Shades of the prosperity gospel weave their way through the entire fabric of our society. Some shades are downright heretical — think T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen. Other shades are more subtle and affect far more of us than we realize. Many Americans tend to think that misfortune is the product of poor choices, and that material blessings are the product of right living. If we jump through the right hoops and check off the correct number of boxes on an ethics chart, many believe that we will be blessed. The blessings come from a cosmic Santa Clause that many call “God” who is waiting and hoping to heap gifts upon his children if only they would just do and say the right things. In a recent article expressing anger because God hasn’t paid off her student loans, a HuffPost writer demonstrated her belief in a cosmic Santa Claus called “God.”
Kimberly Lawson gives her readers a brief snapshot of her religious upbringing, opening her article with the sentence, “As a child, I accompanied my mother to every worship service our church offered each week.”
From there, she details the heritage of faith provided by her mom. Unfortunately, that heritage laid the groundwork for the view of God that wades in the poisonous waters of the prosperity gospel. Lawson writes of the time her mom viewed faith in God as a substitute for modern medicine:
She entrusted me, her only child, in God’s hands so completely that she didn’t bother taking me to a pediatrician for regular checkups.
When I came down with chicken pox (I was probably 4 or 5, as I hadn’t started kindergarten yet), she prayed and asked God to heal me quickly. And, of course, we still went to church — scabs and all.
As a young adult working in the failing print newspaper industry during the height of the Great Recession, Lawson applied her mom’s lessons. Believing that she needed a backup plan, Lawson went to grad school with the goal of becoming an English professor. She also believed that if she had enough faith and did the right things, God would pay off her student loans. As she writes in the article’s headline, “Spoiler alert: He didn’t.”
Oddly, after explaining how Jesus died on the cross “so that those who believe in him can have everlasting life in heaven,” Lawson writes, “In other words, good things come to those who believe.”
To be honest, I’m impressed by the level of cognitive dissonance required to jump from “everlasting life in heaven” to good things defined by material blessings in the here and now, specifically paying off student loans. In this life, God promises His children — those who are repenting of their sins and placing their faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus — sanctification, the theological term that means being made more and more like Jesus. Beyond that, Jesus tells us to expect suffering and persecution. The good material things promised are in the life to come.
As the final Adam, Jesus is doing what the first Adam failed to do — exercising dominion over God’s creation as God’s righteous ruler. Before returning to heaven, Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them and that he would one day return to take them there. Jesus is making a new creation — a new heaven and new earth. And his Spirit is making a new people through the new birth of faith. Those new people, commonly called Christians, will be ushered into God’s good and righteous creation for all eternity and will enjoy God’s blessings.
Lawson reveals in her article that she wasn’t placing her faith in the God of the Bible but in a Santa Claus god. However, she ends her article by confessing that she’s not sure that she believes in Santa Claus god anymore, although, as she writes:
I do hope to one day find my way back to a personal relationship with God ― the one who made me feel safe and protected all those years. For now, though, my Sunday mornings are reserved for working. I’ve got bills to pay.
It’s easy to scoff at Kimberly Lawson, but the reality is that many Americans hold similar views about God. Christianity in this country has become so wedded to capitalism and commercialism that the default belief about God includes aspects of a cosmic Santa Claus for many of those who claim to by followers of Jesus. The prayer of Jesus’ followers should be that Kimberly Lawson and those who believe in the Santa Claus god will repent and place their faith in the true God of the Bible.