Is Wealth A Blessing?
Many people, including me once upon a time, will speak about being blessed in relation to their material well-being. They will say things like “I am blessed to have a good job”, or “I am blessed to have a nice house”. One must look at these kinds of statements logically. Think it through. If you are blessed to have nice things, are the poor cursed? Did God fail to bless them? When conceived of in this way it becomes clear, this is not how any of this works. God’s gifts of grace upon grace have nothing to do with material well-being or economic prosperity.
On the other hand, I am not arguing that wealth is a curse. True, Jesus said it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom. That simply reflects the reality that we are tempted by our failings to put other things ahead of God, wealth being a particularly strong temptation. However, Jesus did not say it was impossible. Everything in this world can be an impediment to a relationship with God. My only point is that material wealth is irrelevant to being blessed by God.
Must We Be Redeemed Before Being Prosperous?
If wealth is not a factor in God offering us everything via His Son, our Risen Lord, then what is the meaning of the title of this essay? Many would suggest that yes we do need to be redeemed before we are made prosperous. That is the line of preaching you hear from the so-called “prosperity gospel” folks. If you just believe enough, then God will grant you all that you could wish for. It is really nothing more than the power of positive thinking with a thin (and I do mean thin) veneer of faith on top.
My former pastor used to call these folks believers in a “slot machine Jesus”. Just put in your coin, pull the lever, and voila, out come blessings. The durability of this line of thinking goes far to why we see even followers of Jesus who should know better talk in terms of material wealth being a blessing from God.
The answer then, is no, you do not need to be redeemed to become prosperous. Redemption and salvation stand apart from material prosperity. It may shock some, but you can become materially prosperous without being redeemed, you could be an outright atheist in fact. All of society could be atheistic, yet still be wealthy. The same way that you do not need to be a faithful person to live a moral life.
What we, as faithful people believe, is that your lack of trust excludes you from an eternal relationship with our Father in Heaven. That is awful enough for us, it would be what we would consider hell (not the post to discuss lakes of fire and pitchforks). Again, none of that has anything to do with material prosperity.
That said, I do think that if we seriously followed God’s plan for His people, as revealed in the life, death and resurrection of His Son, we would likely become prosperous. Sound economics involves treating others the way you wish to be treated. It involves mutual respect and reciprocity, just as Jesus modeled. Do these things, and society will get wealthier. I also think that God wants this for His children. There is nothing wrong with embracing an ascetic lifestyle if that is what you are called to. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with using the things God has given us in and on the earth for the relief of man’s estate. Given a choice between material wealth and poverty, I choose wealth every time.
It is important to mention a key caveat here. We are talking about the things that make society wealthier. This says nothing about how a particular individual will fare. You could do everything right, be prudent and wise, and still fail financially. Your business may fail, you may get laid off, you may make a bad investment, or you may get hit by a bus, one never knows. This fact is one reason why material prosperity and redemption are and should be conceived as separate things. Read the Old Testament book of Job to see a guy who did everything right, and faithfully, yet suffered grievously here on earth. Or, look to Jesus, who was perfect, and yet suffered hideously at the hands of the unrighteous, and was materially poor along the way. Scripture itself shows a clear disconnect between faith and prosperity. So, for a third time (three because of the Trinity, duh!) I will state that redemption is not necessary for material prosperity. They are two separate things.
We Should Put Redemption Before Prosperity
The point of the title is that we should always put our redemption and acceptance of God’s grace upon grace before everything else. We can certainly respond to God’s gifts by working for a just, humane and rational use of the resources God has given us. We can work for material prosperity for ourselves, and our families, and community, with assurance that God’s way is both just and prudent.
Yet, we can never place material wealth above our relationship with God. We can never cross the boundary into taking shortcuts to advance our wealth. We know in our hearts that this is an affront to God. We should take seriously Jesus’ admonition about how tempting wealth is, and what a false God it can, and often is. We should push back against the specious theology of the “prosperity gospel”, and their awful portrayal of a “slot machine Jesus”. If people begin to think that their redemption makes automatic their prosperity, they will fall away when life takes a massive dump on them, as it is likely to do at some point.
Live a life of redemption first, and foremost in response to the faith that God has given each of us. Live, as best we feebly can, the way Jesus showed us. Do so knowing that society will tend to be better off materially if we do. Celebrate those policies in human terms, even if enacted by unbelievers. Yet do so knowing that there are no earthly guarantees (again ask Job) of material success for any of us. We have a guarantee that far surpasses even the riches of Croesus, eternal life with our father in Heaven. I’ll take an ounce of that redemption over a pound of earthly prosperity any day.
Praise Be to God