That, my friends, is a real bumper sticker I recently saw on a car driving around town.
Let’s waste no time and get straight to it. I covered two verses in each of the first two parts, so let’s have a look at verses 5 and 6.
5) “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” —James 1:2–3
There are a lot of people who find great comfort in these verses during troubled times,
Me? It makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit.
At this point you are probably thinking 1) “That was gross and unnecessary,” and 2) “What does this have to do with ‘Jesus Did It. Come And Get It.’”?
To answer your first question, true. I apologize. I have an unusual sense of humor and, admittedly, it made me laugh when I typed it.
And two, “Jesus Did It. Come And Get It” carries with it a sense of “Jesus suffered and now you are rewarded.” It’s the kind of theological thinking that leads to the concept of redemptive suffering. That is to say, the idea that human suffering, paired up with the suffering of Jesus, can diminish the punishment someone will receive for their sins.
That kind of thinking has further slipped into the perspective that personal suffering should be seen as a blessing from God that is intended to make us better/stronger/smarter/more holy/etc.
Which is why I throw up in my mouth a little bit every time someone quotes the verse.
Oops. Sorry. I did it again, didn’t I?
The thing is, suffering isn’t redemptive.
There’s nothing good about it. It isn’t a blessing. And, I for one, am not going to count it a joy, more or less “pure joy.”
What I will do is realize that in the midst of suffering, there is almost always an end to suffering. Sometimes the thing causing the suffering actually ends, and sometimes we manage to stop seeing it as suffering, but either way, suffering be gone!
Over time, what we find is that sometimes suffering just sucks. It didn’t make us better/stronger/smarter/more holy/etc., but we did survive it and maybe, in its own way, that’s a blessing. But, honestly, it doesn’t make the suffering any less traumatic and senseless.
Here’s the thing: aside from the fact that James doesn’t say God causes the suffering and actually says otherwise later in the book, I’m not even going to make the argument that the verse means something else like I have with some of the other verses in this series.
James is just wrong on this one.
He’s only human though, so I’ll give him a pass.
Don’t count it a joy, but do try to hold on to hope when it happens to you.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go brush my teeth.
6) “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” – Luke 11:9
Let us all bow our heads.
Dear great Cosmic Vending Machine up in the sky above our heads, whose mysterious ways we do not understand. We come before you now, knocking at the door of prosperity. Humbly asking you, Father God, in our humblest of humble voices to open the door. And, Father God, we just ask that you will provide for us – in abundance and abundantly so. For we are reminded that you have told us to ask that it may be given unto us. So, we’re asking. We ask this and all things in the name of the one who pours out abundantly upon the heads of all believers. Amen.
The prosperity gospel takes the “Come and Get It” part of that bumper sticker way too seriously and it manages to quote this scripture over and over again as proof – proof I tell you! – that God rewards those who are obedient, that, indeed, God is the great Cosmic Vending Machine in the sky and your devotion and blind obedience are the clinking coins you feed Him (undoubtedly a “Him”) to produce what you want.
The prosperity gospel teaches about a God who can be manipulated if you give Him what He wants.
Some god, huh?
Let’s put the verse into larger context. Just a few verses earlier, Jesus is asked to teach the disciples how to pray. That “how” is important – how to pray, not what to pray. This is going to be a lesson in description not prescription. In other words, Jesus is going to show what prayer looks like but not prescribe the exact words that must be used.
What follows is a short version of The Lord’s Prayer. Most scholars agree it is probably also the earliest version.
The prayer he gives to them as an example of how to pray asks for four things:
1) The kingdom come. Understood to be the peaceable kingdom of God. Note there is not timeline attached.
2) Give us what we need for each day – like bread. Nothing extravagant, just basic needs.
3) Forgive us. This is made along with a sort of promise to forgive others – particular of debts.
4) Do not bring us to the time of trial. Not trials, but the time of trial.
With that in mind, move on to verse 9. “Ask and it will be given to you.” But, keep in mind, Jesus just told us what we should ask for: 1) the peaceable kingdom, 2) Basic needs, 3) Forgiveness from God and 4) not having to go to that nasty, no good, very bad “time of trial.”
Ask for those things and Jesus says it will be given to you, you will find it.
Now, personally, I’d make the argument that God might sometimes have a difficult time answering 2 because we, the people of God, are (as I pointed out in Part 1 of this series) the only tools God has to work with, and we aren’t always as good about sharing the abundance of Creation as we should be.
Prosperity Gospel? Come and get it?
Not even close.
This is a text about peace, basic equality, forgiveness and God’s endless love.
When you pray say, “Good God, encourage us to work for peace here on earth that we may know your peaceable kingdom. May we all have our basic needs met and may we work together to do it. In response to the grace of your forgiveness which you extend to us all, we will extend forgiveness to one another. In full awareness of your abundant love, may we be rid of the concept of Hell. Amen.”
Ask that? And it will be given to you.
Amen and amen.
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