Job 18-21: Job’s Full Frontal Assault on the Prosperity Gospel

Today’s Reading

 

The Christian life is not as neat and clean or cut and dry as Job’s friends would have us believe. They believed that the moral universe operates in a similar manner to the physical universe: i.e., in a cold and mechanical way.  If you do something wrong, you suffer for it and if you do something right you will be rewarded for it.  To this point in Job’s life, he had no reason to doubt the conventional wisdom of his day and the conventional wisdom, in many places, of ours as well.  The law of retribution or reciprocity may be one of the most ancient religious concepts.  This idea teaches that we receive whatever we give. In fact, we see this law at work to some degree in the teachings of Jesus, e.g., “blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”  There are many, many more examples that could be given for this, particularly from the Old Testament. This law of retribution is a major facet of other religions besides Christianity as well. In fact, this is what the whole concept of Hinduism and Buddhism’s concept of karma rests on.  Webster’s online dictionary defines karma as, “the force generated by a person’s actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person’s next existence.” In other words, if one lives in an evil way, this way of life will boomerang back to them at some other time in their existence.  While this concept is the unrelenting and unforgiving reality for many faiths, this is not so for Christians.  As followers of Christ, we have been given a gift that overcomes the Law of Retribution.  This gift is called grace.  Grace is classically defined as “unmerited favor.”  It simply means that God reserves the right to give us gifts that we don’t deserve.  Chiefly among these gifts is the wonderful gift of salvation.  Grace through the triumph of Jesus Christ overcomes karma and it is this grace that makes life hopeful and joyful.

 

There has been a new wave of theology that has hit the church with great force over the last thirty years.  This is called the prosperity gospel and the prosperity gospel basically adheres to a strict, graceless,  view of Christianity which adopts the Law of Retribution with a great appetite.  This movement substitutes words like the law of retribution with the law of attraction. The “law of attraction” which states that whatever you think of mentally or speak verbally, faith will give you. In essence, if you think and speak negative thoughts, negative stuff will happen and on the flip side, if you think and say positive stuff will happen, then this will be your lot. This emphasis on positive thought and words works very effectively in reinforcing the deception in the movement as its teachers emphasize another major concept: “positive confession.” Positive confession is the notion that in order for good things to happen to us we must only confess positive things. So if you will (or think), by faith, that something to happen and it doesn’t, you had better not say it out loud or your affirmation of its failing will completely negate the possibility that it will ever happen. In others words, the movement has done its best to create a scenario in which no child will shout, “the emperor has no clothes.”  Some prominent teachers of this type of doctrine are Kenneth Copeland, Benney Hinn and Joel Osteen.  The reality is that the prosperity gospel is no “gospel” at all because there is no grace, only very little of Christ  . . . only heaping servings of the cold, mechanical law of retribution or karma.

 

The reality, though, is that we are learning in this book that this is not the way God operates. God is a God of grace and he is in no way beholden to treat us as we deserve, as Job’s detractors would have us to believe. Job laments about this reality in his complaint directed against God in chapter 21. Listen to his words about the fact that he has seen the wicked prosper and he, a godly man, must suffer.  Job feels that this is unjust and he is now exposing the graceless theologies of man who assume that God must deal with every person in the same way and in accordance with some harsh karma like Christianity.  Job’s words here are very similar to those of the Asaph in Psalm 73.  Job is now beginning, not only to change his mind about the law of retribution, but also now begin a full frontal attack on the very foundation of its logic in 21:3-26.

