Several years ago, Time Magazine published an article entitled, Does God Want You to be Rich? (September 18, 2006). On one side of the question are those who tout a prosperity theology which says that God wants us to be prosperous and happy. On the other side are folks who are saying, in effect, “I beg your pardon, Jesus never promised us a rose garden.” Both groups are quick to offer passages of Scripture to support their position, so how can we know which side we want to join? Especially since people seem to have differing interpretations of what certain Scriptures mean.
How do we reconcile the words of Jesus that seem contradictory? In John 10:10 Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly,” and yet in Mark 10:24-26, he said that it’s “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (New American Standard Bible).
Some of us will undoubtedly ask, “Doesn’t the Bible tell us that God cares about what we care about? Isn’t he concerned about our happiness, our success, our health, and our finances? Doesn’t he hear our cries, know our desires, and feel our pain? What role does God really play in my life here on earth? Why are there so many evil people who amass great fortunes with ease while good, God-fearing folks have to scrape by with next to nothing?”
The prophet Habakkuk had similar questions for God. “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2-4 NIV).
After assuring Habakkuk that those who were evil would eventually get what’s coming to them, God said, “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay (2:3).”
In other words, justice will prevail but not on our timetable. We can’t see all that God is doing and all that he will do. Even when it seems that evil people get rich while godly people suffer, God’s goodness will prevail in the end. The riches of Heaven will far outweigh anything we will ever know on earth.
Whether or not God wants us to be rich is probably not the question Christians should be debating. God surely wants good for his children, just as we want good for our children. But greater than his desire for us to prosper is his desire for us to have a heart that is fully devoted to him. Perhaps we need to ask these questions: “Do I have the heart of God? Does my heart break over the things that break God’s heart? Do I take every opportunity to increase the population of Heaven, no matter the risk? Do I pay forward the blessings of God to others? Do I see the world through the eyes of Jesus? Do I return hatefulness with compassion and mercy? Do I use whatever I’ve been given to serve God’s purposes? Am I content to trust him to provide for me in good times and bad?”
The riches of God are his to give. He can choose to give or take away. There is no evil in riches if riches are not what we live for. Conversely, if lying flat on our back is the only way we ever look up, then perhaps he will make sure we have the opportunity to spend time in that position.
We may never be able to answer questions like, “Does God want me to be rich?” But as we live with whatever God allows in our lives, there are things we can know for certain: his grace is sufficient, he will never leave us, and he will meet every need, even if it means taking us to live with him. Understanding this will help us accept that no matter what our circumstances, we can echo the words that Habakkuk chose to end his book: “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights” (3:19).
Sue Wilson and her husband, Don, have recently retired from Christ’s Church of the Valley in Arizona, a church they started together in 1983. They are now leading a ministry to encourage pastors and wives, to give consultation to church leaders, and to help the global kingdom of God grow through healthy churches.