The Gospel and Expectations of Suffering/Prosperity

(Kathleen) #1

Hi all!
I have been mulling some things over off the back of a couple of conversation threads about the prosperity gospel and the power of prayer (esp. when it’s declamatory) here on Connect. @roze4jesus brought us her questions here, and then @Kyrie has been sharing his own perspective with me, which has been most interesting and enlightening. @Brian_Weeks, you’ve also mentioned elsewhere that you came from more of a ‘prosperity’ background, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this. :slight_smile:

I come from a Reformed background, and I have only been exposed to real charismatic expressions of faith within the last 3-4 years. And one of the (not-so-fun) things I’ve been learning about myself is just how deep my pessimism and cynicism runs. I have the tendency to always expect suffering and hardship and am skeptical when things seem ‘too easy’. If it’s worth doing, it’s going to be difficult, right?? #protestantworkethic

But as God has taught me more about Himself, I have definitely been softening, but I still find myself skeptical of the message of people who declare victory upon victory in the Christian life…even though I very much desire victory in my life! It seems too simplistic.

However, in my reading this morning, I came across an excerpt that resonated deep within me and helped me begin to understand my internal tug-of-war. It’s from NT Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began

The victory of the cross will be implemented through the means of the cross. One of the dangers of saying too easily that “Christ died for our sins” is to imagine that thereafter there would be no more dying to do, no more suffering to undergo. The same problem occurs when we too eagerly celebrate the one-off victory as though there would be no more follow-up victories to be won

The fact that victory had already been won when Jesus died did not mean that Herod wouldn’t kill James, but it did mean that Peter was then wonderfully rescued from jail…The fact that victory had already been won did not mean that Paul and Silas wouldn’t be beaten, but it did mean that when they sang hymns at midnight, the prison doors were shaken open by an earthquake and they found themselves converting the jailer and demanding - and receiving - a public apology from the magistrates. [Chapter 14: “Passover People”]

:dart: :exploding_head: Once again it seems that the Christian life is walked along a tightrope strung between tensions…only this time it’s between the simultaneous expectations of both suffering and victory. If you go too far down the victory-only path, you get the prosperity gospel - God as our genie in a bottle. Go too far down the suffering-only route, and you get masochism (in the general sense) - God as our abuser.

I wonder where you stand on the scale? Do you, like me, default towards expecting suffering? Or do you default toward expecting blessings? What are some of the trappings of both tendencies? And how can we learn from and be encouraged by one another?

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(Sara Isaac) #2

Oh Kathleen! This is beautiful. It’s so good to find someone who is also struggling with this. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about it. And I started to believe that we are afraid to embrace joy! Even myself. I think that we don’t preach joy as much as suffering. I can’t remember when was the last time I heard a sermon about joy. I can’t actually grasp -but trying to learn- how to have a base line of emotions where you don’t swing between fluffy euphoria and heavy-dark-gloomy sadness, and still enjoy that mature deep dense of satisfaction and joy. Pray for me to get a hold of it.
I loved that excerpt from NT Wright’s book:

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Suffering is apparently an inherent feature of life in general and of christian life in particular. But the thing is that Jesus didn’t conquer death on the cross by the resurrection on Sunday, he conquered death through death. “…so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—”
Hebrews 2:14 NIV
This is puzzling. But that’s the mystery in our walk with God. Our minds can’t fully comprehend how two opposite things can exist simultaneously. Maybe suffering and joy are two sides of the same coin. Paul wrote something like that in 2 Corinthians that always felt like “That doesn’t make any sense. Yet, I feel this is true and doable”:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
2 Corinthians 4:7‭-‬10 NIV

Happy Easter!

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(Micah Bush) #3

Hello Kathleen. I find it interesting that you grew up Reformed and have moved toward the Charismatic tradition in recent years, since my journey has been almost the opposite. Perhaps that speaks to personality differences, or perhaps that speaks to the flaws in both camps. In any case, it really makes one think…

The danger I see with both the Protestant work ethic and the prosperity gospel is that they are both earth-bound: Both promise worldly prosperity if we work hard enough or believe hard enough. Of course, neither one holds up perfectly in the real world, and both can become a source of tyranny over our lives. The gospel reminds us over and over to pursue heavenly treasures that endure, and to trust the God who loves us to provide for our needs, whether by the work of our hands or less orthodox means. Contentment, not worldly standards of success, must be our pursuit in regards to earthly life (I Timothy 6:6-10).

