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)
When we see good things as God’s reward for the righteous, we devalue sufferers. We are basically telling the wounded that their problems are their own fault. As Randy Alcorn says:
“Tragically, the prosperity gospel has poisoned the church and undermined our ability to deal with evil and suffering. Some churches today have no place for pain. Those who say God has healed them get the microphone, while those who continue to suffer are shamed into silence or ushered out the back door.”
As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been ushered out the back door at healing services, after being publicly chastised. I have heard countless similar stories from other disabled people. The assumption is that if you’re not healed, you don’t have enough faith. Because God’s will is for everyone to be healed. Always. The faithful will never suffer.
This belief is contrary to the Bible. Jesus says we will have tribulation. Peter says we shouldn’t be surprised by suffering. James says to expect it, and to count it all joy. And Paul says it brings endurance and glory.
Of course, healing can bring glory as well. Some people are miraculously healed from disease and God intervenes in the lives of men in supernatural ways. And God is glorified when that happens.
But I have seen God even more glorified when people are not healed, but continue to praise Him in the midst of deep suffering. When everything they have is stripped away and all that is left is God alone. And He is found sufficient.
God is most glorified when we declare Him sufficient in the midst of great loss. Just as Job did.
The book of Job is inconsistent with the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel teaches that we live for God’s blessing. Job teaches that we live for God’s glory.
At the heart of the prosperity gospel is our value. At the heart of Job, and all of Scripture, is God’s value.
Not surprisingly, Satan is a proponent of the prosperity gospel. In Chapter 1 of Job, Satan tells God that Job’s faithfulness is predicated on God’s blessings. And if those blessings are taken away, Job will curse God to His face. Job’s obedience is just a way to get what he wants from God. In other words, Satan is implying: “God, you are not valuable for who You are. You are only valuable for what you give Job.”
But God contends just the opposite. God asserts that Job loves Him for who He is, not what He gives.
And when Job is able to say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” (1:21) after he has lost everything, he is declaring the surpassing worth of God. God is Job’s treasure. Not His gifts.
As the Psalmist declares:
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)
I pray that all of us, like Job, will find our treasure in God, who is our portion forever.