A few days ago I received a Facebook message from a homeschool mother who was very angry about my book, Courtship in Crisis, which she had not read. The message came to me while I was feeling low, so I did something I don’t normally do to people who send me angry Facebook messages. I responded.
Yes, I know responding to criticism leads to more criticism, but I’d been frustrated by people who were criticizing the book without reading it or proposing an alternative solution to the courtship crisis.
So I asked her, “What is your solution to the singleness epidemic?”
She responded by saying, “Following Christ not a man or a method. He has a unique plan for each young person beyond even your wildest dreams.”
If you are a single person, I imagine that you get these kinds of “God will bless you beyond your wildest dreams” platitudes from married people all the time. These remarks are usually intended to make us feel better. Perhaps this works for you, but it doesn’t work for me. They make me feel helpless and hopeless.
Would it surprise you to know that these kinds of platitudes are often based on a form of the prosperity gospel?
The Financial Prosperity Gospel
For those of you not familiar with prosperity theology in its most common form, it boils down to this:
“Donate ‘seeds of faith’ to our ministry and God will bless you beyond your wildest dreams with health and wealth. The more you donate, the more God will bless you.”
The concept is based on the parable of the sower, in which the seeds are interpreted to represent money. For the record, Jesus specifically explained that the seeds in the parable represented the Good News about the Kingdom of God (Matthew 13:18-20).
Often, in addition to donating money, the prosperity preachers recommend their followers do specific acts of faith in order to best earn God’s blessing.
To be fair, God does heal people and bless them financially. But the Bible is very clear that God’s blessings are not something that you buy with money (Acts 8:18-20). More on this later.
The prosperity gospel does make some people very rich, namely the people who receive all those donations. The most popular of which live in million-dollar homes or own multi-million-dollar luxury jets.
The Relational Prosperity Gospel
As I grew up in the courtship community, the prosperity gospel culture seemed so far away. It is only now, looking back, that I realize I had a plank of the prosperity gospel in my eye that I could not see. It was the same wolf, just wearing the clothes of relational prosperity.
We thought if we used the correct homeschool curriculum, wore the correct clothing, listened to the correct music, and attended the correct conferences, God would bless us beyond our wildest dreams with happy marriages and healthy families.
The relational prosperity gospel teaches that the holier you are, the happier your family will be. This sounds good – except for the fact that it is not in the Bible. Jesus never said “Follow me and I will give you a husband and a happy family.”
In fact, Jesus promises just the opposite.
Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against.
‘Father will be divided against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’”
It is Satan, the father of lies, who said, “I will give it all to you if you will worship me.” (Luke 4:7). I think you could say that the devil was serving up a full course of the prosperity gospel in the wilderness.
The “Spiritual” Way to Kick Someone While They are Down
The tragedy of both the financial and relational prosperity gospels is that when someone is going through hard times, it is “a sign” that they don’t have enough faith. The more we believe in the prosperity gospel, the more we tend to sound like the Pharisees who said the reason the man was born blind was because of his parents’ sin (John 9).
The prosperity gospel tells us, “Are you having trouble with your children or marriage? It is because you are not holy enough. Perhaps your son is listening to the wrong music, your daughter is wearing the wrong clothes, or you are not homeschooling them correctly.” This can be like saying “beatings will continue until morale improves.”
The most unfortunate consequence is that prosperity theology leads to Christians shooting their own wounded. The book of Job shows us that sometimes bad things just happen, even to good people. Job’s friends could not wrap their heads around the fact that someone could suffer without earning it somehow.
The reality is that our actions have consequences. Bad actions can have bad consequences and good actions can have good consequences. The key word here is “can.” If we are not in full control of the world how can all the consequences in our lives be our fault? Laziness does make you hungry (Proverbs 19:15). But do you know what else will make you hungry? A famine. And sometimes famines are not your fault.
Right now America is facing a famine of marriages. The marriage rate has plummeted from a peak of 16.4 weddings per year per thousand people to a historic all-time low of only 6.8 weddings per year (and many of those weddings are for second and third marriages). This is despite having a pool of eligible single people larger than the flood of eligible singles after WWII.
I think the primary reason for this singleness epidemic is that both Modern Dating and Modern Courtship have discouraged young people from getting married. We have a saying in business, “the system you have right now is perfectly designed to give you the results you are getting right now.” The problem is the system, not the people.
Platitudes are not going to make the wedding famine go away. Prosperity theology is not the answer.
If you want to be rich, the Bible does have the answer. It is not donating money to certain ministries, it is… wait for it… hard work (Proverbs 10:4). In your hard work, remember that it is God who gives you the strength to work hard.
Could it be that hard work is also the answer to the courtship crisis? Could it be that God wants to partner with us as we work to find a spouse? Is it possible that healthy relationships require hard work both before and after the wedding?
If a man has a field that is not producing a harvest because he is not plowing the field, he doesn’t need platitudes. He needs to plow his field. Where in the Bible is trusting God an acceptable excuse for laziness and inaction?
Hiding at home and believing in platitudes is easy. Going on dates and putting yourself out there requires faith, vulnerability, and hard work. Ruth didn’t sit at home waiting for someone to come find her. She got a job in a place where she interacted with a lot of people (Ruth 2:2). She acted again by making it very clear to Boaz that she was interested in him (Ruth 3:7-9).
An Important Caveat (Please Read Before Commenting)
When preaching against the Prosperity Gospel the temptation is to go too far the other way and portray God as a mean bully with a club that He beats His followers with. This portrayal of God is unbiblical and untrue.
God loves us. Of all of God’s titles, the one Jesus showed us to use when we pray to is “Father.” (Matthew 6:9-13). To me, that sounds like a God who loves us and wants to know us and be known by us. Plus, He tells us He loves us over and over again in the Bible.
God answers prayer. He is not some distant watchmaker who put the world into motion and is now watching from afar with His arms crossed. God still heals people, blesses them financially, and helps them find a spouse.
As Jesus said in Matthew 7:7-11:
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
I may be wrong about this but I don’t think asking God for healing is an excuse to not go to the doctor. Asking God for provision is no excuse for idleness. So, is it possible that asking God to provide a spouse is no excuse for not going on dates? Perhaps God will lead a stranger to your door to ask for your hand in marriage. But, could it be that telling God that courtship is the only way you will allow Him to lead you into marriage is putting God in an unbiblical box?
What do you think? If you are single, what sorts of platitudes do you hear from married couples?