Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Prosperity Gospel: My Thoughts

Where on earth did we go wrong? How could such a misleading doctrine have found its way into our Church’s teachings? Do people actually equate ‘personal wealth’ with true greatness in this day and age? Of all the people that ever lived, none was ever as deserving of having lived in wealth and splendour as our Lord Jesus Christ, and yet He chose to be born into a relatively humble life – might He have been trying to prove a point?

This issue really disturbs me because it portrays a watering-down of the Christian Faith. It is to tell people that they will principally know that they find favour in God’s eyes according to the material blessings that will be bestowed upon them in their lives. Are we supposed to give a lot so that we can receive a lot (a ‘reciprocity’ of sorts)? Is this the station that we have demoted our Heavenly Father to?

I believe that it is very useful to reflect on the very prayer that the Lord Himself gave us.

- Our Father who art in Heaven
1. Hallowed be Thy name
2. Thy Kingdom come
3. Thy Will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven
4. Give us this day our daily bread
5. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us
6. And lead us not into temptation
7. But deliver us from Evil
- For the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory are Yours, now and forever. Amen.

Simple formula for a prayer actually: a salutation, 7 requests and an ending. What is most revealing about this prayer is that one request, above all others, unifies all parts of the prayer - request no. 3: “Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven”

The whole prayer, as with all prayers (though it might not be explicitly stated) rests on God’s Will. There is no need for reciprocity because this 3rd request in a prayer that many of us have prayed since our childhood is actually us submitting ourselves to our Father’s Will. This means that some of us will receive great material blessings in this life and others will not, but it does not imply that our Father loves us any less; it simply means that our path in life will have to be different. In fact, for those who will be very “blessed” a note of caution has to be exercised, for “With great power comes great responsibility.”

That last line might resonate with ardent followers of the Spiderman franchise; however, almost 2000 years ago someone came up with another way of stating the same exact thing:

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48)

This puts things in context: to receive more in terms of blessings, wealth or talent implies that a whole lot is also expected of us; a greater lot, in fact, than from those without. It is thus unfortunate for me to hear my fellow people “beating others over the head” with their blessings. None of us chooses the situation into which we are born, the families we find ourselves amongst, or to some extent the opportunities that fall into our laps. Put in another way, as beings bound by time & space, we need to realize that if God were to shift the delicate threads of time & space around us, He could actually change everything in our lives that we take for granted. All our “blessings” could be gone and the dynamics of our lives could drastically change for the worse. Hence, no matter what station we find ourselves in life, we have to HUMBLY acknowledge both our fragile existence in this world, and the fact that circumstance plays a big role in who we are.

I do not adhere to the notion that it is sinful for people to be rich, and poverty is the right option; neither do I uphold that poverty is punishment and ‘prosperity’ is the true sign of blessing. In line with the virtue of Temperance, I believe that most things (which are not inherently evil), within their proper setting and undertaken in moderation, are in line with God’s will. Hence, the riches in our life, to whatever extent we will experience them, are good so long as they take their rightful places in our lives – subjugated by our religious thought. To place both these issues at par basically entails elevating ‘material wealth’ and desecrating ‘religious thought’.

The extent to which the notions of ‘material wealth’ and ‘religious thought’ ends up being blended is precisely the reason why I understand more concretely that our Lord’s words will come to pass: “The first will be last, and the last will be first”. People throughout the ages have made the mistake of equating ‘wealth’ and ‘religion’; it is the same mistake that characterized the tribulations of Job, and it is the same mistake that Christ tried to rectify during His mission here on earth. I believe it was Christ’s very intention to correct this misconception by the life He lived, and true to this, the bulk of His life was spent as a lowly carpenter.

His example shows that everyone – from the heights of royalty to the lowest of the low – has a role to play in this world; that there is just as much Greatness to be found in ordinary daily tasks as there is in the miracles that He performed; that Greatness comes from WITHIN and not from WITHOUT.