Suffering is, as you say, a bit of a rough area. On one hand, Jesus taught that suffering and persecution go hand-in-hand with following Him (Matthew 5:10-12; Mark 10:29-30, Matthew 10:16-25), so we can’t (as so many in America do today) treat them as a tragedies to be avoided and protected against at all costs. On the other hand, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing the converse, that if we suffer, then we are doing the will of God. This, of course, is not true; sometimes, we suffer because we act foolishly or are odious to the people around us. It takes wisdom to walk the line between the extremes, to accept that some suffering is inevitable while continually asking ourselves whether we are bringing it upon ourselves unnecessarily.

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(Kenny) #4

Hi @Kmac, thanks for sharing about this confusion. It would be a lie to say that I am not slightly confused by this concern of blessing vs suffering as well. However, in relation to some of the areas raised, I do think I might have an answer for that, which I hope is logical and coherent to your beliefs and values. :slight_smile:

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<< Christianity is w/o hardships? >>

This is a big no! Haha. As you quoted from your reading, there will be hardships / problems in the Christian life.

They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:8)

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (Ephesians 6:16)

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

These passages clearly state that a Christian life will be faced with “heat” and “fiery darts”. The Enemy is also present to “steal and kill and destroy”. However, these issues for a believer "will not be felt” and “will be extinguished”.

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I like the analogy of the Enemy being the hunter and the believer being the sheep. Usually after shooting into the herd, there will be 3 outcomes, which are handled differently:

  • Those that are killed.

There is no need to care about them, because the hunter can come back to collect them later on. These represent people who are dead in the spirit, aka non-believers.

  • Those that have escaped.

The hunter will likely not care about them as well, since they have already escaped. These people may be ones who have not be hit by issues (e.g. losing of job, broken marriage, etc). Usually when there isn’t any issue going on with their lives, the Enemy will not waste time trying to sow lies that God is not taking care of them, since it is hard to change their mind when nothing is going wrong.

  • Those that are injured.

The hunter will try to chase after them, because they are only injured and may still escape. These represent believers who may be going through a tough time in certain areas in their life. It is times like these where the believer need support to stand strong on God’s promises, and be reminded that God is faithful to deliver them.

I do believe that the Christian life is not just difficult, but impossible. That is why the solution to living the Christian life is through Jesus, and Him only. It is intended to be that way.

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<< There is power in speaking. >>

Hmm, I do think that the Word of Faith movement comes from many key verses in the bible, but let me just share from my POV if that is okay with you? :slight_smile:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (Genesis 1:3-5)

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

"Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. (Mark 11:23)

The bible clearly shows through Genesis (didn’t want to quote everything, since it’s a portion of the bible most people are more familiar with… I hope? :slight_smile: ) He created the entire universe by the act of speaking. Therefore, speaking (at least from God’s POV) has power. This leads us to the next verse above where “mankind was created in His image”. This supports that we are in a way, (and I say this with all reverence and respect), a form of “mini-god”, and should have similar traits as God, our Father, though maybe not at the same extent as creating universes. And of course, the 3rd verse shows the actual application of it, where Jesus said that “by speaking, you are able to move mountains”, which some may claim that it is symbolic in meaning, but there must be some truth in the value / power of speaking still regardless of how “powerful” it can / may not be.

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<< Biblical Example of Importance of Speaking >>

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” (Luke 1:11-20)

It is interesting why the angel Gabriel shut Zechariah’s mouth (of all things). I do believe that there is power in speaking, and that is also why his mouth had to be shut - to prevent him from speaking wrong things and affecting the plans of God (for the sake of relevance to this topic, I won’t go into the determinism vs free will discussion).

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<< Biblical Emphasis on Speaking >>

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified. (1 Corinthians 14:1-5)

It is interesting that the power of prophecy and tongues come by “speaking". The apostle Paul also recommends that we speak as much as possible.

So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)

And I believe that the magic in speaking is that as we speak God’s Word (e.g. through singing praises), we are also hearing ourselves, and this is one of the ways in which we can bolster our faith.