 

4   “Is my complaint directed to man? Why should I not be impatient? 5 Look at me and be astonished; clap your hand over your mouth. 6 When I think about this, I am terrified; trembling seizes my body. 7 Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power? 8 They see their children established around them, their offspring before their eyes. 9Their homes are safe and free from fear; the rod of God is not upon them. 10 Their bulls never fail to breed; their cows calve and do not miscarry. 11They send forth their children as a flock; their little ones dance about. 12They sing to the music of tambourine and harp; they make merry to the sound of the flute. 13 They spend their years in prosperity and go down to the grave in peace.14 Yet they say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways.15 Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?’ 16 But their prosperity is not in their own hands, so I stand aloof from the counsel of the wicked. 17 “Yet how often is the lamp of the wicked snuffed out? How often does calamity come upon them, the fate God allots in his anger? 18How often are they like straw before the wind, like chaff swept away by a gale? 19  It is said, ‘God stores up a man’s punishment for his sons.’ Let him repay the man himself, so that he will know it! 20 Let his own eyes see his destruction; let him drink of the wrath of the Almighty.21 For what does he care about the family he leaves behind when his allotted months come to an end? 22  “Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest? 23One man dies in full vigor, completely secure and at ease, 24 his body  well nourished, his bones rich with marrow. 25 Another man dies in bitterness of soul, never having enjoyed anything good. 26 Side by side they lie in the dust, and worms cover them both.

 

 

So, Job is beginning to ask the right questions.  In essence, he is asking here, why do the righteous suffer at times and the wicked often seem to prosper? The reality is that God is a God of grace and he has different purposes behind our suffering and other’s prosperity.  In the midst of this great narrative Job musters up his strength to proclaim in genuine hopefulness through faith in Job 19:25-26, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!”  In the end, Job knows that God will be his defender because he, through all the pain of his situation and in spite of the prosperity gospel touting friends of his, knows that he serves a God of grace.

Watch this video in which John Piper makes his own full frontal attack on the supposed prosperity “gospel” in a way that only men and women who have suffered like Job can really understand. 

 

 

 

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5 Responses to “Job 18-21: Job’s Full Frontal Assault on the Prosperity Gospel”

  1. Nathan Says:

    Thanks – I didn’t get to read all of the article, but I saw the video and it was quite powerful. I enjoy listening to John Piper a lot and am starting to listen to a sermon or two of his a week.

    Also, thanks for telling me your new blogspot. I was beginning to think that the liberals had taken your blog off of the list :-).

    By the way, does your church have a website? I may want to check up on you guys sometime :-).

    – Nathan

  2. Recipient of your charity.. Says:

    Dear Bruce,

    Hope all is well wherever you are. I see you on facebook, as odd as that sounds.

    Your family is growing. Anyways, I just read your piece, and I have to say, I very much liked it. I did some quick research myself, and came upon this interesting quote by Rick Warren. “It is not a sin to be rich, it is a sin to die rich”….

    Just thought it was interesting. I was waiting for the word Karma, and sure enough, as I read… here’s to me hoping great minds think alike. (I kid, of course)

    The video was … well, rather the song, really woke me up from my slumber. Just an inspirational song, period.

    Bruce, we have talked so little, but you did not judge me, and I am forever grateful. And you reached out to me in my depths. I did not fully grasp it, but in retrospect, thank you. I felt the reflection of God’s grace, from your continually “polished mirror”.

    Thoughts of yourself being a workhorse, and not a intellectual giant for God continually cross my thoughts. Thank you for teaching me about humbleness.

    .. and for the books.

    I shall remember it.

    -Richard

  3. And on a second note... Says:

    … I’ve read that Joel Osteen isn’t quite the “Prosperity Gospel”… but rather the Positive Gospel. I shall have to look more into that, but I prefer to let time do the testing, I suppose.

    One of my favorite books

    is definitely Job.

    Not to mention Ecclesiastes, and its New Testament sibling James.

  4. Bruce Smith Says:

    Thanks Richard for your kind comments. I really appreciated our friendship and enjoyed the great conversations. I know that God has given you tremendous gifts and I’ll be excited to see all the great things that he has in store for your life. It is great to know that you are reading along. Hopefully, this will give a good forum to continue the conversation.

  5. Bruce Smith Says:

    And on a second note . . .
    I appreciate your thoughts and my intention is not to diminish Joel Osteen personally. His father we a well known adherent of the prosperity gospel and he admits to teach a “version” of that message. Ben Witherington, one of the leading NT scholars of our time, has written a blog entry about this subject. Thanks for writing. http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2006/03/whats-wrong-with-prospering-gospel.html

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