Creative Team Building and Leadership Resources - In our Elements

Live Long and Prosper

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 10) transports me to the site of a verbal bombshell that’s been thrown into the foul lair of the filthy rich who lie in wait to ambush the helpless and exploit the weak. The Psalmist is firing off two more cents worth of ammo on the age old battlefield of class warfare. According to this vociferous voice for the voiceless poor, the wicked are comprised of those greedy for gain, prideful and arrogant schemers who have no room for God. Members of this accursed class speak nothing but lies and threats; they revile the Lord and sneer at their victims, and yet their ways always seem to prosper. The Psalmist is raising a terror alert to God, calling on the Mighty Lord to do battle with these affluent folk who crush their victims left and right. Break the arm of these terrorists, Lord! the Psalmist cries out. Put an end to their terror!

In contrast to this Psalm and many other passages that promote a view that God is on the side of the poor and that wealth comes either by chance (Ecclesiastes 9:11) or by exploitation (James 5:4), there has always been an opposing view, a belief system known as “prosperity theology” which ignores these and other texts in favor of those passages which would lead us to believe that riches are a sign of God’s blessing on the faithful. Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, and others have their guns loaded with other scriptural texts to support their belief, such as Deuteronomy 8:18 (The Lord is giving you power to make wealth), Malachi 3:10 (“Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it”), and 3 John 2-4 (I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.)

So, who’s telling the truth? The Psalmist or Reverend Dollar? From what you read of the life and teachings of Jesus, which of these theologies do you think He gravitated toward? A prosperity theology that interprets worldly wealth as a sign of God’s blessing? Or a liberation theology which sees God as the defender of the poor against the exploitation of the wealthy? If Jesus did his Spock impersonation and told us to live long and prosper, would he be defining prosperity the same way our culture tends to define it? What would be signs of God’s blessing for Jesus? What kind of abundance did he come to bring? As far as our contemporary culture goes, all evidence would point to the triumph of prosperity theology in providing an answer to these questions, as a growing number of Christians support the idea that material wealth is a sign of God’s good blessing on human endeavor and therefore join efforts to safeguard the storehouse of the wealthiest against the blasted revenuers. So policy planks to cut spending for the poor and protect the earnings of the rich can now be called Christian, at least according to groups like Focus on the Family. This led Wendell Berry to lament, Especially among Christians in positions of wealth and power, the idea of reading the Gospels and keeping Jesus’ commandments as stated therein has been replaced by a curious process of logic. According to this process, people first declare themselves to be followers of Christ, and then they assume that whatever they say or do merits the adjective “Christian.” I think I’d rather take my cue from the ancient Psalmist and from a gospel songwriter, who suggested we find our footing in the class struggle by standing on the rock, on the rock of ages, safe from every storm, all the storm that rages, rich in love, I’m rich, not from Satan’s wages, I’m standing on the solid rock.

How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.

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