Sitting in Mass on a recent Sunday, I sang along to the Responsorial Psalm with joy:
“I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy ofrnsalvation.”
I was struck with the last word of the response,rnand played it over and over again in my head as the Mass went on.
The idea that the joy the Lord gives us when wernturn to him in times of suffering is the joy of salvation didn’t seem to be arnvery comforting one, at least in the short term. That feeling of discomfortrnmade me realize I may be wishing that God provided something good for mernimmediately, some earthly joy or well-being, when I turn to him in my hour ofrnneed. I found myself thinking that I may have fallen into the trap of a form ofrnthe Prosperity Gospel, and that gave me some serious pause.
As Catholics, we tend to look upon “Health andrnWealth Preachers” with skepticism and even disdain. We decry the “ProsperityrnGospel” as a dangerous twisting of the Good News that leads people astray.
Summed up, the Prosperity Gospel is an idea that links Christianity, prayer, trust in God, and tithing, with material and worldly success. It seems to be a uniquely American theological idea, that according to arn2006 Times poll, is ascribed to by about 17% of American Christians.
A recent article on Vox about the extremely popular Prosperity Gospel Preacher Joel Osteen explained: “Throughout the twentieth century, proponents of this particularly American blend of theology envisaged God as a kind of banker, dispensing money [and blessings] to the deserving, with Jesus as a model business executive.”
Intellectually, I know this view of the Gospel is inauthentic to the teachings of Christ and the early Church. However, in all honesty, I think I fall into this mode of thinking without really recognizing it.
As I have worked to bring myself closer to God and his will in my life, I have become more easily frustrated when faced with pain, suffering, and obstacles. When things go wrong, I look up to Heaven as if to say, “Really? I’m trying my best down here and this is what you’re giving me?”
After surviving some misfortune or tragedy in my life, I walk around feeling as if God owes me something in return for my faithfulness. Things go bad at work, I feel like God owes me an easy time at home. A family member dies unexpectedly, and I feel like God needs to ensure everyone else I know remains in perfect health. I get a flat tire during my commute, and I almost demand God make everything else go smoothly for the next month or so.
It’s my own personal Prosperity Gospel. As I grow closer to God, I expect he is going to make my life better.
It doesn’t take much exploration in Scripture,rnor life experience for that matter, to see that this idea of God and hisrnblessings is a lie.
Jesus did not come to preach a ProsperityrnGospel, he came to preach a Perseverance Gospel.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus puts it in the mostrndirect way possible, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves andrntake up their cross daily and follow me,” and he echoes this sentiment in hisrnpreaching on the Beatitudes in the Gospel of St. Matthew, “Blessed are they whornmourn: for they shall be comforted…Blessed are they that suffer persecution orrnjustice sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
If we believe we are called to model our lives after the life of Jesus himself, we quickly realize we should not be expecting a life on easy street just because we’re close to God. In fact, in the Letter to the Hebrews, we find the exact opposite is true: “…the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Our life on earth is not meant to be our finalrndestination. Our joys on earth are not meant to be the end we seek. Instead, wernare here on earth, challenged to keep our eyes on Heaven, to see everythingrnthat happens in our lives as preparing us for the joy that awaits us in thernlife to come. And as Jesus puts it in the Gospel of Matthew: “…the one whornperseveres to the end will be saved.”
When we are faced with times of trouble, werninevitably turn to the Lord. When we turn to him, he offers us the joy of thernlife to come, the salvation that we can experience if we keep pushing onrnthrough the darkness.
We strive not to be a people who expect God to fix our lives on earth. Instead, we strive to be a people who turn to the Lord in times of trouble, and push on because we are filled with the joy of a salvation that is to come.
Tommy Tighe is a Catholic husband and father of four boys. You can find out more about him at CatholicHipster.com.
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