Job and the Prosperity Gospel

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Lately I’ve been rereading the book of Job.

Over the years, this book has both shaken me and shaped me.

Job has served as a corrective lens, revealing my distorted assumptions about the rewards of a virtuous life. Through it, I have learned that my greatest joy lies not in what God gives me, but rather in God Himself. I have seen that God is sovereign over every detail of life and He deserves my worship. In all circumstances. Whether I understand them or not.

The other day, as I was reading Job, I remembered a conversation with a coworker who also loved Job. But he loved it for different reasons. He loved it for the ending which he claimed was the point of the whole book.

In his words, “Job got everything back and more for his suffering. He was blessed with more children and more money than he ever had before. That’s what the book shows us- that doing the right thing brings blessing and prosperity.”

His perspective deeply troubled me. It still does. It is the message of the “health & wealth” gospel – that God wants us to have perfect health, total happiness, and financial gain in this life. All we need to do is ask specifically and live the right way and God will come through.

Ironically, it was the book of Job that had helped reframe my perspective on God’s blessings. I saw that naming what we want and then claiming the victory is not worshipping God. It is idolatry. The focus is not on God but rather on what He can give us.  It is elevating God’s gifts above Him, the giver. And that is a great assault on God’s value.

Proponents of the prosperity gospel see things differently. They believe it’s biblical and cite Scripture to back up their claims. One such verse is John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Jesus does give us abundant life – but that does not necessarily mean material blessings. Abundant life is independent of circumstances or health or wealth or anything else.

A diagnosis of cancer, a stock market crash, or a child’s rebellion doesn’t diminish the abundant life we have in Christ. And a miraculous healing, a financial windfall, or a prodigal’s return doesn’t transform it either. Abundant life rests in the God who is Lord over the good things and the terrible things in our life. As Job says, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10)Continue Reading

Can Heaven Outweigh our Suffering?

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I’m listening to a speaker, and she’s talking about a difficult period in her life. Years when her prayers seemed unanswered and God felt distant and uncaring. Years when she gave up and even stopped praying. Years when nothing seemed to change.

I was immediately drawn into her story because I understood how that felt. I remember feeling as if I were drowning, wondering if I would ever come up for air. Gasping for breath, surviving- but just barely.

It was almost a decade before I felt that I could breathe deeply again.

I am thankful that I was finally able to catch my breath. But not everyone can. There are people who live in anguish day after day, month after month, year after year. And nothing changes. Ever. Life on this earth is just one endless struggle after another.

And on a slightly smaller scale, many of us deal with a struggle that will never go away. The death of a loved one tears a gaping hole in our heart. An irreversible debilitating disease reminds us daily of our mortality. Chronic depression ambushes us when we least expect, bringing with it desperation and inertia. Rebellious children, difficult marriages, divorce, financial ruin, loneliness, regret. Some of this pain will never get better. Not in this life.

As I’m thinking about this, it all sounds so hopeless, and I’m feeling despair for the millions of people whose lives are marked by pain. I realize my hope often rests in the assumption that things will eventually get better. And if they never do, could it all be worth it?

As I’m pondering that idea, she says it. The words that change everything.

One day, in heaven, all our longings will be met or will fade away.

Of course. That’s it. That’s what we need to hold onto. That is the truth worth suffering for, living for, and dying for.

Heaven will change everything. Things may or may not get better for us in this life, but one day, one glorious day, everything will be made new. One day, in the blink of an eye, it will all be changed.

I have been thinking about this all week, wondering why I don’t write or speak more about heaven. Much as I have been blessed by knowing God on this earth, and His comfort and incredible love in the midst of great sorrow, it should pale in comparison to the joys of heaven.

The Bible constantly reminds us that our present sufferings must be viewed in light of eternity. Romans 8:18 says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.”

Paul knew that this life alone would never be able to balance the scales of suffering. But it wasn’t meant to. We were made for heaven, for eternal life. Looking at this life in the context of heaven is the only way to make sense of suffering. Continue Reading

It’s NOT my Fault

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“It’s not my fault.”

Those all-too familiar words echo regularly through my hallways. I hear them from my daughters when they break something. Or are late for a curfew. Or forget their homework.

According to my girls, they are not responsible. Someone else is to blame. The infraction was unavoidable. If it were up to them, things would have been different.

I wish this Teflon attitude were restricted to my daughters, but unfortunately I’ve modeled it well. I’m hesitant to take responsibility for my mistakes-so I subtly accuse others instead. Of course, I can blame Adam and Eve for this weakness. In the Garden, Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent for their disobedience. And Adam even implicated God.

