Give me neither poverty or riches…

Two things I ask of you; do not deny them to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full and deny you, and say, “Who is the LORD?” or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God. Proverbs 30.7-9

These words, so powerful and so true, should be inscribed on the heart if not the wall of every Christian, especially in the wealth and prosperity of American society. Indeed this proverb most profoundly encapsulates the very heart of what have been the most troublesome and persistent problems in our society and in the church. So much of the injustice, racism, environmental and economic exploitation that has plagued our society finds its root in a failure to be satisfied with, “the food that I need.” Scripture tells us that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and that those who desire to get rich fall into a trap and are ensnared by evil, and the Proverbs are filled with admonitions like this one against the deceitfulness, transience, and emptiness of wealth.

Despite this it seems the chief day to day preoccupation of believers (much like everyone else) is the acquisition of more and better. In fact purveyors of the much maligned prosperity gospel have built a theological house around the notion that God not only wants to meet our needs, but desires for every believer to be materially wealthy.

Prosperity preachers, maligned though they may be, are not the first or the only to promote such views. Indeed it could be said that the scorn heaped upon them by mainstream evangelicals is a bit hypocritical when one drives into the parking lot of the typical suburban evangelical church and observes the well coiffed parishioners leave half million dollar suburban homes in $40,000 SUV’s to worship in sanctuaries plush with thousands of dollars worth of carpet, and tens of thousands of dollars in the latest multimedia equipment. The rich always decry the indulgences of the poor.

Prosperity preaching is in some ways merely a continuation of what has always been latent in American evangelicalism: an equation of God’s blessing with material goods. After all the massive prosperity of the United States was built on free land (taken from natives) and free labor (taken from Africans) the use of which was often endorsed by protestant Christians.

In any event, as a observer of immigrant culture in the context of the immigrant church, this correlation has caught on quite readily. It is an unfortunately easy leap to make; the pursuit and achievement of the American dream is often perceived (if not overtly stated) to be the best way to be a good Christian. And while it is easy to see and critique it in the Asian church, it is quite apparent in other places as well. After all the Christianity they practice is the Christianity to which they were converted.

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7 thoughts on “Give me neither poverty or riches…

  1. Great thoughts, very similar to what I’ve been wrestling with as we are about to enter a different tax bracket. The constant tension that we have in the richest country in the world is, how far do you go with this? how poor is poor enough? is having a car too much? what about disposable diapers? what about median salary? how about education?

    you are absolutely right to criticize the theology behind this prosperity mentality. What is the economic ceiling or floor we should strive for, do you think?

  2. David, the question is perhaps not how poor is poor enough, but rather how much is enough. Can we set an upward limit on our lifestyle and determine that anything we bring in above that would be given to the kingdom and to kingdom purposes.

  3. I like the way you reframe the question from how poor do we have to be…to how much do we really need?

    We do rightly condemn the Prosperity preachers, but then we don’t recognize that in so doing we condemn ourselves. for deep within is the idea that we have right to that which has been obtained on the backs of others.

    Can I give the excess of what I have over what I need? That is the question, and ultimately why it is easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom.

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