Wednesday, September 21, 2005

All This and Heaven Too

St Paul warned us about accepting a different gospel than the one he preached, and it seems that there are different gospels out there, and here I’m not referring to the far-out ones of the several quasi-Christian sects. One of the different gospels, which is both pernicious and ubiquitous, might be termed the “gospel of prosperity,” or the “All-this-and-Heaven-too gospel.”

Such a reading of Christianity could only flourish in wealthy countries like America. Tune into any feel-good televangelist and you’ll discover that God wants to give you not only the Kingdom of Heaven, but also health, wealth, and all manner of earthly happiness. When I check the true Gospel, though, I find that Jesus says that it’s really hard for someone to try to hold onto all that and receive Heaven too. Wealth as a sign of divine favor was an Old Testament belief (they mostly weren't aware that there was even such a thing as “Heaven, too,” so they can be forgiven), but Jesus was at pains to make it clear that such was not the case for those who would follow Him unto Paradise.

I read about one Christian seeker who was getting fed up with the quality of the Christianity that was within his experience. He recounted hearing a man at a prayer meeting asking God to give him a new Toyota SUV, and he even told God what engine size he wanted, and the color and pinstriping, hastening to add “in Jesus’ name” so as to be sure his prayer would be heard. Is that what Christ came to teach us? Another fed-up person, when told that America was one of the most religious countries of the world, shot back: “I’m talking about actual religion, not these rich Pharisees…rotting inside painted tombs, hypocrites…praying for washing machines.”

Sometimes I’ll read something by one of the saints (canonized or not)—who really had a grasp of what the Gospel is all about, who actually lived it at great personal cost (and deep joy as well)—and it is refreshing to the point of being startling. Hey, that’s right, I say, slapping my forehead, that’s the Gospel of Jesus! But if it’s startling to hear a real Christian speaking of Christianity, how far have we fallen? How much have I myself been influenced by the bourgeois decency of bland, mainstream, toothless, superficial California Christianity? O Lord, give me a new computer (160GB hard drive, 3.2GHz Pentium 4 processor, DVD/CD-RW drive) before the warranty on my old one runs out!

Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, said the Lord, and everything else you need will be given you. We have to go back to the real Gospel and make sure we’re asking for the right things, make sure we know what being a Christian really entails before we blithely present ourselves as such. We don’t want to be a scandal for those in search of the real thing. Jesus never preached a gospel of prosperity; He preached a Gospel of cross and resurrection, a Gospel of faith and love, a Gospel of mercy and truth.

Jesus ought to take us on a tour of the world, his world. He would show us sinners repenting, people serving the poor, sick, and elderly, others prostrate in heartfelt adoration and supplication, people trusting God despite poverty and hardship, others making difficult renunciations in the midst of the seductions of this world, people comforting the bereaved and the hurting, others spreading truth and beauty through art, literature, and music, people standing up for the truth of the Faith in the face of malicious opposition, etc. “All this,” He says with a smile, “and Heaven, too!”