Things are not always what they seem. This is especially true about the way God works in the world. It seems wise to assume that I’ll get out no less—hopefully more—than what I put in, that being either rich or poor is a direct result of hard work or laziness. Similarly, Christians tend to connect material success to God’s blessing, and poverty to God’s curse. This is called the Prosperity Gospel. Prosperity teachers claim that to receive God’s blessing, we need to have faith. We need to believe that we can do it. Then we need to go out and do it and expect God to bless us. Joel Osteen, one proponent of this teaching, says:
You need to go back to your Original State. Take on this attitude: I am a child of the Most High God. My parents may not have given me what I needed. Other people may have tried to push me down. My circumstances may not have worked out. But that will not stop me. I know I have the DNA of Almighty God. I know that I have been preprogramed by the creator of the Universe with everything I need. (Joel Osteen, It’s Your Time: Finding Favor, Restoration and Abundance in Your Everyday Life)
There is something about this teaching that seems wise. It seems wise to think that if I am not successful, then I am not doing enough. Maybe I don’t have enough faith. Maybe I haven’t bought the right book on productivity and followed its secrets. This is not Christianity. Jesus never promised success in this life: even his most zealous followers throughout history have experienced more suffering than prosperity.
The apostle Paul, a zealous and insightful convert, suffered much. He never appeared successful. He describes his own experience:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Cor. 4:7–11)
Any joy we experience is mixed with sorrow. Any blessing we have is a taste that isn’t meant to satisfy. The apostle Paul describes his experience to illustrate the common Christian experience—our time before death is dying. Our time before death appears to be defeat. Christianity doesn’t seem wise. Christianity seems foolish. But things are not always what they seem. What the world calls foolish, God calls wise. What God calls wise, the world calls foolish (1 Cor. 1:18–25).
God the Father sent Jesus, God the Son, to die on a cross for those who can’t “go back” to their “Original State,” who can’t say “I have been preprogramed by the creator of the Universe with everything I need,” and who know that it is false to believe, “I know I have the DNA of Almighty God.” Jesus died for those who accept the truth that Adam’s sin puts them under God’s death penalty, enslaves them to sin, and makes them born into this world spiritually dead. Yet, because of Jesus Christ—by believing in him—we have a great hope. The apostle Paul writes:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16–18)
Christianity will only seem foolish for a little while, but after the passing of “this light momentary affliction,” God will reveal what he is preparing for us: his wisdom displayed as “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”