Prosperity doctrine teaches that prosperity and success in business is external evidence of God’s favor. Close to it is the “Word of Faith” teaching claiming that health and prosperity are promised to all believers, and are available through faith. These teachings are quite common in Charismatic churches, but are they true?
The answer is not a simple yes or no. The difficulty lies in the fact that Old and New Testaments seem to differ on this issue. Prosperity and health have indeed been promised for the obedience of Mosaic covenant (Deut 29:9, Josh 1:7–8), while disobedience would result in no prosperity (2 Chron 24:20). Yet, the connection between prosperity and obedience has been broken many times. For example, Job’s loss of both prosperity and health was not due to his disobedience. On the other hand, many wicked disobedient people prospered (Jer 12:1–2, Ps 73:3).
This reversal is further amplified in the New Testament. Here, being rich becomes a stumbling block to accepting the message of Jesus (Lk 12:13–59). Paul does not receive healing for his thorn in the flesh, even though he asks God (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). In return for obedience, most of Jesus’ disciples were executed while spreading the gospel, rather than became rich. Overall, except for a few vague verses, there is little support for prosperity doctrine in the New Testament.
How do we make sense out of this? Did God change his mind?
No, He did not. The mistake made by the proponents of the doctrine is that they fail to see God’s actions in the Old Testament in a larger context of his character. Prosperity doctrine tries to present God as a carrot-and-stick employer who desperately wants our obedience and is willing to pay for it by making us prosper. This is an extremely shallow view. A better description would be that God wants us to love Him with all our hearts, minds and strengths and is willing to work in us through blessings and pain to achieve this goal.
Of course God wants to bless us and make us healthy. He did not originally intended a world where there is poverty and sickness – we have chosen it. Yet, in most cases giving us wealth and health will move us further away from God rather than closer to him. God’s dealing with the Jews served to demonstrate to the whole world exactly that! It is in the quiet periods of peace and prosperity they turned away from God to serve idols. Churches in NYC were completely filled up right after 9/11 because it is at the time when our idols come crashing down we finally notice God.
God is not a carrot-and-stick employer, he is a passionate lover who will do anything possible (blessings, sufferings, health, sickness) to bring us back to him.