When I first began to take my faith seriously in February 2013, I typically call this my authentic conversion to Christianity, I had tons of questions in my head. Because of these questions, I started to listen to many Bible Q&A shows.
However, there was a question that came up that perplexed me greatly! Essentially, I wondered how those in third-world countries could believe in God and have little or no material possessions to show for their faith.
My thinking rested on the faulty premise that obedience to God leads to bountiful material blessings.
Being exposed to Christianity from about age 17-24, it always seemed that material abundance coincided with obedience to God. Unfortunately, many in the Black Protestants tradition did embrace a prosperity gospel narrative when it came to God “blessing His children. ” In my opinion, Black Protestant churches revolved around prosperity gospel and low-grade version of TULIP so these two dominating beliefs somewhat syncretized on approaching God’s role in wealth and health.
It was almost as if God rewarded a believer positively if you conjured enough praise and thanksgiving in your heart. Sometimes, it was taught that God is totally in control of wealth and prosperity, and a believer had no coherent clue of what was going on. Sometimes, it was conveyed as such: if you don’t praise Him properly, then you’re “sleeping on your blessing.” As if our faith could manipulate God into bending toward our will.
I can remember listening to many variations from the pastor suggesting “name it claim it” type faith, so naturally, I was under the impression that wealth and happiness are a result of our quantitative faith in God. If you have little faith then you could expect no blessings but if your faith is grand then you’re victorious! In my little social work college brain, those in the Global South literally had nothing to care for themselves, so they should’ve been prime beneficiaries of God.
Boy, was I wrong!
Although they had Christianity, research shows that the Global South is booming in Christianity too, they didn’t have material wealth. I was dumbfounded by this, to say the least.
When I unpacked why I believed this, it became clear: American Christianity had dramatically drifted into prosperity gospel teachings. Also, since I live in the United States, economic prosperity is overflowing for many people.
Why couldn’t those in abject poverty experience the same material blessings as I did?
When I examined the dilemma in my head, I came to the realization that those who worshipped God during the time of the OT and NT were dramatically less wealthy than many in the Global South, yet they had a relationship with God. Even, as recorded in the book of Acts, many willingly gave up their possessions, to assist the needs of the early church. This was in line with what Jesus had said about giving all possessions away. Even the woman in Jesus’ day gave her last to communicate her dependency on God’s providence.
Secondly, something that caught my attention was the immeasurable faith those in poverty had. I’ve seen videos of those in orphan camps, widows, and refugees display tons of confidence in God despite their distressing and oftentimes fatal conditions in their hometown. Yet, they still exhibited the classic Hebrews 11:1 faith. Their faith appears so childlike and open to God’s action that they rely on Him for their entire livelihood.
This reminded me of the words from Jesus, “Blessed are the pure at heart, for they will see God (Matt 5:8). ” Just as Jesus expressed the struggle of serving two masters, those in the Global South had the privilege of not knowing self-pride, arrogance, and vanity of neglecting the Master when they acquired wealth. If anything, I would expect them to have humility and realize that their Heavenly Father knows their innermost needs.
On the contrary, many here in the West are so busy that they forget to give God the respect He deserves for our blessings. Even the very gift of another day of life is taken for granted!
Slowly, my dilemma began to chip away and I started to realize how baseless the claims many church staff taught in the pulpit. The prosperity gospel was bankrupt in my eyes.
Subsequently, every time a church member mentioned some variation of those beliefs, I dismissed them because I knew just how theologically damaging even the slightest of those sayings could be.