Monday, August 23, 2010

The Dangers of the Prosperity Gospel

By Fr. Robert Barron

"To give the prosperity gospellers their due, there is some biblical warrant for their position. The book of Deuteronomy consistently promises Israel that, if it remains faithful to God's commands, it will receive numerous benefits in this world. The psalmist too assures us, "delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." And Jesus himself counsels: "seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things (food, shelter, clothing, etc.) will be added unto you." And there is no doubt that the Bible consistently urges people to trust in the providence of God at all times. Jesus' reminder that the birds, who neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns but who are nevertheless fed by their heavenly Father, is a summation of the Scriptural confidence in God's care for those who have faith in him.

However, we must be attentive to the very subtle way that the Bible itself nuances and specifies these claims. The great counterpoise to the book of Deuteronomy is the book of Job, which tells the story of a thoroughly righteous man who, in one fell swoop, suffers the loss of all of his material prosperity. Job's friends, operating out of a standard Deuteronomistic (or prosperity Gospel) point of view, argue that he must have grievously offended God, but Job—and God himself—protest against this simplistic interpretation. The deepest reason for Job's suffering, we learn, is lost in the infinite abyss of God's permissive will and is by no means easily correlatable to Job's virtue or lack thereof. And Jesus himself, the very archetype of the faithful Israelite, experiences not earthly prosperity, but a life of simplicity and death on a brutal instrument of torture. If Joel Osteen and Oral Roberts were right, we would expect Jesus to have been the richest man in Nazareth and a darling of Jerusalem high society.

The resolution of this issue turns on a distinction between a conventional understanding and a divine understanding of the successful life. Deuteronomy is indeed right when it says that "prosperity" will follow from obedience to God's will, but the prosperity in question is spiritual flourishing, and not necessarily worldly success. Obeying the divine commands does indeed lead to the right ordering of the self, and therefore to an increase in joy, even if that very obedience leads, in worldly terms, to abject suffering or failure. St. Thomas More followed the voice of his conscience and this led to the loss of his home, his family, his considerable fortune, his high political status, and eventually his life. But he died, spiritually speaking, a successful man, a saint. St. Thomas Aquinas endeavored to answer a question that many of us ask: why do the wicked often prosper and the righteous suffer? Thomas turned the question on its head by introducing the wider context of God's purposes. Perhaps, he suggested, the good person who is deprived of material goods is actually being rewarded, since that deprivation opens him more and more to the spiritual dimension; and perhaps the wicked person who has every worldly benefit is actually being punished, since those material preoccupations close him to the only good that finally matters.

So embrace the prosperity Gospel, as long as you construe prosperity along properly Gospel lines. Following God's will, abandoning yourself to the divine providence, will indeed give you treasure in heaven, but don't expect it necessarily to give you treasure on earth..."


belinda said...

I can't stand this man. I watched a sermon he had last week and after an hour he mentioned Jesus in passing in the very last two sentences.. I hate the gospel of the feel good christian, it's a lie.
Tell me Vince, does Jesus always make you feel good? He makes me do stuff I don't wanna do. Sometimes I don't feel so good and yet Jesus is okay with that. (funny but true)
Jesus is willing to let you or I suffer so we can draw closer to him and learn to depend upon him alone.

How would you feel if you were married or had a deep bond with another person yet they felt your relationship with them was only based upon what YOU could do for them or worse yet, if you didn't make them feel good - (most all of the time) or else they would head for the door and abandon you.

We must pray always that the Holy
Spirit protects us from Satans deceptive lies. There are snares everywhere.

Vincenzo said...

"I can't stand this man. I watched a sermon he had last week.."

I tried watching him and he's irritated me too.

"Jesus is willing to let you or I suffer so we can draw closer to him and learn to depend upon him alone."

Yes actually I started suffering when I first was drawn closer to him.
This reminds me, Fr. Corapi during a recent EWTN rerun mentioned this phenomena - how Jesus brings suffering to those he's closest to. Which makes people say sometimes, according to Father, "I wish he wouldn't be so chummy." (audience laughter) :)

Just another mad Catholic said...

didn't Jesus tell St Teresa that he allows suffering for his friends, she then told him that she wasn't supprised that he had so few friends.

belinda said...

So true.
We willingly suffer with those whom we are in love with. How many souls are willing to suffer with Christ. I would say far too few.

Fr. John Mary, ISJ said...

I don't know what we're doin' wrong...we're thousands of dollars in debt due to friggin' insurance payments (bastards!)...
We pray every day for financial help; and then this.
I'd eat dirt (or dog food...well. maybe not!) before I became one of these "clones".

belinda said...

Father, I know of three families where insurance and medical expenses are draining everything they own and thrusting them into poverty but these aren't even Catholic charities clients.

We can no longer sustain our standard of living if people all over the nation are folding.

I think - and very soon we will have to live as we had done back in the old days and simply die but not because someone couldn't have saved us but because we cant afford it.

As far as the prosperity gospel goes I would think that people would try it- find out it doesn't work and then move on. Joel must stroke these people in other ways they find beneficial or else they wouldn't keep coming back.

He's simply a motivational speaker.