cost them too much they thought.  But let us remember, "But to who else would we go, YOU have the words of eternal life"-- John 6:68.


From a good read on a Theology of Suffering


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