No gospel at all

February 17th, 2016

In the ten months since I emerged from the black anguish that engulfed me after Tommy died, my soul has remained hungry to discover more meanings of human suffering.

From the simple song that invited me in the early days of shock and trauma to“Cry to Jesus” and the profoundly real and cathartic book Lament for a Son to Corrie ten Boom’s oddly comforting Prison Letters, some deeply searching articles in Christianity Today, and the Biblical books of Job and Lamentations, countless shared words and experiences have assisted me in this journey.  To this day I cannot stomach hearing the words of Job’s “friends,” and a short but thought-provoking recent New York Times article, Death, the Prosperity Gospel, and Me, has shed some theological light on why that may be the case.

After you have read the article, I’d love to hear thoughtful responses that grapple honestly with the following question:  How has the Prosperity Gospel perspective affected my understanding of God and how He works in His world?

For starters, here’s an excerpt from an email conversation between a friend and me…

“…the “blessed” thing creeped me out, as did the realization of just how much of this sickening perspective I had swallowed without knowing it. Wow, how much harm this erroneous assumption did me! I might never have known it was there if the flesh hadn’t been excruciatingly stripped off the bones of who I was. Yes, God is on our side, but that means something different, BLESSED means something different, than the common understanding of those concepts. God is on our side when we are crushed into a million pieces at the bottom of a black pit and we are blessed when we know that.”

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I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all.  ~Gal. 1:6-7

 

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11 Responses to “No gospel at all”

  1. KMT says:

    Wow. I wondered what the lure of these mega-churches has been, but I had no idea about how the prosperity part fit in. Thank heavens I never bought into this. Earth isn’t perfect. It’s not heaven. People aren’t perfect. God gave us each our free agency – the right to choose for ourselves. We can choose His plan, or we can choose not to. No matter what, we are subject to all things on earth, including deadly diseases, accidents, and, the mistakes of others. For example, a drunk driver hit my friend’s mom’s car, putting her into a coma for two years, after which, she died. She didn’t do anything wrong, but the drunk driver did and she suffered and died while the driver who was drunk walked away with barely a scratch. In times like these, do we forsake God or turn to Him? Are we being tested by Him? I hate when it’s called a test. I think it’s a necessary step in our eternal lives, one that strengthens our spirits and brings us closer to God and prepares us for the next step – whatever that may be.

    Parenting kids with special needs does tend to strip one down to our bare hearts and souls and keep teaching us what is truly important and meaningful in life, as does tragedy.

    As for possessions and wealth, we certainly can’t take it with us when we die. I’d be mortified if anyone entered my church, the House of the Lord, on a motorcycle, just as I would be if someone entered my home on a motorcycle, but in church? That’d be it for me, I’d find another place to worship where God came first.

  2. Esther Paris says:

    Dear KMT – there is an old meaning of the word ‘test’ you may not know. It is the name of the hot oven used to burn off the dross when purifying gold. So “being tested” or “put to the test” is to be purified like gold in the fire. It’s NOT like being evaluated by the DMV agent about how well you can do three-point turns in an extremely narrow road with giant sight-blocking ice piles all around. The DMV agent’s test is a pass/fail evaluation. God’s test is a purification process that gets rid of our spiritual gunk and readies us for Paradise. Believe me, Paradise won’t be PARADISE if I should artive with the dross of my hyper-critical, selfish, self-centered, whiny, sick PRIDE still attached!

    By the way, fire is still hot so I’m not saying the purification process is pain-free. But the purification is not a pass/fail evaluation like school tests or license tests.

  3. KMT says:

    I really like this definition of test. It’s exactly what I believe. Thank you, Esther!

  4. Ann says:

    Three things from this Episcopalian:
    –I’ve always understood the phrase “Jobs’ comforters” to mean that they misguidedly did precisely the opposite. I’m certain that that was the writer’s intent.
    –I don’t use the word “blessed” because there’s no way to avoid its implication of causality. I would never believe in a God who might “bless” me and not others.
    –Thanks for the Times link, which I had missed. It’s excellent.

