Many American Christians assume that if they believe and God and do what is right, God will bless them.
Sometimes, this takes the extreme form of the Word of Faith theology, which assures believers that God will give them what they confess. If they confess health, they will be healthy. If they confess wealth, they will be wealthy. Popularly, this extreme is known as the Prosperity Gospel, the Health-Wealth movement, and Positive Confession—or more derisively, Name It and Claim It or Blab It and Grab It.
More often, however, this assumption takes the form of America as a Christian nation. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,” Psalm 33:12 says. As long as the Lord is God in America, the argument goes, he will bless America with peace and prosperity.
Whereas Word of Faith theology focuses on the individual, Christian nationalism focuses on the collective. Either way, however, the assumption is the same: If you are good, you will be well.
This common assumption of American Christians is more American than Christian, however. It is not true to the experience of Christians in the New Testament, vast swaths of Church history, or even Christians in the modern day. Indeed, the New Testament at places seems to teach precisely the opposite: If you are good, you will be treated ill.
Consider what Paul, Silas, and Timothy wrote in 1 Thessalonians 3:3b–4:
For you know quite well that we are destined for [trials]. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.
We are destined for trials. We will be persecuted. Suffering is the lot of the faithful.
Do you believe this? If not, consider this partial list of the fate of New Testament believers: John the Baptist was beheaded, Jesus Christ was crucified, Stephen the deacon was stoned, James the apostle was executed, James the Lord’s brother was stoned, Paul was behaded, Peter was crucified upside down. Were these men less faithful than we are? Less holy? Less blessed?
Or consider believers around the world who suffer for confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. It has been said that we live in the Age of Martyrs right now, for more Christians were killed for their faith in the Twentieth Century alone than in the previous nineteen centuries combined. Were these Christians less faithful than we are? Less holy? Less blessed?
Or might it be the case that we Americans have confused Christianity and comfort? Have we wrongly identified the American Way of Life with the the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Do we perhaps not suffer because we don’t turn off the TV, put down the potato chips, rise off our couches, and go on some mission for God to win the souls of the lost and relieve the misery of the poor?
I ask these questions not to provide a definitive answer, but to unsettle my comfortable soul—and yours.