One of the primary sub-themes within contemporary global Christendom is the conflation of wealth and God's favor. As more and more Americans find themselves in the midst of economic hardship, some might think that this will mean the end of the Word Faith prosperity movement. You might think that as we begin to struggle more with putting a roof over our collective heads and feeding ourselves that the giant temples to super-sized mega-Jesus might start to bug us.
Honestly, though, I think it goes the other way. Poverty provides precisely the kind of desperate yearning that fuels that odd warping of the core message of the Gospel. Folks in South America and Africa who know depths of poverty that we here can barely imagine, and the Prosperity Gospel has a powerful grip on much of Christianity in the Global South. The idea that somehow God wants them to be wealthy, because wealth will make them better servants of God...well...that's a hard one to shake. The mantra of that persistent little meme is this:
"I'm Blessed to be a Blessing."
That's fine on the surface. Of course you should use all of the gifts God gives you to care for others! If you're fortunate enough to have a fortune, well, goldangit, you should use that wealth to bless others! What could possibly be wrong with that? I hear that used to justify the salaries of those pastors who fill their coffers with the wealth of their flock. I'm just gathering in God's abundance! I just want to be blessed to be a blessing! What could be wrong with that?
What is wrong with that is simple: wealth is a social proxy for power. That means, dear reader, that having wealth within a society is the thing that permits you to project your control over the world. Rather than just have individuals club or bludgeon their way to dominance, wealth allows us to maintain order and still allow for radical disparities in human power.
Wealth gets you shelter and food. It makes you attractive to a mate...well, a certain kind of mate. As you purchase goods and services, as you mete out your favor, it gives you power over other human beings. You are the Sugah Daddy. You are the Lady Beneficent. Those with less power are willing to subject themselves to you, knowing you can get them what they want. That marketized relationship with others is not, unfortunately, reflective of God's nature or of the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed.
If you, through no fault of your own, find that through hard work and providence you've managed to become well off, that's fine. You have inadvertently been blessed to be a blessing. Can't do nothing about that. Truth is, Jesus taught that every human being has been blessed with the opportunity to be a blessing. All of us have the potential to show forth the grace and lovingkindness He proclaimed.
But if you seek material blessings, if you desire financial blessings, if your every prayer is that God makes you blessed so that you can be a blessing, then what you desire is power. And unfortunately, the desire for power over others is the beating heart of Sin.