“Life is a privilege, not a reward.” – Kate Bowler
Kate Bowler is a Duke Divinity School professor who wrote a book, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, about the gospel of prosperity being practiced by so many American Christians today. The jest of this brand of religion touted by preachers such as Joel Osteen is that God rewards the right kind of faith and that if you are suffering you must be doing something wrong.
In my community we have a number of prosperity churches to choose from. Some have multiple locations. Others, just one coliseum sized sanctuary. In each, the message is basically the same, if we have faith in God, He will deliver security and prosperity which could include fat bank accounts, big houses, fine cars and vacations to exotic locations.
What has always struck me about this type of relationship with God is how does someone reconcile their lot in life with the Almighty when some tragic event befalls them or their family? No one skates through life without sorrow, loss or regret. If you do then you are either a psychopath or really not alive at all.
Not long after Kate Bowler wrote her book she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. She had a successful career, a best-selling book, a loving husband and a young son. It would be easy to view her achievements through the eyes of the prosperity gospel as having everything God wants for us and more, minus the deadly cancer.
With her new-found enlightenment Ms. Bowler wrote another book, Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved in which she attempts to rationalize the charmed life she had lived against the battle she was currently facing with a life threatening disease. For me, she dispels the bunk that God is the master manipulator in our lives, the puppeteer pulling the strings. We have all heard the saying “When God closes a door, He opens a window” but have you ever assigned that pronouncement to someone other than yourself? Have you ever looked at a person and wondered, why hasn’t God opened a window for them and asked what were they doing wrong?
As I have written before I attend a church whose focus is on the homeless. Each Sunday the pews of this church are filled with the haves and have-nots. We have people who drive brand new Audi SUV’s and live in big houses in prestigious zip codes sitting next to people who are pushing shopping carts with all of their worldly possessions contained in two trash bags living under a bridge. Two people, two different circumstances. Both believe fervently in the grace and blessings of Jesus Christ. Both exclaim at the top of their lungs that God is good but for whatever reason one has plenty and the other is cursed to rifle through garbage cans to find a half eaten hamburger. Why?
I have given-up trying to figure out what makes God happy and what makes Him angry. I no longer wonder when is God going to reward me for my good deeds. When will He take notice that I am trying to make the world a better place and allow me to win the lottery. I have learned that there is no shame in not knowing how God works or if God is present at all. Truthfully, for me, those who claim some sort of divine insight into the enter workings of God’s psyche are frauds. The thought that God exist as some massive bubble that encapsulates this world pushing people up or down, right or left is a fairytale. God, as a notion, is simply to big and to vast for our feeble, simple minds to grasp let alone understand or verbalize.
What I have come to accept is that the presence and concept of God resides in each of us. Likewise so does the presence and concept of Satan. Those that practice the prosperity gospel are just as likely to have accumulated their wealth, riches and fame through Satan as they were through Gods blessings but it is more convenient and certainly more acceptable and sells more books to praise God for our success and negate the bodies we stepped over to get to the top as unbelievers, unworthy of Gods grace.
Joel Osteen states that “if you keep your faith, you keep your trust, you keep the right attitude, if you’re grateful, you’ll see God open up new doors.” The question I have for Pastor Osteen and for all prosperity gospel practitioners is this, when will you know that you have been blessed by God? When your bank account is full or your heart?
“It’s like we’re all floating on the ocean, holding onto our own inner-tube, but people don’t seem to know that we are all sinking. Some are sinking faster than others, but we’re all sinking.” – Kate Bowler