In my blog, I often discuss how homeless people are stigmatized in our society. I have also identified myself as a Christian. But the identity of a Christian is spoiled by stigmatic perception every bit as much as the identity of a homeless person is thus spoiled. Therefore, I think it’s about time I did my part to diffuse a few of these stereotypes.
I almost fear telling others I’m a Christian, because I am often assaulted immediately with accusations of being a sexist and a homophobe. But what is more germane to the present-day purpose of this blog is how much classism seems to run rampant in American Christianity. This is especially evident in what is often called the Prosperity Gospel.
The Prosperity Gospel, in short, is a particularly inviting deception that equates spiritual blessings with material success. Of course it is entirely conceivable that once a person decides to live according to spiritual wisdom rather than careless foolishness, one might find oneself advancing in material gain. If one, for example, has been blowing all of one’s money on drugs, hookers, and other forms of escape, one would naturally notice a pleasant increase in one’s financial status once such expenses have ceased. The Proverbs of Solomon are all about that distinction. However, we find such wisdom in many sources other than the Bible; and I for one would submit that most of the Proverbs are merely common sense.
Besides, it is also quite plausible that a person can be extremely happy living a minimalistic lifestyle with very few possessions at all. In fact, in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, we read of a young man who had “great possessions” who walked away from Jesus in sorrow when advised that he should give up all he owned in order to inherit eternal life. Does such denial of worldly goods equate spiritual blessing with prosperity? Obviously, the opposite is the case.
Consider also these very famous Scriptures: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:24) “The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10). And without bothering to quote every word, passages such as James 5:1-11 and Luke 16:19-31 hurl severe warnings in the direction of the wealthy. But where in the Bible are such warnings thrown in the direction of the poor? Nowhere.
To the contrary, Luke 6:20 includes the words: “Blessed are you who are poor.” Where in the Bible do we find the words, “blessed are you who are rich?” Again, we find them nowhere.
A proponent of the Prosperity Gospel will almost always cite Jeremiah 29:11 from the New International Version of the Bible, as follows:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.”
Although it is true that the word “prosper” figures in this translation, a quick scan of several other popular translations will reveal nothing of the kind. In the English Standard Version, for example, the phrase “plans to prosper you” reads “plans for welfare.” The same phrase in the time-honored King James reads “thoughts of peace.” So this single verse, taken completely out of context in a modern American translation, is hardly a valid rationale for a deception as extreme as the so-called Prosperity Gospel.
In the Bible, once again, where exactly are material acquisitions equated with the kind of provision that brings real fulfillment, inner peace, personal happiness, and eternal security? Nowhere, really. The only time when material gain is cited as a blessing from God is in a context where the greater blessing would be the evidence of God’s love; for example, the last chapter of the Book of Job. And love, according to 1 Corinthians 13, abides forever. Material blessings vanish at the grave.
In conclusion, I would contend that we who are spiritual ought to set our affections on the things that are above and beyond our material disposition (Colossians 3:2), rather than on the passing pleasures and comforts of this world. The expression, “you can’t take it with you,” ought not to have been coined in vain.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moths and vermin destroy,
and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where moths and vermin do not destroy,
and where thieves do not break in and steal.
For where your treasure is,
there your heart will be also.”
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