  5. Ann says:

    Sorry, that should be ” Job’s. ” I may not be a literal believer, but I do believe in punctuation!

  6. Cassandra says:

    Hi Friends,
    May I just say that the short paragraph at the end of the post is not something somebody said to Suzanna, rather it is from the Bible, Galatians. Those are harsh words.

  7. Susanna says:

    Hi Cassandra! Thanks for clarifying that; I just added the reference to make it more clear. Paul certainly did have harsh words for the false gospel. Makes sense considering that “gospel” means “good news” and promulgating a false gospel is raising false hopes in desperate people. Any gospel that depends on me to get it perfectly right is no good news at all!

  8. Susanna says:

    I greatly appreciate the thoughtful responses I’ve received both here and via email. This topic hits very close to home for many of us. Below is an excerpt from an email a friend sent me:

    Here’s an interesting article I found written by a rabbi, though he portrays Job as a fictional character. There are some VERY good things to glean from it nonetheless:

    http://www.moshereiss.org/articles/11_fall.htm

  9. Rachel says:

    Susanna, thank you so much for posting this thought provoking article and the accompanying question. The Prosperity Gospel means so much more than money. There is so much entitlement in our culture and in my heart.

    I had a health scare recently, just after my thirtieth birthday, and it brought up so much fear and resentment. It made me question whether I really see my “blessings,” including my health, my life, my relationships with loved ones, as what God OWES me. And it’s making me pray for the grace to hang on to God and keep praising him no matter what happens. Because you’re right: the gospel that falls apart when we no longer feel “blessed” is no gospel at all.

    Thank you again for being honest about your grief and how it’s continued to refine your faith. I’m so encouraged by the fact that you’ve persevered. Thank you for encouraging us to grapple with these hard questions.

  10. I see so much of my own journey in your journey and it’s comforting in a strange other-worldly way that the Lord is speaking to his people the same truths wherever those people may be. The Lord has “crushed into a million pieces at the bottom of a black pit” in my own life in my own way and it was through that experience that I was truly blessed. Blessings are found when we reach the end of our rope and live there, where God’s grace is the only reason that anything works at all. Oh how I wish I had the courage to live at the end of the rope! God bless you <3

  11. Kristi Anderson says:

    One of the biggest “aha’s” for me as we were converting to Catholicism was the Catholic perspective on suffering. It is so rich…so deep…and actually makes SENSE. Of course we are meant to suffer! And suffering can be such a beautiful offering, if we let it be. I believe satan has blinded the minds of even so many Christians on what suffering can be. How rich our prayers are when we are suffering! God bless you.

    “All the suffering that God allows us to experience in this life, is ultimately medicinal, i.e. for our good in some respect, even when we do not see that we need any treatment. God, our Father, is like a loving parent who agrees to subject his child to a regimen of chemotherapy to cure a cancer, though the child does not see the need for the chemotherapy, because the child does not see the cancer or its danger.18 The comment by the person who said of the plane crash, “God would have kept them from crashing” is like the child who says to his parent, “If you loved me you wouldn’t be putting me through this chemotherapy.” The parent is thinking, “If only you could see the danger of this cancer, you would understand that I am subjecting you to this painful treatment only because I love you, and want you to live.” And this too, is the heart of our heavenly Father, when He allows us to endure the sufferings of this life.

    What is the great cancer, the one infinitely worse than physical cancer? According to the Church, the great cancer is sin, and it leads to hell, i.e. eternal separation from God. There is no greater evil than that one, nothing worse to suffer than eternal separation from God. It is far worse to be comfortable in this life, and suffer eternal separation from God in the life to come, than to suffer in this life, and yet enjoy the Beatific Vision with God eternally.”

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/08/a-catholic-reflection-on-the-meaning-of-suffering/

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