I’m open to implicating any likely suspect as evidenced by a damning discovery I made last week. While cleaning out a drawer, I unexpectedly found a treasured ring, one that I’d assumed had been stolen. It was a gift from my parents, with great sentimental value, and had been missing for a while.

Months earlier, when I first discovered it was gone, I had searched diligently for it. But when I remembered that contractors had been working near my bedroom the last time I saw it, I quickly assumed they had taken it.

I couldn’t imagine any other way my ring could have disappeared. Though I didn’t accuse the contractors directly, I vowed never to use their company again and stopped looking for the ring. I imagined it was long gone, sold to a pawnshop and untraceable.

Months later, I recoiled when I found my beloved ring. It was incontrovertible evidence that I had been wrong. And had even wronged others in the process. Rather than joy, I felt horror. A vastly different emotion from the woman in the Bible who found her lost coin. Upon her discovery, she immediately called her friends and neighbors to rejoice at its restoration.

I, on the other hand, did not call anyone upon finding my ring. Instead I mentally catalogued all the people I had told of my unreliable workers. Embarrassed and ashamed, I stared at my ring for hours, guilt ridden. I had suspected, tried and convicted innocent people with no evidence. And after their conviction, I never once supposed that I was the guilty party. Until I was proven wrong.

I wish this were an isolated incident, but to my discredit it’s not. It merely highlighted an existing problem. I am quick to blame others for my mistakes.

When I lose my temper with my children, it’s never my fault. They provoke me. When I forget to follow up with a friend who’s struggling, it’s not my fault. I am busy. When I’m late to a meeting, it’s not my fault. Traffic is unpredictable.

I want to ensure no one blames me. While this is not a conscious desire, it is evident from my actions and attitudes. Even in admitting a mistake and apologizing, I often follow up with an explanation. An explanation that deflects the blame from me. Anyone would suspect strangers working in their home.  I’m not sinful and short tempered with my children. Or a thoughtless friend. Or a poor manager of time.

It’s easier to attribute my failings to my circumstances, misunderstandings and even other people. I’m not responsible for the outcome. I’m the victim, not the perpetrator. I’m just responding as best I can to difficult circumstances. There were no alternatives.Continue Reading

What’s the Point of Silence?

silence post

 

For years, I would never have even considered sitting alone in silence.

I saw no point to it.  For an extrovert who measures her self-worth in doing rather than just being, sitting in silence seemed like a waste of precious resources. Nothing useful could be accomplished. There was no time for it.

I defined my days by how productive I was: what I got accomplished, what I crossed off my to-do list. If I could multi-task- call a friend while checking my email and paying bills- all the better.

Sometimes unexplained feelings would appear, tears would well up uncontrollably, anger would boil into rage within seconds. I didn’t know where these emotions came from and I was too busy to figure it out. Too busy or too afraid.

I didn’t want to know what was going on inside of me. It was easier to live on the surface. And less painful.

But at a friend’s urging, I went away on a silent retreat, mostly to get away from the stress of everyday life. I wasn’t sure what I would do or discover, but I knew too much of my life was unexamined. Too many emotions pushed down. Too many events unprocessed.

Though extraordinarily painful, those few days changed me. I rediscovered myself. And God.

Since then I have actively sought silence as passionately as I used to seek busyness.

In the silence, I encounter the living God. In the silence, I am free to face the ugliness of my soul and the beauty of God’s work in me. The “me” that I have been ignoring in my desire to get more accomplished.

There are no externals to distract me and I bring nothing of my own to God. Nothing but the insecure, sinful, broken me.

In the silence, I am not producing, performing or achieving. This is challenging since “doing” has always been my preferred mode of operation. It’s easier to do things for God. They are measurable and predictable. Volunteer to serve. Do my Bible study. Listen to a troubled friend.

While these are important, God wants so much more than my “doing.”    He wants me to know Him, the infinite, unpredictable, and dangerous God, who asks more from me than I want to give.  He wants everything. All of me. Not just my Bible study time in the morning and my prayers at night and my doing the right thing during the day. In the silence, everything is laid bare. I can’t hide behind my doing; I must wrestle with who I am and what is really inside of me.

In silence I can hear what’s stirring inside me. The emotions I push aside because they make me cringe as they flash through my mind. The fears that I suppress because I’d rather not face them. The sins that I don’t want to admit to anyone, including myself. The longings that I can’t verbalize and dismiss instead as crazy dreams.

Everything that’s buried deep inside of me comes out in silence.Continue Reading