In truth, I think the word ‘prosperity’ needs to be redefined (within the religious context) because that is where most people miss the point. If we choose to define it according to the Fads that characterize our changing lifestyle, then prosperity could come to represent the latest gadgets, cars, rims, fashions, mansions (you name it). This of course is a twisted way of going about things because a few centuries ago one was considered rather prosperous, say, if they took more than two baths a week in England. No one today would really go about judging prosperity in the same way.

If we truly believe that our religion is timeless, then we definitely require timeless markers by which to gauge the ‘prosperity’ in our faith; ‘Everlasting values’ so to speak. And these ‘Everlasting Values’ are numerous, and they remain as potent today as they’ve ever been; things like ‘showing gratitude’, ‘caring for the less fortunate’, ‘taking time to listen and counsel those who have problems’, ‘protecting the weak’, ‘encouraging others’, ‘correcting those who have erred’, ‘showing mercy to others’, ‘bringing a smile to someone else’s face’ and so on. I dare say that as a janitor in college I witnessed these values in my supervisors and fellow workmates, and I am a better person for it. Some of these affiliates of mine will never know anything more than a simple life; some of them will never share the podium with the ruling elite; some will never directly influence more than the handful of the people in their spheres of interaction; but in the grand scheme of things, that is alright because they are making the most of what’s been given to them. Their Greatness may not have a far-reaching global effect, but it will mean the world to those who encounter them. And for this, they will earn their Blessing in full measure; (a measure that could very well outweigh that of more famous individuals).

A friend of mine (who is currently courting the notion of Solipsism) recently asked me why it is that I choose to do good in this world. Is it, perhaps, because I expect a reward from God - after all, that is why a lot of Christians do it, right?

I was taken aback because it truly is one of those hard questions to answer. But, the answer to his question can be revealed by sifting through the answer to yet another age-old question: “What is it that makes this world go round?”

People have answered this question many ways from time to time, but the answer that rings true to me in this situation is “PEOPLE” (or even more critically, “PEOPLE’S GOOD DEEDS”). Consider that for a world where it is easier to let things run amok, where entropy rules, where unjust people prosper much faster than the just, where it takes communities of people working together to bring about good versus one misguided fool with a bomb to put all that hard work asunder. Consider that with all the negatives seeming to be heaped against us, we are still doing pretty well for a world.

We survive because of all the good that people do; the good that is done free-of-charge, without the expectation of a reward; the good that people will do for other people who neglect them, despise them or even cause them harm. One of Christianity’s crowning moments – Christ’s crucifixion - is testament to this type of good; that the greatest being who ever lived would still die for those very lowly people who betrayed Him, who cursed, taunted and mocked Him is indeed true Greatness. In fact, this type of Greatness – these good deeds – is the only way we can function optimally. And I think having the world running optimally would be a good enough reward for those of us who live in it. However, because our free will is a blessing, which we can use in any way we deem fit, to use it in a manner that is in league with God’s Will earns us God’s Blessing, perhaps not in this world, but in the One to come.

If we agree to submit ourselves to God’s Will, then we have to acknowledge that He might say NO! (Remember King David’s request to build the Temple). It is pretty strange that some people cannot wrap their minds around such a simple fact since the ‘Language of No’ is the first language you really learnt from your parents. Initially, we just understood it to mean that we were not meant to do things because our parents said no. Eventually, however, as we mature, we learn the justification behind our parents’ prohibition. And, since God is the Ultimate Parent, I can’t help but feel that sometimes He will keep us from receiving certain blessings that we desperately want in our lives. But our Father is NOT malicious, and I believe with prayer, maturity and hindsight He will eventually reveal to us the reasoning behind His NO! (Remember this!!!)

Essentially, it all boils down to the fact that true ‘prosperity’ comes from within. No appendages, addendums or cosmetics on the outside can ever make up for something that is missing on the inside. Remember that God’s Will bodes well for you too and may God Bless you no matter what your station is in life.

1 comment:

Hope said...

Richard your blog is fantastic,,,you write very well,,,infact that don't cut it,,,it's really on a level,,,i figure as you are not blogging anymore you are working on a book,,,coz,,,i for one look forward to hearing more of your thoughts,,,when did you get so clever? good job.tabz.