good article over at GetReligion that surveys both the purveyors of the "prosperity" gospel and its critics. I heartily recommend it. For my part, I particularly like one sentence: "Whereas Augustine said that the essence of sin was the human person turned in upon him or herself, Osteen’s [et al] version of Christianity is all about turning inward on ourselves.”
We want so desperately to believe that God wants us to be rich in things, happy and content with our mortal lives, in control of our destinies, and successful in all our endeavors that we have learned to ignore or explain away much of what Jesus actually said. The whole notion of carrying the cross is antithetical to the idea that God wants for us what we want for ourselves -- material comfort, physical ease, mental acuity, earthly success, and the insatiable desire for more. This distortion may not be the fault of the evangelicals but it has surely come from that wing of Christendom -- more than any other. We continue to resist any idea to the contrary and expect that the goal of God in our lives is to make today so blessedly happy and wonderful that our eternal tomorrow is more extension of the present joy than the unimaginable paradise and bliss that is not even glimpsed by the human eye or imagined by the human heart prior to glory.
Once I had a guy shake hands at the door one Easter Sunday. As he walked pass me, he said, "Life's a bitch and then you die...." Well, yes, sometimes but just as God does not desire nor create the bitch that life can be, neither does God contribute to the confusion of earthly joys with heavenly blessedness. We live in the terrible tension in which earthly joys are both temptation and blessing. But the same can be said about earthly troubles and trials. They are both temptation and blessing. And in the midst of them all, St. Paul brings the Gospel to bear. He has known want and he has known abundance. He desires to go and be with the Lord and to suffer here below to do the Lord's bidding. He has complained to the Lord about his weakness and offered that weakness to the Lord, finding His strength made perfect there. And so he confesses that God makes all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His eternal purpose. As long as we are in this mortal flesh we struggle with this and seek to know the surpassing peace and joy of this faithful affirmation.
Personally, I am comforted most of all by these words (whom a few suggest just might have been of the same St. Paul), who speaks of Jesus. "Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross and scorned its shame..." and it is my prayer in success and defeat, in abundance and want, that God will help me fix my eyes upon Jesus. The gospel of prosperity, no matter from whence it came or who preaches it best, turns the eye away from Jesus and therefore from the good that God is working and the joy His presence and His purpose brings. The prosperity gospel is, sad to say, so commonly held that folks in mainline, Roman, Lutheran, and even Orthodox churches have come to assume that it is the genuine teaching of our Lord. For this reason, none of us can afford to ignore its effect or proclaim the truth with greater fervor.