The Prosperity Gospel in the Old Testament

1Then Bildad the Shuhite replied to Job:

2“How long will you go on like this? Your words are a blustering wind. 3Does God twist justice? Does the Almighty twist what is right? 4Your children obviously sinned against him, so their punishment was well deserved. 5But if you pray to God and seek the favor of the Almighty, 6if you are pure and live with complete integrity, he will rise up and restore your happy home. 7And though you started with little, you will end with much. (Job 8:1-7, NLT)


The book of Job is considered to be one of the earliest books of the entire Bible.

If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s essentially 40+ chapters of dialogue and discourse about the nature of God, particularly as it relates to His attribute of justice.

In the first two chapters we find Job, a righteous man, experience extreme, unspeakable hardships and tragedy as the Lord allows Satan to test Job’s faith and his character. Satan’s assertion is that the only reason Job is righteous is because he has everything he needs and wants. Satan contends that if pressured, Job would certainly curse God.

The whole premise of the book is interesting as it deals with the question of character and true devotion. Is a person considered righteous because of what he has (and does), or is he righteous because of who he is?

So God allows Job to experience hardship and tragedy. The rest of the book is a series of discourses  as Job repeatedly expresses his pain and anguish while his friends take turns lecturing him on why he should repent of the hidden sin that must’ve been the cause of his calamity.

In chapter 8, Bildad the Shuhite weighs in with his take on Job’s situation. What’s interesting about Job’s friends is that their understanding of God and His character, particularly His attribute of justice, is wrong in different ways. Interestingly, their theological errors are still being promoted today in many modern day false gospels. Here Bildad espouses a view that clearly is the forerunner to what today is known as “prosperity theology”.

Prosperity theology basically teaches that if you follow the rules (do good), you will be blessed. If you don’t follow the rules, then calamity will ensue.

Bildad’s prosperity theology can be seen most clearly in verse 4, where he says that bad things are the result of sin, as well as verse 7, where he contends that seeking God’s favor results in “much”.

Bildad’s argument can be summed up as follows

1. God is just

2. God doesn’t punish just people

3. Job is obviously being punished. Therefore, Job must be unjust

Bildad understood that God is just but misunderstood how God’s justice is applied. Specifically, he thought God’s justice was always applied in the way outlined above.

In addition, Bildad assumes that anything bad that happens to a person is a result of God’s punishment, and the punishment is a result of sin. This is false.

The truth is that bad things often happen to good people but it doesn’t mean that they are being punished because of some secret sin.

Prosperity theology is popular with people because it gives a quick and easy formula to explain all the bad things that happen to us. But prosperity theology fails because God is not a formula. He’s an infinitely complex being whose ways are ultimately mysterious and beyond our comprehension. If you keep reading the rest of the book of Job, you’ll see how this becomes more clear throughout the book.

Reflection

In what ways have you tended to embrace Bildad’s prosperity theology as an accurate description of how God metes out justice?

If you were Bildad, how would you change what you say to Job to more closely match the true nature of God’s justice?

 

Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s