“There’s a branch of Christianity that promises a cure for tragedy. It is called by many names, but most often it is nicknamed the “prosperity gospel” for its bold central claim that God will give you your heart’s desires: money in the bank, a healthy body, a thriving family, and boundless happiness…
The prosperity gospel is a theodicy, an explanation for the problem of evil. It is an answer to the questions that take our lives apart: Why do some people get healed and some people don’t? Why do some people leap and land on their feet while others tumble all the way down? Why do some babies die in their cribs and some bitter souls live to see their great-grandchildren? The prosperity gospel looks at the world as it is and promises a solution. It guarantees that faith will always make a way.”
To thrive, to succeed, to have everything go our way, who wouldn’t want a life of prosperity? From the Latin prospere, prosperity means according to one’s hopes. We all hope for the best for ourselves and for those about whom we care; we all want a life of prosperity. And when the worst, rather than the best, befalls us, we want an explanation, a way to make sense of the fact that prosperity is not guaranteed.
Whether out of gratitude for good fortune or an answer for its absence, many of us look to religion for a way to make sense of life’s largess, good and bad. It is God who gets the credit or takes the blame. This, it seems to me, is a less than mature way to understand the place of religion, faith, prayer, and God.
The lavish lifestyle of some of its televangelist/mega-church representatives notwithstanding, the purpose of religion is not to gift us with “money in the bank, a healthy body, a thriving family, and boundless happiness.” Religion does not promise material prosperity; it is not a means to a comfortable end, but the assurance of a deep peace when we live a life of simple service – especially to those whose lives are not very prosperous.