The prosperity gospel promises us abundant life, a life full of earthly blessings. But the paradox of the prosperity gospel is that it does not offer us enough prosperity. In my last post, I argued that pride is at the root of the prosperity gospel and that we all succumb to this in some form or another when we fail to submit and surrender the entirety of our life and our plans for it to God’s will. The reason that the prosperity gospel cannot offer us true prosperity is that our highest good requires humility. If we are proud, we can never learn to love as Christ loves. If we can never learn this love, we can never find our deepest joy – true communion with God and our neighbour. God’s formation of a humble character within us is a painful process, for it involves a willingness to follow Christ in his death, but it ultimately yields joy. This point is beautifully expressed in The Dark Night of the Soul (La noche oscura del alma) by St. John of the Cross. In this work, St. John of the Cross traces the soul’s journey toward a union of love with God. The first part of this journey is the via purgativa, in which God purges us of our proud and sinful nature. The pain of the transformative purgation in the dark night ultimately yields a joyful union with God and is itself cause for joy:
O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.
– Fifth Stanza of The Soul, Dark Night of the Soul
(¡Oh noche que guiaste!
¡oh noche amable más que el elborada!
¡oh noche que juntaste
Amado con amada,
Amada en el Amado transformada!)
In failing to challenge our pride, the prosperity gospel keeps us from this transformative journey. Jesus tells us that we will suffer and be persecuted in this life; insofar as the life of Jesus provides a model for our own, one should be highly dubious of any claim that Jesus promises us earthly prosperity when he himself took on a humble stature, lived without material security and was put to death in the midst of having calumnies, opprobrium, and scorn heaped upon him. We would do well to dwell on these things regularly, especially in the midst of experiencing our own disappointments. The hope of the Gospel is that we find our life by losing it; by surrendering ourselves, we find our true identity – the fullness of our human nature made possible in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. In finding our true identity in God and learning to serve God and others above ourselves, we find a peace and joy that the world in all its abundance could never bring us on its own:
I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.
– Eighth Stanza of The Soul, Dark Night of the Soul
(Quedéme y olvidéme,
el rostro recliné sobre el Amado,
cesó todo y dejéme,
dejando mi cuidado
entre las azucenas olvidado.)