We are probably all familiar with what is often termed the “prosperity gospel.” In “Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel,” Kate Bowler explains it as “the belief that God grants health and wealth to those with the right kind of faith.” Having recently been diagnosed with stage four cancer, she ponders as to whether this theology is detrimental in terms of perceiving and appreciating spiritual blessings that can come through our own physical suffering.
The Apostle John is often cited as a progenitor of such a gospel. “The Elder, to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth: Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 1:1-2). John has touched on three potential blessings in life: wealth, health and spiritual well-being. Notice, however, that only one of those things was a present reality. Gaius was in a good state spiritually, which of course is the greatest of all blessings. The apostle’s prayer to God was that his friend might also have wealth and health. It is very likely that John had heard news from someone else that Gaius was going through some trials.
John’s greater focus is on what Gaius already had. “For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 1:3-4). The good news was that Gaius was known among the brethren as a purveyor of the truth because he talked the talk and walked the walk. To have health and wealth are fine blessings, but they aren’t comparable to the spiritual strength we can add to the body of Christ.
Our physical trials can lead us into a far closer relationship with God than we may have had previously. If Job could speak to us today, we know without a doubt that he would view his trials of health and wealth among the greatest of blessings in his life. The Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, which God declined to heal him of, caused him to rejoice because he was made spiritually stronger in that humbled state. The very same thing holds true in our lives. Peter wrote, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:12). The prayers of the humble are a priceless blessing.
Our God certainly can bless us with wealth and health, and He indeed does at various times. The greatest blessings, though, are spiritual in nature. “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9). Thinking, acting and reacting as God would in trying circumstances represent the miraculous changes that take place in our minds as we yield to the Holy Spirit.
Do we perceive and appreciate the spiritual blessings that can come through our own physical suffering?