Job and His Prosperity-Gospel Frenemies

walk-in-the-fogYour car breaks down, your month lasts longer than your income, and your bankruptcy becomes a reality in spite of the fact that you have always tithed.

You live with an auto-immune disease, your cancer treatments aren’t working, and you struggle with depression even though you have prayed and believed and confessed every possible Bible verse that says this is not the way life’s supposed to go.

Things couldn’t get much worse.

Unless, of course, you have a well-meaning friend who hasn’t hit the wall who lovingly explains that it’s all your fault. Not that they say it quite so rudely. But you and I know what they mean when they start with all their solutions: just pray and believe and claim this verse and that verse and tithe and give and, presto-change-o, you will be healthy, wealthy and wise.

In other words, you must be doing something wrong if your life is more than lousy.

Thanks so much for stopping by; I get the message. Now you can leave.

You and I are not the first to have this experience. Job had his own issues with prosperity-gospel frenemies. You know the story. God permitted the purity of Job’s devotion to be tested through extreme adversity: loss of possessions, death of loved ones, destruction of health. And all of this through no fault of his own.

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8)

Satan challenged God’s assessment of Job’s character and God permitted Job to be tested in every way. When Job’s buddies heard the bad news they decided to visit Job and console him. As they gazed upon the severity of Job’s suffering they realized the less said the better. So they sat in silence for a week.

Then Job did something his foul-weather friends could not overlook: he vented his frustrations with the whole situation and with God. How is God just if the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper?[1] That was too much for Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu to take, so they spent the next thirty-four chapters preaching to Job, assuring him that if he just did this or that God would bless him.

And you thought your pastor was long-winded.

But Job dodged the kick in the gut, refused to turn the other cheek, and rejected the idea that human behavior controls God’s actions.[2] Yet Job’s unfriendly friends insisted on insisting it was so. Life boils down to an equation: follow the rules and all will go well; flaunt them and all hell will break loose.

But our relationship with God is not a contract.

Yet that thinking still survives today.[3] It’s not that we believe God answers prayer or works miracles or blesses obedience, for he does all of that. It’s when we believe God will always remove hardship in response to our faith, obedience, generosity or positive speech that we cross over into a contractual view of our relationship with God. So if we’re not blessed, if we’re poor or sick or struggling, it must be our fault.

Kick us while we’re down.

The point of the book of Job is to dispel the notion that God must respond in a certain way to our faith and obedience. Of course God is good and just and loves to bless his children, but there cannot be a one-to-one correspondence between our behavior and God’s blessings, for that would make us the center of the universe. And if you hadn’t noticed, we’re not the center of the universe.

But there’s more to it than that. God desires a relationship with humanity that is based on a love that is real, that is pure, not a “love” that arises from all the blessings God bestows upon us. If that is why we love God, we are nothing more than the young trophy wife who loves the ugly yet rich old geezer as long as he provides her with plenty of diamonds, designer clothes and expensive vacations. Once those come to an end, watch out.

Our love for God must be tested by adversity, for that is the one and only way to know if it is real. Without the testing of our faith, the accusation of Job 1:9-11 cannot be countered.[4]

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

There was only one way to prove that Satan was wrong about Job, to prove that Job loved God from a pure heart rather than from self-interest. And there’s only one way to prove that we love God from a pure heart rather than from self-interest: sometimes God must permit us to be tested by adversity.

But this is when we shine, when we demonstrate that we believe God is good and loving and just and worthy of our devotion even though we’re not getting our way and things are not going as planned. This is also when evil loses its wager, when it can no longer accuse but only disappear in silence.

And this is when we touch God’s heart in a way that it cannot touched when we praise him only for his blessings, like when your little boy says “I love you, Daddy,” even though the car broke down and you never got to the zoo.

Contrary to our prosperity-gospel frenemies, our relationship with God is not a contract. Only through misfortune can it be tested and proven to be living and real and personal.

But that’s a good thing.

 

[1] Marvin H. Pope, Job (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965), xv.

[2] James L. Crenshaw, “Book of Job,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 862-64.

[3] “Prosperity Theology,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosperity_theology, accessed 02/24/2017.

[4] Elmer B. Smick, “Job,” in Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Vol. 2 Old Testament, ed. Kenneth L. Barker and John Kohlenberger III (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 743.

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4 thoughts on “Job and His Prosperity-Gospel Frenemies

  1. Hi Sara….I love your blog…but I am going to have to respectfully disagree with some of this. God is not a name it and claim it God…but I do believe His Word does not return void. I have always been a “Faith”person…I have seen when I lay hold to a promise of God that He is faithful to see that His Word is performed. I am always careful with the book of Job, while it may have nuggets of truth, it is not part of the new and better covenant we operate in now…
    My comments here are oversimplified in the interest of the reader, but would love to have lunch sometime and continue to discuss…love you sweet sister.
    Anne

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    • Thanks for being willing to disagree openly! I appreciate it. I am a “faith” person too and have seen how God responds to our willingness to risk belief in his Word. I also believe God’s word is very powerful as we choose to activate it in our lives. You and I may indeed disagree on the application of the book of Job to the lives of Christians, since I think it does hold a very important nugget of truth that is still relevant today: at some point our faith will be tested. This means that in spite of our faith and prayers and obedience, not every cancer will be healed, not every baby will live, not every persecuted Christian will be miraculously delivered, not every marriage will be restored. God does answer and his word does not return void, yet sometimes it comes about in a different way than we hope or expect and we need to be prepared for that. I have seen too many people hurt by the teaching that God will or must always answer us in a certain way. I would love to get together sometime to discuss in greater length. Love you too.

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