Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lenten Blog Post Series: The Myth that God Wants You to be Rich

By way of (re-) introduction to this blog post series that I am writing here as a part of my Lenten spiritual practice, this is how I presented the series (and its planned outline) in the initial post last week:

I had not arrived at an idea of something to add a spiritual practice for Lent--an idea that is increasingly more and more popular in the church, (until) this blog post series--something that I have not done since my "We Are Legion" week of blog posts nearly a year ago.  One of the things that has become a great labor in my work (both with folks inside and outside of the church) is attempting to debunk some of the more harmful myths that exist about God and about the church.  And so one of my Lenten practices, for this plus the following five weeks, is, in effect, asking for another fast for y'all--a fast from some of those hurtful myths that we tell ourselves (or allow other people to convince us of) about God.

The week of March 9: The Myth that God Considers You Worthless

Today (the week of March 16): The Myth that God Wants You to be Rich

The week of March 23: The Myth that God Wants the Poor to be Poor

The week of March 30: The Myth that God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

The week of April 6: The Myth that God Tells Us Exactly When Jesus is Coming Back

The week of April 13 (Holy Week): The Myth that God is Dead

The idea that God wants you to be rich--that's a concept that usually goes by the name of prosperity theology or the prosperity gospel.  The underlying notion is that financial success is a blessing from God, and this notion is often accompanied by a call to give financially to the preacher/organization spreading this message as a means of helping to attain said financial success/divine blessing.

And yet, you do not need me to tell you that there are thousands, millions of faithful, humble, loving Christians across the country and around the world who are dirt broke.  They give of themselves in a wide variety of ways, even if the face value of those contributions may not be a lot, but, as Jesus said about the widow with the two coins in Mark 12, she gave all she had, all that she had to live on.  She gave greatly.  She gave until it hurt.  Because of this, she had given more than the people contributing vast sums to the temple treasury.  And meanwhile, someone could be the biggest jerk in the land and be absolutely loaded with wealth.  This fundamental reality ought to be enough to nip the prosperity gospel in the bud: faithful people can, and sometimes are, still poor, and hurtful people can, and sometimes are, still rich.

But it isn't doing that.  It hasn't.  And I have to believe that this is so because of the sentiment expressed in a tale about the famously atheist comedian W.C. Fields--when dying, he was found flipping through the pages of a Bible, and when asked why he, of all people, was doing that he responded, "I'm looking for a loophole."  We still look for a way out of our pursuit of both wealth and God's favor.

Prosperity theology represents that loophole for us to serve both God and wealth, even though Jesus explicitly tells us these are mutually exclusive allegiances (Matthew 6:24).  But with this prosperity belief, we could indulge our love for wealth without divine consequences.  Chalk it up to another way we have tried to outsmart God, going all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve decided (with the help of a certain reptilian friend) that they, too, could be as smart as God if they ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

And in some ways, that is exactly it: we do know good from evil, even if we do not always (or sometimes seldom) follow that knowledge faithfully.  We want to be able to be justified in doing our evil things, in living out our selfishness, in not following Christ as we ought to.  We still want to be able to be greedy and live for ourselves, not live for others or for God, and in this way, a genuine transformation has not entirely occurred within us yet.

We like our money.  We like it more than we should.  And we like it in the face of what exactly Jesus does have to say about the rich: "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation" (Luke 6:24), "How hard will it be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God...It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:23, 25/Luke 18:24-25), and "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth...for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19, 21)

If God wants you to be rich, then God does not necessarily want what, according to God, would be best for you.  Your place in God's embrace is far more important than riches.  And likewise, God considers you far more important than those riches.

May you feel called to live your life, then, according to what is important on a divine scope: love not of money, but of God and of each other.  For, again as Jesus teaches us, upon these two loves hangs the entirety of everything else.

Yours in Christ,

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