Prosperity preachers know just what to do with the first part of Psalm 44. They even get it kind of right: God is gracious to us and saves us and allows us to boast in him continually. But the prosperity movement doesn’t have a category for inexplicable divine rejection and undeserved, intractable public disgrace—the theme of the second half of the song.
Kate Bowler in Blessed: a History of the American Prosperity Gospel, describes the sad story of an elderly woman who had long been faithful at a prosperity church in North Carolina. As sickness took its toll on her toward the end of her life, the people she had worshiped with for years distanced themselves from her rather than rallying around her. The prosperity “gospel” turned her church into a bunch of Eliphazes, Bildads, and Zophars who believed that her troubles were squarely her fault. This “theology” did worse, however, because at least Job’s friends sat with him in empathetic silence for an entire week. Prosperity gospel followers who get sick or poor are, Bowler says, given a different kind of silent treatment. They are shamed by their fellow believers.
The upside of pinning your health, wealth, and victory on yourself is that you feel you have “agency.” This is particularly powerful for the materially and relationally poor, and one reason the prosperity gospel is so popular among them. This gospel tells you that you can do something about your trials: just tap into the divine power that is so readily available.
The downside of taking on this agency is that if you’re not healthy, wealthy, and victorious, it’s your fault. You didn’t have enough faith, declare enough declarations, pray enough prayers, place your hands on the TV enough times, or plant enough seed money in Reverend Flim Flam’s wallet. Or, if you serve a god different from Benny Hinn’s god, you didn’t Google enough. You didn’t buy certified organic kale.
I thoroughly enjoyed studying Psalm 44 for a series of blog posts at the Logos Talk Blog. It artfully and movingly provides two answers to the kind of suffering that comes through no apparent fault of our own. Read my first and second posts for more. Third and fourth coming out next week…