Why don’t I prosper?! The Prosperity Gospel and Despair

“Why don’t I prosper?! Why don’t I prosper?!”

In his desperation, the man demanded an answer. We had stood talking on the street for what seemed like thirty minutes. He had probed my background, no doubt curious about what brought this American to the streets of Malawi, but when he found out I was a “Doctor of Theology,” the topic turned to matters of religion.

While Americans abide by the rule never to discuss religion or politics (except on Facebook, apparently), conversations about religion typically occur more naturally here. My new acquaintance was Roman Catholic and claimed to attend Mass every Sunday. Becoming increasingly transparent, he shared a catalog of tragedies that had befallen him. On and on he went until he reached the climax: “Why don’t I prosper?! Why don’t I prosper?!”

And there it was. His theology in one word: prosper. It didn’t really matter that he was Catholic rather than Presbyterian, Pentecostal, or Baptist. This is what he had been taught, and this is what he believed: God is a God who prospers those who have enough faith. And here also was the source of the salt rubbed into his wounds: Why didn’t he prosper? What was he doing wrong? Why was his faith insufficient?

His heart broke. Faith gave way to despair.

In America, we are told that it doesn’t matter what anyone believes as long as they believe it sincerely. Take one step outside of the insulated bubble-world of American prosperity, and then you will realize that it does indeed matter what you believe. This world assaults us and breaks us down bit-by-bit until we reunite with the dust. What you believe will either be a spring of living hope or a leaking cistern of despair.What you believe will either be a spring of living hope or a leaking cistern of despair. Click To Tweet

“God will make you happy, healthy, and wealthy,” proclaim a legion of so-called preachers and prophets, and all around the world itching ears eagerly listen. These preachers conjure up a false god by molding, chiseling, and twisting Scripture. But in the end their idol cannot fulfill his promises of prosperity. Neither can this false god of prosperity protect his believers from the weight of the real world. They despair. “Why don’t I prosper?!”

Bad theology abandons us in despair, but good, true, beautiful, biblical theology gives living hope. As it enters our hearts through the Word and the Spirit of God, theology gives us a heavenly inheritance that cannot be touched by the troubles of this world (1 Pet 1:3-4). This inheritance is the intimate knowledge of God himself through Jesus Christ, and this heavenly bequest grounds us in the day of trouble. Bad theology abandons us in despair, but good, true, beautiful, biblical theology gives living hope. Click To Tweet

My new acquaintance despaired, “Why don’t I prosper?!” But when we know the true God, a different exclamation graces our lips: “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).

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