Prosperity teaching raises the very question that Satan asked God: “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9). Though Job’s faith was proved genuine, many other people are less interested in God himself than in the fringe benefits we claim that he offers. The world comes to a prosperous Church with mixed motives. As Sir Robert L’Estrange, a seventeenth-century British journalist, observed, “He that serves God for money will serve the devil for better wages.”
The central problem with the health-and-wealth gospel is that it’s man-centered, not God-centered. When approached from a “prosperity” posture, prayer degenerates into coercion, by which we “name it and claim it,” pulling God’s leash until he follows our whims. We attempt to arm-twist the Almighty into increasing our comforts and underwriting lifestyles about which we’ve not bothered to consult him in the first place.
“Faith” becomes a crowbar to break down the door of God’s reluctance, rather than a humble attempt to lay hold of his willingness. When we claim the blood of Christ, believing that God must take away this illness or handicap or financial hardship, are we asking him to remove the very things he has put into our lives to make us more Christlike?
We treat God as an object, a tool, a means to an end. God’s blessing on financial giving is turned into a money-back guarantee whereby he is obligated to do precisely what we want. A Florida man heard a pastor say that if the man gave a hundred dollars, God would give him a thousand dollars back. When the thousand never came, he filed a lawsuit against the church.
In prosperity theology, God is seen as a great no-lose lottery in the sky, a cosmic slot machine into which you put in a coin and pull the lever, then stick out your hat and catch the winnings while your “casino buddies” (or fellow Christians) whoop and holler (or say “Amen”) and wait their turn in line.
God’s reason for existing, apparently, is to give us what we want. If we had no needs, God would probably just disappear. After all, what purpose would he serve? This feeble theology reduces prayer to an endless “wish list” that we take before our Santa God. Many healthy and wealthy Christians view God as little more than a wish-granting fairy. We call him “Master” but treat him like a genie. Instead of rubbing a lamp, we quote a verse or say “Praise the Lord” three times, and presto-change-o, abracadabra, the smoky God with the funny hat and big biceps is indebted to act out the script we’ve written for him. Consider God’s role in relation to us in these words of a prominent preacher of prosperity: “Put God to work for you and maximize your potential in our divinely ordered capitalist system.”
Our pragmatic use of God demonstrates a clear lack of interest in God himself. After all, who cares what a genie is like? Genies serve one purpose—to grant us our wishes and make us prosperous and happy. Instead of being the great subject of our faith, for many of us God is merely an object—which explains the glut of sermons, books, articles, seminars, and conversations about us and the dearth of those about God. He is introduced and dismissed at our convenience. “You can go now, God—I’ll call you back when I think of something else I want.”
The Bible shows us a very different picture of God, in which he is central, his glory is the focal point of the universe, and his sovereign purpose entitles him to do what he wills, even when it violates what we want and expect.
When righteous Job lost everything, even his own sons and daughters, he fell to the ground and worshiped God, saying, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” We’re told, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:21-22).
In contrast, when advocates of a prosperity gospel lose their health and wealth, they often lose their faith. They conclude that they must have committed some unknown sin. If they could only find it and confess it, they would get their health and wealth back. The only other alternative is that God’s promises are not true, that God is undependable, or that he’s forsaken them. Job’s wife said, “Curse God and die.” Job’s response was a simple question that exposes the shallowness of prosperity theology: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:9-10).
Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, Chapter 6.