In spiritual counseling, one of the most difficult spiritual errors to correct regarding Christianity is the error of a “Gospel of Plenty”. Sometimes it is referred to as the “Gospel of Prosperity” or the “Health and Wealth Gospel”.
Here is the core of the error: Many believe that if we are good Christians, God should reward us in this life. The opposite also occurs, with the belief that God is punishing us when bad things happen.
We hear it all the time:
- “Why me, Lord?” (When something goes wrong)
- “I am praying to win the “Lottery” (Or some kind of reward or windfall)
If God doesn’t grant us our wish, our faith in Him diminishes.
This kind of belief is not Christianity, but paganism. We see this error of belief throughout our lives. Nevertheless, Jesus did not experience a “Gospel of Plenty”. Jesus was persecuted and crucified. John the Baptist did not experience a “Gospel of Plenty”. He was in prison and beheaded. Mary and Joseph did not experience a “Gospel of Plenty”. They had to flee Herod’s armies and go into exile in Egypt. The Apostles did not experience a “Gospel of Plenty”. Most of them were martyrs. Such a belief simply is not Christian.
The “Gospel of Plenty” is a pagan belief. Pagans believe that God rewards and punishes in this life. It is pagan when many people seek “Fortune Tellers” to find their way to reward, or to avoid evil in their world. Again, this is pagan, and not Christian. God has always taught that we are to avoid “Fortune Tellers”, throughout Scripture.
Look again at Job in the first reading. We don’t know if the Book of Job is a real biography or not, but it certainly is an important teaching tool. Job was very wealthy and well-respected, and he had a large family. We hear that,
“In the land of Uz* there was a blameless and upright man named Job, who feared God and avoided evil.”
Satan doesn’t believe Job was really God-fearing. He said to God,
“Is it for nothing that Job is God-fearing? Have you not surrounded him and his family and all that he has with your protection? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock are spread over the land.
But now put forth your hand and touch all that he has, and surely he will curse you to your face.”
The claim was that man will only love and fear the Lord if we are well off. Satan is banking on Job being simply a pagan who expects God’s bounty because he is upright and good. The entire Book of Job is about testing Job’s love and fear of the Lord by severe hardship and sacrifice. His family is killed; his property is devastated. Job continues to trust in God.
Job’s friends bring him the belief that God is punishing him for past bad deeds, i.e., the “Gospel of Plenty”. Job insists he is innocent.
Eventually, Job is restored and God does not forsake him. Job did not sin. From the Book of Job we hear him say,
“Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb,
and naked shall I go back there.*
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
blessed be the name of the LORD!”
And, in another place Job says,
“We accept good things from God; should we not accept evil?” Here “evil” means hardship and testing.
Job’s point is that everything we have comes from God, even life itself. God is our creator. At no point are we justified in criticizing or condemning God. We are His creation. He is not “Our” creation. Job does not mean that God gives us “evil”, but that we have no right to expect blessings and plenty. We are not the judge of all the good we need. Our Creator is the only judge. We have no right to expect a “Gospel of Plenty”. We do have an obligation to bless our God and give thanks to him.
St. Paul preaches Jesus’ Gospel despite his own sufferings. Paul writes,
Brothers and sisters:
If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!
Paul was driven by love of his listeners, to save as many people as possible from eternal death.
I understand Paul’s pressure to preach. If I do not preach the Gospel, how will you know the Gospel of Life? I don’t have an option. I must preach it, like Paul, to save as many as possible. That is my obligation.
We each have obligations as a result of our Baptism. We have been given the gift of Life Eternal. We need to give this life to as many as will listen and repent and come to Jesus. This is the Gospel we preach. We serve Christ, who came to serve us.
Look how Peter’s mother-in-law sees her obligation in the Gospel. Jesus enters Peter’s house coming from the synagogue, along with Peter, Andrew, James and John. The disciples must have been overwhelmed by Jesus after seeing the healings and preaching in the synagogue. Upon entering Peter’s house, they find Peter’s mother-in-law very ill with a fever. Jesus heals her on the spot. What does she do? She gets right up and serves them. This is like a Baptism catechism. She has been healed. She was ill. She is no longer ill. She feels great. The sickness has been replaced by health. Of course she gets up and serves. What else are we supposed to do?
We have been healed of the sickness of Death. Death no longer has power over us. What are we to do? We serve God and His Church. That is what our Baptism calls us to do. We don’t hide from the Church, we help build it up, so that many may be saved. Because we have been healed by our Baptism, we need to learn to respond maturely to Jesus, to come out of the shadows of the world, to stand in the light of faith and say,
“Here I am Lord. I come to do your will. You can count on me.”