Friday, August 25, 2006

B(ild)ad theology

Have you ever channel-surfed to one of the many religious TV programs and listened as a preacher said something like this:

. . . if you pray to God and seek the favor of the Almighty,
and if you are pure and live with integrity,
He will surely rise up and restore your happy home.
And though you started with little,
you will end with much.

I wouldn't blame you if you thought those words were spoken by Benny Hinn, or Kenneth Hagin, or John Hagee, or Joel Osteen, or Rod Parsley (pictured at right) or someone like that. These guys are often called "prosperity preachers" because their message to us essentially is, "God wants you to be rich and successful, and if you listen to me and follow my teaching (i.e., send me money, or buy my book, or come to my crusade), you'll become rich and successful."

But actually, the italicized words above are found in the Bible, in the book of Job (8:5-7). Bildad, the speaker, was one of the three friends who came to comfort Job in his suffering but ended up criticizing him for his lack of faith. Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar all thought that Job's suffering was due to sins in his life that he had not confessed and forsaken. They advised him to "get right with God" and he would once again be healthy, wealthy, and prosperous.

Eliphaz promised Job, "[God] gives prosperity to the poor and protects those who suffer . . . When you survey your possessions, nothing will be missing. You will have many children; your descendants will be as plentiful as grass. You will go to the grave at a ripe old age. . . ." (Job 5:11, 24-26)

Zophar insisted, "If only you would prepare your heart and lift up your hands to [God] in prayer! Get rid of your sins, and leave all iniquity behind you. Then your face will brighten with innocence. You will be strong and free of fear. You will forget your misery . . . you will be protected and will rest in safety." (Job 11:13-18)

Now, it is true that God honors those who honor Him (1 Samuel 2:30). It's also true that God blesses the godly (Psalm 1). But that's not what Bildad and his friends were saying to Job. They went much further, telling Job that if he lived more obediently his problems would be over. The Bible, however, does not promise Christians a problem-free life. It does not teach that God wants us to be happy and rich and successful. Instead, the Bible says "It is God's will that you should be sanctified" (1 Thessalonians 4:3). The sanctification process involves suffering, and pain, and loss, and defeat. We have to carry our cross, and follow Jesus on the Calvary road.

So Bildad's theology was bad theology, and so is modern-day prosperity teaching. Not only is it bad, it's cruel. Some of the godliest people I know are not rich, healthy, or successful. To preach to them that they would prosper if they simply "believed God for blessings" or "had more faith" or "sowed a seed" or "made a vow," like most of these televangelists do, is to be like the Pharisees, who "tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them" (Matthew 23:4).

At the end of the book of Job, God tells us what He thinks of prosperity teaching. He says to Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar, "You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has" (Job 42:8).

I wonder, have these TV preachers not read the book of Job (or, for that matter, the gospels, or the letters of Paul, or the Psalms, or the prophets, or church history)?

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