Sunday, August 23, 2009

More on Expectations...

It's been a couple of days since I posted anything, and I wanted to add a little bit to the last post. I came down pretty hard on the "Health and Wealth" theology that's found in so many places. I still feel that way, even more so now that I've seen a couple of recent infomercials from people preaching this doctrine.

Early yesterday morning I saw a bit of a segment on a cable channel with some preacher talking about how poverty was against God's will for us. He was dissecting the biblical story about the feeding of the five thousand, from John 6, and was using it to explain how if you cast what you have before the Lord, he'll return it to you multiplied many times. I don't know where this guy got his understanding of this passage, but he read a different Bible than I do. Here's what the actual passage says, from the NET Bible:

The Feeding of the Five Thousand

6:1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberias). 6:2 A large crowd was following him because they were observing the miraculous signs he was performing on the sick. 6:3 So Jesus went on up the mountainside and sat down there with his disciples. 6:4 (Now the Jewish feast of the Passover was near.) 6:5 Then Jesus, when he looked up and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread so that these people may eat?” 6:6 (Now Jesus said this to test him, for he knew what he was going to do.) 6:7 Philip replied, “Two hundred silver coins worth of bread would not be enough for them, for each one to get a little.” 6:8 One of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 6:9 “Here is a boy who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what good are these for so many people?”

6:10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” (Now there was a lot of grass in that place.) So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 6:11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed the bread to those who were seated. He then did the same with the fish, as much as they wanted. 6:12 When they were all satisfied, Jesus said to his disciples, “Gather up the broken pieces that are left over, so that nothing is wasted.” 6:13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces from the five barley loaves left over by the people who had eaten.

Nowhere in that whole passage can I see anything about how the boy reaped a harvest of riches from having given his bread and dried fish to Jesus. He may have eaten some of what Jesus provided, but the point of the story (I think) is to show that when you give something to Kingdom work, your efforts can be multiplied and have far more impact than just what you provide. There's no hint that it's going to come back and benefit you alone; if anything, the benefit radiates outward from you. The benefit that you get is knowing that you're part of this work. Notice that Jesus didn't create all the food for the multitude out of thin air--there was a seed, provided by the boy. We're involved, if this story is any indication, in the work of creating the kind of world that we're called to make, but we can rely upon more power than we ourselves can muster.

Anyway, let's just say that the anti-poverty preacher was doing a bit of really adventurous exegesis, and leave it at that. The next thing I saw was this morning, on the same channel, when I caught another infomercial for "miracle prosperity handkerchiefs" available FREE from the preacher who was hawking them. I didn't catch his name, but he was on TV, so that must mean that it's for real. Right? If it's on TV, then it must be true. This is the modern-day equivalent of what I've heard from less than sophisticated folks, that if something's in print, it must be true. I don't really think things work that way, but let's just move along.

Later this morning, same channel once again, there was some guy selling a program of "Financial Breakthroughs" that involves worship and "strategies and techniques" that you could use to tap into God's plan for your financial prosperity.

In something just over 24 hours, without any intention on my part, I came across three instances of some preacher hawking the notion of "Health and Wealth." Why did I find these? Is it because I was meant to? I doubt if that's the reason, frankly. I think I found them because this distortion of the gospel message is something that people want to hear, and there are plenty of people who want to sell it to a willing audience. People respond to anyone telling them that if they just do this or that, they can reap the harvest many times over. This is a popular message. That's true not only in this country, but in countries around the world. I've heard that it's a popular theme for preaching in Africa, for instance. Rich country or poor, this message gets attention and response from people eager for a fast track to riches. This urge to get a quick-rich-fix is probably associated with the popularity of gambling, playing the lottery, all those sorts of things. Heck, I've played PowerBall before--why not? Maybe my number would come up...

The message, whether wrapped in gospel allusions or more secular terms, is still that you can get rich by doing something other than working hard and saving and being thrifty. If you can just master that inside track, that secret knowledge, or put that offering in the envelope to Preacher Bob, you're going to get rich. And be healthy. And probably get better looking in the bargain. Even as people debunk the preaching, explain why the Bible doesn't say what these guys say it does, explain the odds of coming out ahead at the boats, even as we try to be rational about all this, the message still resonates with people hungry for something they feel they don't have. I doubt if that will change anytime soon. ...sigh...

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