We’re continuing our series on the creeping prosperity gospel. This week, we’re exploring “what God doesn’t promise," and today, Joy Bennett has graciously agreed to share. Consider her words and join us in the comments as we work this out.
“Jesus calms storms,” the man proclaimed from the center of the circle, campfire glowing orange behind him. He waved his Bible as he paced in front of the kids as they perched awkwardly on the concrete ring encircling the gathering place. “Jesus spoke and the storm stopped raging. Jesus spoke and the demons left the man in the cemetery. Jesus calms storms inside you too.”
I scanned the backs of the boys in front of me, watching them listen to this mandatory devotional plunked smack in the middle of a fall party. The kids, some bussed in from poor neighborhoods, ranged in age from 5 to 18. They had competed in sack races and apple-eating contests, ridden the hay wagon, and played basketball in the dust. Now, before roasting wieners and marshmallows, they had been instructed to sit perfectly still and quiet for ten minutes.
“Why do you think we do this for you?” the pastor had asked.
One of the kids volunteered, “Because you care about us.”
“Yes, we do. We love you. But we have an even more important reason. Our one goal is to bring you from where you are to where God wants you to be. Salvation is the first step, but there’s much more.”
“Some of you don’t know Jesus. We want you to know him. He can calm the storm in your heart and give you peace.” He launched into the traditional Baptist version of salvation: what sin is, what the wages of sin are, what hell is like, what Jesus did, how to be saved from hell.
During the “every head bowed every eye closed no looking around” part, I kept my head up and my eyes open. I watched my three kids for signs of hands going up or standing to “talk with someone about God” because so help me, no one else is going to pray a sinner’s prayer with my kids. That’s my job. And because if you are going to follow Jesus, you ought to be willing to do it in front of others. And because I’m a secret rebel. But I’m off on a tangent.
The most disturbing thing about the entire “gospel” presentation was the little phrase, “Jesus calms storms.” Nothing in either of those stories, of Jesus calming the storm on the sea and of Jesus casting out the demons, indicates that these actions are for anyone or any time outside those specific situations. Jesus never promises to calm every storm. Jesus doesn’t cast out all the demons out of everyone.
But we present it this way to children and adults alike. When we talk about God like this we reduce him to a cosmic vending machine. We teach and believe that all we have to do is find the right combination of currency (prayer, good deeds, our own promises, penance, sacrifice, whatever), punch in the code for the treat we want, and God will dispense it.
As C.S. Lewis wrote in the allegory “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” Aslan is not a tame lion. God is not our pet, who we can train to do tricks and bribe with treats. God is not subservient to us. Yes, God loves us. Yes, God helps us. But God never promises to make our lives easy, comfortable, fun, or opulent. In fact, if you read the Scriptures, you will find exactly the opposite.
In this life, God doesn’t give everything to us; God asks everything of us. God sends us to the most uncomfortable, difficult, unpleasant, stark places to be Jesus’ hands and feet to the most desperate and unlovable. Sometimes the desperate and unlovable are rich, powerful, or self-sufficient; sometimes they are poor, oppressed, addicted, or proud. Sometimes, they are our own family – a child with a disability or a mental illness, a selfish spouse, a brutal or negligent parent.
God promises to help us in the storms, but God never promises to change the circumstances either inside or outside.