I’ve had a rethink on prosperity. The gospel of prosperity A major rethink. It must be cos I’m approaching fifty. Midlife crisis passed me by, so three quarters it is.
I need the bling.
I need the car.
I need ten seconds in the ring with Conor McGregor this weekend (the 2 million, minus the costs of reconstructive surgery, should easily pay off the mortgage and then get some sharp suits).
Oh, sorry, not that prosperity gospel. Not the best life now, Teflon Dollar kinda prosperity gospel. That’s another gospel altogether. I mean the prosperity gospel as experienced by Daniel at the end of Daniel ch6.
You know the story: Daniel’s been sidelined for a few years, but as Babylon crumbles, King Belshazzar sees the writing on the wall, calls for Daniel who gives him God’s word. The empire falls, the Medes and Persians take over, and the end of the non-apocalyptic half of the book ends with these words:
So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian. (Dan 6:28)
That’s the kind of prosperity I am looking for. That’s the kind of prosperity we should all be looking for. A prosperity that is built upon a confidence in the reign of God’s king over and about the various reigns of kings and cultures, a prosperity based in the gospel.
The second half of Daniel, and its apocalyptic frame simply confirms what we already know from the events of the first half of the book; that God is sovereign and, as Nebuchadnezzar himself confirms, “he does according to his will among the host of heaven.”
In the midst of the cultural upheaval of his day, in which sometimes he was on the nose, and sometimes he was on the rise, the overarching narrative of Daniel’s life is that he prospered not only during the reign of these two Median/Persian kings, but also through the Babylonian kingdom that preceded it.
This is not to say that it was not difficult, you know, threat of being killed and lions and all that, but the neutral end of chapter one: Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus, hardly prepares us for the end of chapter six: So this Daniel prospered…
In this sense we see that there are periods of decline in Daniel’s own influence at the royal court, indeed there are periods of danger in which the king’s face is turned against him. His influence in the court waxes and wanes. What was Daniel up to all that time Belshazzar was king, since the king had not heard of him until the queen mother mentioned Daniel by name and recounted his past deeds?
That’s a challenge and an encouragement for us.
First’ it’s a challenge, because we can be tempted to run after immediate prosperity. That much is clear from Daniel. The culturally smart thing to do for Daniel in chapter one would have been to eat the king’s royal food. He resisted. The result? The threat of being sidelined or worse. It would have been easy to justify the decision to eat from the king’s table on the basis that he would then have a Jewish voice in the pagan culture. Daniel rejected that precisely because he knew he would lose the Jewishness of that voice.
It would have been easy for Daniel’s three friends to bow down to the image of gold for the sake of both their personal prosperity (it would keep them alive), but also because it promised to keep alive the influence they had just been given in the royal court. After all, how can you speak into the Babylonian situation when you’re dead?
Yet they resisted the lure of immediate prosperity and were rewarded ultimately, while gaining a witness towards the Most High God in the process.
And so too with Daniel’s decision to open the windows and pray towards a rubble heap called Jerusalem. No immediate prosperity there. Indeed the threat of a grisly death because he chose to place his security in the future prosperity of the city of God.
In our culture at the moment the pathway for the church to easy prosperity is clear. Align oneself with the cultural zeitgeist, whether that be the obvious prosperity of a gospel that promises all and demands nothing in a material sense. Or whether that is to align oneself with the gospel of sexual prosperity in which fulfilment comes from deep autonomy and personal satisfaction. And as it stands you are more likely to be thrown to the lions at the moment for rejecting the latter than the former.
For those in the Christian frame who think that the best way for the church to survive – indeed thrive – is to align oneself with the sexual revolution’s inexorable push then enjoy the immediate glow of prosperity that the culture showers upon you.
But it won’t last. The past forty years of mainline Protestantism’s desire for cultural prosperity has been an unmitigated disaster. Evangelicals take note. The lure of immediate prosperity, especially in terms of political clout, will also prove to be an unmitigated disaster.
The encouragement for Christians who feel threatened by the pushback by the culture is that situations can change quickly. And if not quickly, then certainly ultimately.
At the moment it’s hard to envisage a situation in which the cultural push, especially in the area of sexual ethics, against the Christian frame might be halted, even reversed. Perhaps it will, perhaps it won’t. But our call is not to nervously keep our eyes on the times, but to “live such good lives among the pagans” that a place at the cultural table neither lures us nor passes us by.
However, at the same time we must remember that God is no man’s debtor, as that other prosperity gospel would tell us. There is no quid pro quo relationship with God. He does not owe us a prosperous life either materially or culturally. Indeed the book of Daniel reaches its crescendo in its second half. Babylon does indeed changes hands, but it still stands. Daniel is told that ultimate prosperity lies at the end of days.
The book of Daniel is not, therefore, prescriptive, but descriptive. It is setting up the framework for a “suffer now/glory later’ gospel – you know, the one that Jesus enacted and calls all of his followers to enact.
Daniel ch12 sets us up for an everlasting prosperity bestowed upon those who refuse to look to this age for their comfort. His true prosperity is not at the end of ch6, because it has an end point, but at the end of ch12. What is he told by the heavenly figure in his vision?:
But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.
There we find a pre-Resurrection promise of the resurrection. Our ultimate prosperity is eschatological. Yes that begins now with the promised end time Holy Spirit being poured out now, but that very act pits spirit against flesh, heightening the very dangers to prosperity that Daniel faced.
The promise is that we shall stand in our allotted places at the end of days. We shall stand. That’s the future prosperity that forms our attitudes towards the enticing lure of prosperity now. Without a robust eschatology you’ll be a sucker for prosperity now at the expense of prosperity later. Prosperity now will be your gospel, and you’ll fall before any image and give homage to any power that promises you a taste of prosperity now.