2400 years ago, Plato wrote his famous work, The Republic. In it, he addressed a crucial question. Is justice an intrinsic good? Is the just life, the righteous life, really the good life? That is, if you removed all the rewards of righteousness and the penalties of unrighteousness, would it still be worth it to live justly? Plato’s character, Glaucon, claimed that it wouldn’t. Those who live justly, he argued, only do so for its worldly benefits.
Many thousand years ago, Satan made the same argument to God concerning his righteous servant Job. “‘Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face'” (Job 1:9-11).
And so, God allowed Job to be tested. He was stripped of all his earthly goods including all of his children and yet…He praised Him (Job 1:22).
Two thousand thousand years ago, Paul and Silas were beaten because of their identification with Jesus Christ. They were thrown in jail and placed in shackles and yet…they praised Him (Acts 16:25).
Two weeks ago, my uncle suffered a stroke during his bladder removal surgery. He awoke unable to see. Barring a miracle, He is now permanently blind and yet…he praises Him.
A week ago, my mother, who has suffered from the effects of cerebral palsy her whole life, underwent ankle replacement surgery. Her pain is great and her recovery will be long. There is a possibility she will end her life in a wheel chair and yet…she praises Him.
Today, the Prosperity Gospel tells us what Glaucon told Socrates and what Satan told God. Righteousness is only worth what it produces. God is only worth what He gives. He is not the end to happiness, but only a means. The good life is the life that is full of health and wealth and if God does not give it, He is not worth our time. Our righteousness has been in vain (Psalms 73:13).
This Prosperity Gospel has a childish sort of logic to it, a basic arithmetic. Be good. Get good. If this is the case, then Job and Paul and Silas and my uncle and my mom and so many more are either fools or they know a greater truth. The Prosperity Gospel cannot account for worshiping prisoners or singing blind men. It has no explanation for joyful suffering.
Like Satan in the garden, it mixes truth with lies. The content of its promise is true, but its timing is wrong. We are promised health and wealth, but not in this life. Its claim that God wants to make us happy is true, but its understanding of that happiness is wrong. God is both the means and the end to our happiness. He is not only the giver of the treasure. He is the treasure.
This is the true heart of the Christian faith and it radically changes its message. Grace confounds the Prosperity Gospel’s basic math. In fact, it reverses it. We have done bad and yet, we receive good. Moreover, the treasure we receive is of such great worth that not only does any earthly treasure pale in comparison, but it is such that we would gladly give it all up in order to obtain it. As Paul said, we would count it all as rubbish that we may gain Christ and be found in Him (Philippians 3:8-9).
Christ is the treasure we could not afford to buy and the treasure we would sell anything to keep. That is how you account for worshiping prisoners and singing blind men. That is the only way to make sense of joyful suffering.
Next week, we will all gather with family and give thanks for our blessings. For those who are suffering, this may be harder to do. It is hard to believe in God’s goodness when it can’t be tasted and seen, but there is a day of prosperity that is unseen, but surely coming. We couldn’t earn it and we can’t lose it. This treasure is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:40).
The good life is not the easy life, but the life lived for Jesus. If we have Him, we have more than sufficient cause for giving thanks. If we know Him, we have known and we will know happiness. While we tarry here, we are not promised easy and comfortable circumstances, but a joy that exists independently of all circumstances. We may have seen great sorrow and we may see greater sorrow still and yet…we praise Him.