What is the Prosperity Gospel?
The Prosperity Gospel, or health and wealth gospel, mainly has to do with what God desires for you. First, I will do my best to define the prosperity gospel. Second, we will look at how Satan and Job accuse God in regard to health and wealth. Then, we will look at how God answers these accusations, and what He truly desires for you. This will be accomplished by looking through the book of Job, understanding the retribution principle, and glancing systematically at God’s desires.
When we speak of God’s desires, its easy to flatten it out too far. Human’s desires can be complex. We desire all sorts of things. We desire to eat ice cream. We desire to look good. Obviously we cannot always at ice cream and at the same time look good (i.e. physically appealing). One desire would have to outweigh the other. And, as many philosophers would argue, we always act according to our highest desire (though that highest desire is always susceptible to change).
Why mention all that? Well, God acts according to his desires as well. And what were talking about here is, what is God’s highest desire for his children. Prosperity teachers argue that His highest desire for you is to be healthy (physically well) and wealthy (fiscally well). The term gospel simply refers to “good news.” Something the Greeks would hear being heralded in the streets, “ευονγελλιον!” The gospel, scripturally speaking, is simply what was the greatest message the New Testament authors wanted to communicate?
See how the two coincide? God’s highest goal for His children is the same as the New Testament authors’ greatest message. In other words, the New Testament authors (when using the term ‘gospel’) were communicating what they thought was God’s greatest desire for His children. So, what is this apex message for prosperity teachers? What is the crux of the matter (irony exuding) for the health and wealth gurus?
Read the ending prayer from Joel Osteen posted on one of his devotionals on July 4, 2018
Because of Christ, I am blessed. I am prosperous. I am strong. I am healthy. I am talented. I am creative. I am confident. I am secure. I am disciplined. I am focused. I am free from the past. I am free from fear. I am free from condemnation. I am free from addictions. I am free from lack. The right people are in my future. The right opportunities are headed my way. I will accomplish my dreams. I will overcome every obstacle. This is my year! Things have shifted in my favor. I am the redeemed of the Lord, and I say so today. I am free in Jesus’ Name!”
Check out what Benny Hinn says in a handwritten note from May, 2018:
And what he says about the Gospel in another article entitled Shining the Light of the Gospel, “Even when the circumstances appeared to be the darkest, God moved so the children of Israel were protected, prospered, and empowered beyond measure.”
What is God’s highest desire for his children, what is the greatest message in the Bible according to these teachers? According to them, that you should be healthy and wealthy. That’s what God wants for you more than anything else. He wants to bestow on you wealth and health, I mean, that’s why Jesus died according to Is. 53:4-5 and Matt. 8:16-17, right?
How Satan Wins
In the book of Job, Satan comes forward to accuse God. Satan believes he can put God to the test and win. And what are his accusations? Read this portion of Job 1 aloud: “9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.'” What is this focused on? Wealth.
Look a little further on in Job 2: “Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.'” What is this focused on? Health.
What does Satan believe here? He thinks Job is only “faithful” in order to be healthy and wealthy. If you take those things away, Satan can win two ways: 1. Job looses his faith, curses God for afflicting him for no reason. 2. Job repents needlessly to satisfy a capricious deity and get his wealth and health back.
You see, Satan knows what God’s highest desire for His children is: to be “blameless and upright… [one] who fears God and turns away from evil.” But Satan sets out to prove that Job’s highest desire is actually health and wealth. Satan wins when he convinces people that God’s highest desire for His own is health and wealth. And, that’s precisely what these prosperity teachers are professing. Thankfully, in the story of Job, Satan didn’t win.
So, Who Wins?
God faces two adversaries in Job: The adversary, Satan, and Job himself. You see, Job’s accusation was that God had deprived him of justice, and Job required a hearing. So, how will God stand among these accusers? On the one hand, Satan accusing him of only having followers who love Him for His provision. On the other hand, a follower saying He’s lacking in justice for lacking in deserved provision.
You see, after the Mosaic covenant’s blessings and curses, a theological principle became widely taught and well known: the retribution principle. This taught that God blesses the righteous and curses the wicked. Job was a righteous man (according to God himself!); therefore, how is it possible that he not be blessed?
The retribution principle is generally true. But the wisdom literature explains the corollary is not true. We cannot look at someone who is materially wealthy and in good health and automatically think, “he must be righteous!” Why? Because God’s justice cannot be reduced to a simple formula. All the characters in the book of Job were partly right. The friends were right that suffering is related to sin, but partly wrong because they tried to apply it universally in every circumstance. Job was somewhat right in that he argued that the righteous sometimes suffer. Elihu was somewhat correct in believing that suffering can lead to correction and teaching. But none of these explanations were fully satisfactory.
God had to come set things straight.
When God speaks to Job, He never defends His justice. God does explain that His justice is not one of the pillars of the universe. You see, claiming knowledge over some “retribution principle” is claiming knowledge on how the universe works. Job demanding justice from the retribution principle is like my six-year-old observing a perceived malfunctioning clock and saying, “I know how the hands on the clock move! They should move forward, not backwards!” Yes, that is a true observation. Now, say I bring the clock to my child and open up the back and challenge him to explain every gear. How would he do?
That’s exactly what God does to Job. Job is demanding justice on how he sees one part of the universe operate. God then “opens up the back,” so to speak, and challenges Job to explain every detail. Job is left speechless. We know of a retribution principle, sure, but we pride ourselves too much when we think we know every detail of how it should work. Only God knows the cause and effect of every circumstance and can make the retribution principle work at all times and for our good even when we can’t see it functioning. We don’t know the past fully. We don’t know the future whatsoever. We don’t understand creation. We cannot subdue and provide for the animal kingdom. How can we presume to know what’s best to make the retribution principle work?
God is not dependent on a principle in how he operates. The retribution principle is under Him, not vice versa. God always wins. His speeches “remind us that a Person, not a principle is Lord.” cf. C Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books, rev. and expanded ed. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007, 1988), 128.
What is God’s Highest Desire for His Own?
So, if God’s highest desire for His own is not health and wealth, then what is it? Well, he desires that all men be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). He does not delight in the destruction of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23). So, how can man be saved, delivered from destruction and into his presence? They have to be holy as God is holy.
No man can accomplish that on their own. Even Job realized that: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25). Job recognized the vacuum between him and God in the midst of his dilemma. And the New Testament authors fill that void quite well. “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
How can God be just and at the same time justify wicked men? Because of the blood of Jesus. God highest desire for you, Christian, is to be more like Jesus. Not to have money or protection or success or strength or talent or security or self-confidence or focus. Instead pray, Lord, conform us into the image of Your Son.
Then you will have all the wealth money could never buy. All the protection from the hand no power can take you from. All your self-confidence will become God-confidence. All you focus will be placed on Him. And you will have a deeper healing.