It goes by many names. Word of Faith. The Power of Positive Thinking. The Law of Attraction. Name it and Claim it. The Prosperity Gospel.
While there are many names for it, the basic principle is the same: whatever we think, is what we will receive. If we have enough faith and think positive, we will be rewarded with better health, financial prosperity, and less suffering in our lives.
The not-so-subtle implication is that if we’re poor or sick, we must have somehow brought this on ourselves through our own negative thoughts or lack of faith.
All we have to do to be “successful” in a worldly sense is to think differently, we are told, and we will naturally prosper. It’s an enormously popular idea; and it’s utterly at odds with the message of Jesus.
Prosperity theology is correct in one sense: we will never be able to manifest good things in our lives if we can’t imagine them. We need to believe something is possible in order to receive it.
But this is only the first step. It’s not enough simply to believe we are healthy or wealthy (or physically attractive, or any other number of positive things); we need to actually do something to make these things happen!
If simply thinking positive thoughts could make someone healthy or wealthy, no one would ever be poor or sick!
But take a look at the people who believe the prosperity message. How many of them are actually rich? Not that many. Usually, it turns out to be just a few of the leaders who are promoting this ideology.
What makes a person wealthy? Many people are rich because of what they’ve inherited from others. Some, apparently, get rich through hard work and ingenuity. And in our capitalist economy, many get rich by deceiving others and taking advantage of them.
But no one, as far as I know, has ever gotten rich simply by thinking positive, any more than someone who is clinically depressed can just “snap out of it.”
Even if we could get rich just by thinking about it, prosperity theology would still be a problem for Christians; for the simple fact is that Jesus nowhere suggests God wants us to be rich. Indeed, His teachings suggest nearly the opposite: that material wealth can actually be a hindrance to our spiritual health!
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal,” Jesus says, “but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:19-21).
“You cannot serve God and wealth,” He repeatedly warns us (Matt 6:24, Luke 16:13); and when a rich man asks Jesus how to obtain true life, His response is,“Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Luke 18:22).
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” Jesus says, a message that is as revolutionary now as it was in His time.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:20-23).
Conversely, Jesus has some harsh words for those who put their trust in material wealth: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep” (Luke 6:24-26).
Jesus’ point here is not that it’s a sin to be rich, necessarily. On another occasion, He blesses the rich (but generous) Zacchaeus as a “son of Abraham” (Luke 19:1-10). Nor should His words be taken to mean that poverty itself is a blessing. Certainly God doesn’t want anyone to go hungry or be homeless!
But there is one specific sense in which the poor have an advantage over the rich: they are much less likely to put their trust in the fleeting promises of material wealth.
Eventually, all of our money will disappear. Even if we manage to make it to our death beds with our wealth intact, it will not be of any use to us after we die. And if we have spent our whole lives chasing after wealth, what will happen when it’s gone, and we come face-to-face with God?
There’s no amount of money that can make up for an empty soul; and those who have spent their lives amassing personal wealth, without considering the needs of others, will have a lot of explaining to do!
This is why Jesus says that “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” (Matt 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25).
In other posts, I have stated my belief that everyone will eventually, in some way or another, be reconciled to God. But this should not be taken to mean that what we do here and now doesn’t matter!
We all must pass through God’s refining fire; but those who seek after wealth will find this process especially difficult.
The more time we spend seeking after material wealth, the harder it will be for us to receive the true wealth – which is spiritual, rather than material, in nature.
“When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind,“ Jesus teaches us. “And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you” (Luke 14:13-14, emphasis mine).
This is a blessing that can’t be comprehended by those who want to be rich; but those who open their hearts to the poor and oppressed will find a reward that far surpasses anything money could buy.