For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. (Hebrews 11:32–35)
Ahhhh . . . the good life of faith! That’s the kind of good news we like to hear, isn’t it? That’s the good life promised by the televangelist, the fruits of righteousness fertilized by the prosperity preacher. That’s our “best life now,” obtainable, we are told, by three simple steps to success . . . seven principles for happiness and joy . . . ten laws of abundant living. Filter the Bible’s story through the sieve of the American dream and that’s what you get: obtain promises, conquer kingdoms, escape the sword, be strong, successful, and victorious. Who wouldn’t want to live the good life of faith?
Years ago, at the beginning of my Christian life, I hung out with the Copeland-Hagin crowd, the famous “Word of Faith” peddlers of the prosperity gospel. I’ll be honest . . . there was something exciting about laying hands on anybody with a sniffle, interpreting every stray thought as a Word from the Lord, or warning Lucifer that we’d take him out to the woodshed and give him a holy whupping. Most of the time we treated Jesus like our own personal vending machine of blessing. If we said the right words, inserted the right amount of faith, pushed the right buttons, then we’d get what we wanted. Want a Cadillac? Name it and claim it. Want a bigger home? Gab it and grab it. Want to live in the lap of luxury? Confess it and possess it.
I recall one instance when I commented in passing to a particularly odd “prophetess” that I was starting to go bald. She instantly intervened, placing her hand on my head and shouting, “No you’re not in the name of Jesus!” Until that point I had no idea that balding was such a sickness, or that admitting it was such a sin. But in our “look good, feel good” culture, going bald was an unacceptable effect of the fall that Jesus died on the cross to reverse. (Incidentally, her magic spell obviously didn’t work on me and I suppose she would say it’s either Satan’s fault or mine.)
It was shortly after this incident that I escaped from that purgatory of Christian greed and its damnable prosperity “gospel.” It was out from under its spell that I saw the other side of the biblical witness, the life of faith those gurus and their goons had hidden from my eyes—the biblical and historical epics of those who, “having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised.”
…and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised. (Hebrews 11:35–39)
Note those last words well: they gained approval through their faith, but did not receive what was promised.
Now, we may think that as a non-charismatic, non-prosperity evangelicals, we’re off the hook. But think again. Though the means and method may be different, often our priorities and pursuits in the American evangelical subculture are exactly the same.
Take some time to scan the shelves of a Christian bookstore. Once you’ve gotten past the spiritual coffee mugs and inspirational key chains, you’ll soon be surrounded by positive-thinking, self-help, and moral development. Authors present the Christian life as an ascending ladder—seven steps to this, three keys to that, the one prayer that will revolutionize your world, expand your influence, fulfill your desire for happiness! The kind of dung stinking up the shelves of Christian bookstores is passed off as “Christian Living,” but it’s mostly useless psycho-babble or shallow pragmatism that assumes a few simple pointers and a couple encouraging words will solve fallen humanity’s most desperate problem: fallen humanity.
The real problem with many of us Christians today is that we think too highly of ourselves, that we are actually entitled to the “good life of faith.” We think our prayers will stop God in His tracks. We think God applauds us for accomplishing our personal goals. We think we were saved from sin to enjoy a big house, fancy car, and a great retirement (or at least that these things are neutral benefits that have no relevance to our spiritual life). In short, we think it’s all about us. But we’re wrong. It’s not all about us; it’s all about God. I’m convinced that many in the American evangelical church are in need of a change of heart and mind. We need to repent, not necessarily for what we have done, but for what we have become—a country club of soothsayers that have sold out to the American dream. We have gathered around us teachers to tickle our ears . . . and it feels too good to stop (see 2 Timothy 4:3–4).
We’ve exchanged the true life of faith with a false “good life” of faith. Yes, God prospers . . . but He also takes away. God heals . . . but He also afflicts. God delivers from adversity . . . but He also brings us through the crucible of suffering.
Trusting God doesn’t mean believing that He will bless, fix, or rescue us. Trusting God means accepting whatever His hand brings, knowing that all things are ultimately for our good and His glory.
That’s the good life of faith.