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<< What did Christ die for? Does He need to “die again” (figurative / literally)? >>

I think it is necessary to dive into what “sin” is in order to understand this better.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3)

Παρέδωκα γὰρ ὑμῖν ἐνπρώτοις, ὃ καὶ παρέλαβον, ὅτι Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν ὑπὲρ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν κατὰ τὰς γραφάς, (Greek, writing from left to right since it’s more convenient for us)

paredōka gar hymin en prōtois ho kai parelabon hoti Christos apethanen hyper tōn hamartiōn hēmōn kata tas graphas (Transliteration)

The word for sin used here is (ἁμαρτιῶν - hamartiōn). Looking into the root word under Strong’s Concordance, which is ἁμαρτία - hamartia. This word is actually a noun. If you were to compare it to other instances in the bible where sin is used:

No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9)

אֵינֶ֨נּוּ גָד֜וֹל בַּבַּ֣יִת הַזֶּה֮ מִמֶּנִּי֒ וְלֹֽא־ חָשַׂ֤ךְ מִמֶּ֙נִּי֙ מְא֔וּמָה כִּ֥י אִם־ אוֹתָ֖ךְ בַּאֲשֶׁ֣ר אַתְּ־ אִשְׁתּ֑וֹ וְאֵ֨יךְ אֶֽעֱשֶׂ֜ה
הָרָעָ֤ה הַגְּדֹלָה֙ הַזֹּ֔את וְחָטָ֖אתִי לֵֽאלֹהִֽים׃
(Hebrew, read from right to left, can’t change it unfortunately)

’e-‘ĕ-śeh wə-’êḵ ’iš-tōw; ’at- ba-’ă-šer ’ō-w-ṯāḵ ’im- kî mə-’ū-māh, mim-men-nî ḥā-śaḵ wə-lō- mim-men-nî haz-zeh bab-ba-yiṯ ḡā-ḏō-wl ’ê-nen-nū
lê-lō-hîm. wə-ḥā-ṭā-ṯî haz-zōṯ, hag-gə-ḏō-lāh hā-rā-‘āh (Transliteration, each word group is read from left to right, but the order of word group will be from right to left, for easier comparison)

In this case, the word for sin used is (וְחָטָ֖אתִי) - wə-ḥā-ṭā-ṯî, which has a root word of (חָטָא) chata. This word is actually a verb. So to answer the question of many which claimed that Christ died for “sin” spiritually, because we are still sinning despite being sinners, is actually not accurate. Based on the above, Christ actually died for sin (noun) rather than sin (verb). That is also why sinful actions still exist. If He died for the action (verb) itself, then we will either no longer be sinning, or that He failed in His role because we are still sinning.

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<< It is okay to expect blessings, but we can’t choose how, and might not know what we need. >>

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11)

I do believe that as parents (or just analogical, if anyone doesn’t have kids), when we provide for our children, we don’t tell our children, “Hey, I plan to give you something for your day. However it is spiritual only, not something tangible. It will be good for you.” When we give them something, we are definitely gonna make sure that it is something practical (or at least from their perspective). Therefore, as we are but an incomplete mirror of what God the Father is, I do think it is okay to expect tangible blessings, rather than just completely spiritual ones.

This is not to say that there aren’t spiritual treasures as well, but I hope this opens up the conversation to say that tangible blessings are possible.

I shared previously in another thread that God is not against blessing you, but He is against the blessing destroying you.

Take for example if you own a car, and you have a kid. Indirectly, it is safe to say that your kid “owns” your asset (and in this case, the car). However, that doesn’t mean that you will just allow him / her to drive your car. You aren’t against perhaps giving the car to your child when they grow older, but you are against the car destroying the child’s life if they are not taught how to handle it.

Likewise, God is not against giving you the $1 mil. He is more concerned that getting that $1 mil out of a sudden will destroy you as a person. He is into character growth, so much more than just prosperity growth, because the former is what is going to help you hold on to the blessing after He has given it to you.

