Is the Christian life one of sustained joy and blessing? Does the Christian ever suffer from forces outside their control? Does our prosperity in life correlate closely with the strength of our faith?
These are important questions to ask, and even more so since different answers are given within the church. Most Christians will likely have been exposed to the teachings of the prosperity gospel which teaches that a Christian living in true, genuine faith will experience earthly abundance. This type of teaching remains popular because it is based in the words of Scripture, albeit a superficial, careless reading of Scripture.
Such a reading takes a text like Psalm 1,which says of the righteous man that “in all that he does, he prospers,” and interprets it in isolation from the rest of Scripture. It is a type of tunnel-vision hermeneutics that allows for no nuance. God has said that the righteous man will prosper, and so the righteous man will prosper.
But of course such interpretation quickly gets us twisted into all sorts of conundrums. It is true the righteous will prosper, but that needs to be understood through the lens of all of Scripture. For example, there are many psalms which tell us the righteous will also be oppressed by the wicked, will fall into depression, and will despair of life itself.
In Psalm 120, the faithful of Israel begin their pilgrimage expressing the distress of living in a land of war and deceit. In verse five, the pilgrim cries out “Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech, that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!”
Meshech and Kedar are places far from Israel and far from the final destination of the pilgrims, Jerusalem, the city of peace and the presence of God. The believers in Israel knew that God had given them the promised land and committed to being their God and blessing them in unimaginable ways. And yet, those promises seemed far from reality. Instead of living in peace and harmony in a bountiful land of milk and honey, they lived in a society of blatant misinformation and constant lies. Their fellow countrymen were divided into factions whose main goal was to gain the upper hand and make the opposition look as bad as possible. Sound familiar?
More often than not, this is the reality we Christians live in. As much as we would love to live in a country where peace reigns and truth always wins, we don’t. The righteous will prosper in all he does, but that does not mean he will live a life of peace and ease.
The righteous are called to live as pilgrims in a world that is desperately lost, and to show that world what the kingdom of God looks like. As we pursue this calling, and resist the pull to hammer down our stakes in the world and join the foolish frenzy of the ungodly, we can rest secure that we will prosper. We really will experience the peace and presence of God in this life, and by the power of the Spirit we will shine as lights in the darkness. Looking further into the future, we will also definitely enjoy the never-ending peace of the New Creation, where the wicked are nowhere in sight and Jerusalem is always close by.
The righteous will live in prosperity; a prosperity defined by God himself.