Must Prosperity Devour Religion?
“Religion begat prosperity and the daughter devoured the mother.”
This Thanksgiving season is a good time to heed Cotton Mather’s astute observation from over 400 years ago. He made the observation while living in one of the most godliest societies at the time. But they still had problems from too much prosperity.
And it has only gotten worse over time.
Americans are very prosperous.
The prosperity of today’s America is not measured by money alone. It includes free time, wide-spread security, and an abundance of food and drink.
We have it in spades, Leftists complaints notwithstanding. The average American has more food, clothing and technology than they could ever fully use.
Teenagers eat out at lunch time. Parents purchase new cars. Grandparents retire with a prolonged vacation.
And Americans are very secular.
The secularism of today’s America is not measured by labels alone. It includes false teachings, dangerous practices and wide-spread ignorance.
I know the polls still show high numbers of self-described believers affirming God, the Bible and Jesus. But that includes people whose God is small, who deny a supernatural Bible, and who know little of Christ and His commands.
These same people vote for secular values, laws and leaders. And it has only gotten worse over the last several decades.
But how exactly does prosperity devour religion? How did we become so secular?
Often prosperity births presumption. And presumption breeds pride. And pride morphs into forgetfulness. And forgetfulness is the mother of apostasy.
Israel of old had this same problem:
“Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest—when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage…then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth’ ” (Deuteronomy 8:11-17).
The Old Testament is a history of Israel’s forgetfulness. She forgot to worship God aright. She forgot to obey God. She forgot to repent.
And it was all rooted in pride and self-reliance.
These problems are still with us today.
Polls over the years show widespread forgetfulness among Christians. Barna’s book, UnChristian, paints a dismal portrait of years of gathered data: open-mindedness to various sins and close-mindedness to theological truth.
And untold numbers of personal encounters tell the story of Christian Americans who vote for evil laws and leaders. Many more are indifferent to God’s law and Christ’s gospel.
How much of these problems stem from the siren call of prosperity? How much of this flows from pride? More than we are comfortable with, I wager.
With a culture inundated with self-help, self-reliance and self-aggrandizement, pride has surely seeped into our churches and our souls.
But it is not hopeless. Blessings from God do not have to engender forgetfulness and pride. Prosperity can be fed without devouring religion.
There are many ways this can be so. But one solution stands out in Deuteronomy 8:18:
“And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth…”
The solution to forgetfulness is remembrance. The antidote to pride is humility.
We must remember the truth that all things come from God’s hands. We must remember that we are dependent upon Him.
But to behold our wealth without honoring God in Christ is to devour religion. To assign our good fortune to blind chance, to man’s will or to something else other than God Almighty is to fall into the jaws of pride.
This Thanksgiving, let us confess with our mouths and believe with our hearts that our prosperity—even our ability to become prosperous—comes from God alone.
This is the most humbling of beliefs. This is how we can remember our God. This is how we can starve our pride—how we can feed prosperity without devouring religion.
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