Another key point to note is that God knows what we need / want, even more so that us ourselves. Many times we may pray for blessings like wealth (for e.g.), when the reason for wealth is that we want a good life for our family. So the question is, why not ask for the good life right from the start? We tend to twist God’s arm to say that, “God please bless me… in this way… or that way…” Not only do we want to choose the blessing, we do want control over the process in which it comes as well. However, that is not the case when it comes to God. Many times in the bible, He blesses in a way contrary to what people think is proper, and the blessing still comes through.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (John 9 :1-7).

Anyone can tell you that it is just a total opposite to rub spit and mud into your eyes for healing, but the healing came through nonetheless.

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<< Revelation is required. >>

To tie the above up, I do also believe that revelation is required for us to activate the blessings.

Linking from the previous point on “we don’t get to choose the how / what”, I do believe that revelation is required in order for our speaking to work. It is not that easy to just say that “Okay so speaking works, and therefore, I just declare whatever I want, and it should happen.” Just because we proclaim that Jesus should return tomorrow, doesn’t mean that it will happen.

I feel that when whatever we wish to declare falls in line with the revelation that we have caught (inspired by the Holy Spirit), that is when miracles happen. And it is through our speaking that the doorway to the miraculous happens.

Though how / what revelation is is subjective, but that is a separate issue altogether. :slight_smile:

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To build on @saraisaac ’s input on the death at the cross.

I do believe that the death and resurrection goes hand in hand together. The reason Christ died was because He took on the punishment of all our sins (past, present and future). However, there is a need for His resurrection, because otherwise, we will never ever know if the payment was sufficient or not. If it isn’t, then maybe we will still be held liable for the sins that we have / will commit. The key reason why He rose from the dead is because the sacrifice was an overpayment, and His resurrection proves just that.

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Phews, haha. Just sharing a different POV on some of the things that were brought up in this thread. As always, everything is up for a deeper discussion if anyone prefers, because I may have made mistakes in my studies as well. :slight_smile:

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(Kathleen) #5

Hi, all!
SO sorry it’s taken me so long to make it back to this thread, but I wanted to thank you for taking the time to respond. The sermon today in my church actually looked a bit at these concepts, which made me remember to come back here!

@MicahB, I especially appreciated your insight on both the prosperity gospel and the Protestant work ethic being all about what we do (whether by faith or our works). It was helpful to connect the two like that in my own mind.

And, @Kyrie, thank you SO much for taking all that time to compose and communicate your thoughts. I had not looked much into the narrative of the Word of Faith movement, so it was helpful to think through how the very act of speaking can be a powerful event. I am learning this more and more in my counselling studies, esp. as we engage with the idea of rhema and how God speaks to us and through us. I also really appreciated this statement:

This helped me understand a bit more of the middle-‘prosperity’ range of the spectrum. And I would agree that blessings in this life will be both tangible and spiritual, though I wonder if our definition of ‘blessing’ changes as our relationship with God grows? Similar to what you said…

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(Kenny) #6

Hmm, I guess it depends on the perspective that you are looking at it from.

If you are seeing it from a believer -> God perspective, then I guess perhaps yes. That is because our perception of what a blessing is changes with our maturity both physically and spiritually, and also situation. Take for e.g. a toy and $1 mil. To a child, the former is the blessing instead of the latter, whereas to an adult, it’s vice versa. So I guess, yes, it “changes” if we look at it from this POV.

However, if we were to see it from a God -> believer perspective, I guess pretty much anything beneficial / additive is considered a blessing?

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

There may be times when we do not see the blessing even after we have received it. We might even consider it “bad”, but later realise how much of a blessing it was, hence the term “blessing in disguise”. :slight_smile:

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In relation to “rhema” or “utterance” it is interesting that the bible actually places quite a strong emphasis on the power of speaking:

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21)

After all, we are talking about life and death over here, which is supposedly the “last enemy”. Furthermore, the bible declares us as “royal priesthood”:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Where the word of a king is, there is power; And who may say to him, “What are you doing?” (Ecclesiastes 8:4)

The Levitical priests shall step forward, for the LORD your God has chosen them to minister and to pronounce blessings in the name of the LORD and to decide all cases of dispute and assault. (Deuteronomy 21:5)

That we are given the ability to “speak and have power” and also “speak to settle all dispute and assault” which further emphasises the importance God has given to speaking.