The Scandal of Prosperity


Our society is currently bombarded with sex scandals. The Church is also bombarded by many such scandals from within and without. On one hand, these issues are not always responded to directly. That is a problem. On the other hand, these issues are sometimes way too often discussed. They are on the minds and on the hearts of those sitting in the pew, especially since we all have to deal to some degree (and have dealt with) with sexual sin and 7th commandment related issues in our lives. Now, how to work with this problem?

I recently was reminded of another take on this issue. In a recent article posted on the Desiring God Facebook page, Jon Bloom talks about how abundance is at least as dangerous as porn (you can find it here). Bloom makes a good point that I have thought about in the past, but it can easily be forgotten about in our wealthy society. This is the concept that an abundance of entertainment, money, and time on our hands can lead to forgetting God, and of course, that takes you places you don’t want to be.

Rosaria Butterfield alerted me to this idea first in her book ‘Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert’. One thing that she realized as she was going from being a Lesbian English Professor at a prominent university in the United States to Christianity, was that there is a lot of sexual sin in conservative Reformed circles. Obviously a person coming from such a background would have to wrestle through some of these issues. Yes, the church is a hospital for sinners (including for Rosaria Butterfield and you and me), but we also must see growth in holiness taking place, which is often a struggle for church leaders to see.

At one point, she explains this passage:

Ezekiel 16:48–51 “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it. Samaria has not committed half your sins. You have committed more abominations than they, and have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations that you have committed.”

My explanation has her explanation in mind. God is speaking to Samaria in Israel (His people). Sodom’s sin was a variety of issues such as homosexuality, rape, incest, and other sins of a particularly sexual nature. But notice that God doesn’t mention this in this passage, but He mentions three things: pride, excess of food, prosperous ease, and not aiding the poor and needy. In our culture this could mean pride, expensive and large feasts, and lots of vacations and entertainment.

But God says that Samaria has committed more abominations than Sodom, and have made Sodom appear righteous. But He has targeted the culture. He has targeted the soil in which violations of the 7th commandment are cultivated. He has called on his people to aid the poor and the needy. James agrees with this in the New Testament: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27)

Maybe we don’t have to say that wealth is, in and of itself, the issue (the love of wealth definitely plays a major role). There are very wealthy people who pour themselves out in service of God and His kingdom. The key is that we are all called to be pouring ourselves out in service of God and our neighbour, wherever God has placed us and however much money he has blessed us with. The key is not that all entertainment is wrong, but what is our primary orientation? Towards service or towards me?

God has blessed many in Conservative Reformed & Presbyterian churches with a lot of wealth, both financially and also in teaching and doctrine. But will we use this to aid the poor and the needy? Our generation has lots of time on our hands to watch netflix, browse social media, play sports, watch TV, play video games, work out, etc. But will we use that time to visit the hospitalized and shut-ins, bring the homeless food, visit those who are lonely and sad?

Because God has blessed us with all the riches of His mercy in Jesus Christ, it is our gift to aid the poor and the needy. If we have everything in Him, then we can also serve, rather than spending so much time allowing temptation to creep in. Obviously there are extremes, interpretations, people who still need to be saved by Christ although they are in the church, and all the wisdom to be sorted out in between, but Jon Bloom and Rosaria Butterfield have pressing and poignant points for our current church scene.

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