In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and placed his two image-bearers in the center of a lush, tropical rainforest to have unrestrained social, sexual, and intellectual communion with one another, and to have unbroken friendship with God as they nurtured the abundant goodness of creation. God created us as kings and priests (1 Peter 2.9) and He wants us to enjoy the delights that accompany our identity as a race of kings (Revelation 1.6). All human beings are called to represent God’s supreme authority and kingship over the world. If there ever was a picture of prosperity, affluence, abundance, wealth, or delight it is the Garden of Eden.
Asceticism, as well as any suspicion of material wealth, was very alien to Judaism in the Old Testament. Eating, drinking, taking one’s enjoyment (in other words, every material blessing that enhanced the quality of life) were accepted in simple thankfulness from God’s hand.
Gerard von Rad, Old Testament scholar
There are, additionally, pictures and descriptions in Genesis 1-2 of fruitful productivity amidst this affluence—Adam was put to work naming the animals and taking care of the Garden. But that enhances the true picture of prosperity in the story, which would be cheapened by a vision of divine sloth amid unearned splendor. Even the first command, “You may eat of any tree in the garden” is not an indication that Adam and Eve were just getting by or scraping together the bare minimum they needed in order to survive, but it suggests bounty and freedom to enjoy a wide range of delicacies and enjoyments. While it’s true they had no money, no paying jobs, no property or equity or investments, it’s equally true that Adam and Eve had access to all the benefits of those things without the slavery those things require of modern citizens.
Eden set the man and the woman free from servitude to want, it unleashed them to dream, to use their creativity, to work in productive and rewarding ways, to reap the fruits of their labor, and to take human pleasure in the whole of life, in the image of God, and in his good pleasure.
John R. Schneider, biblical scholar
God’s original intention was for humanity to live in abundance. Eden in scripture is not just good, it’s paradigmatic…meaning it’s what God wants for all of us all of the time. Because of this, it is much easier to understand God’s promises to Abraham and the patriarchs—promises of wealth, power, and of a flourishing people—and his rewards to Job, David, Nehemiah, and Esther and Mordecai. Regardless of where the Israelites were—exile in Babylon, slavery in Egypt, captivity in Assyria, wandering the desert, or building their kingdom—God continued to promise what he had promised from the beginning: prosperity, abundance, and delight. Despite all other issues associated with money— looking after the poor, budgeting responsibly, giving generously and sacrificially to God and to others, living simply, living free from the power of Mammon and the love of money— we simply cannot ignore the clear teaching of the Bible on this issue.
God does, in fact, want you to prosper.
Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.
3 John 1.2
The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your land.
The blessing of the Lord makes rich.
The crown (signifying participation in the glory of God – ed.) of the wise is their riches.
Proverbs 14.24 NASB
The reward for humility and the fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.
You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.
2 Corinthians 9.11a
The Genesis creation accounts make it crystal clear that not all affluence and opulence, not all feasting and drinking and laughing and carousing, not all pleasures and delights and affectations, are examples of drunkenness and gluttony.
Human delight is a precious expression of God’s glory, of human dignity, and of the goodness of life in this world. In its proper form it is a sacrament to God’s dominion over chaos and darkness.
John R. Schneider
We rebelled against God and were cast out of Eden, our garden paradise, and everything changed from then on. But the prophets and Gospel writers and New Testament authors make it clear that God’s intention for us to live again in Eden has not changed. Despite all he said and did that seriously called into question the priorities of the wealthy, Jesus himself always referred to the Kingdom of Heaven as a place of great feasting and merriment, richness and wealth (Matthew 22.1-14). When a prostitute anointed Jesus’ own feet with a years’ wages of “wasted perfume,” it was not Jesus who was angry, but Judas whose misunderstanding of value, freedom, money, and worth was so wrong he betrayed our Lord for the price of slave (John 12.1-8; Matthew 26:14-16). Jesus also had more than the poor for friends—some of his closest companions were a group of women who financially supported his ministry (Luke 1-3), as were the rich people with whom he ate (Luke 11.37; 14.1; John 2.1). Jesus’ parable about the use of “unrighteous mammon” in Luke 16 is puzzling, because Jesus honors the servant who uses money to increase his worth. No one was known more for his simplicity and asceticism than John the Baptist (Luke 7.33)…including Jesus. In stark contrast, Jesus was criticized for being a lover of many earthly pleasures, among them strong drink and fine food (Luke 7.34). To the religious people of his day, Jesus seemed like a first century Lindsey Lohan or a Paris Hilton, his party-fame splashed all over the headlines of the Holy Land.
When I talk about prosperity I really do mean that God wants you to have more than enough money to pay your bills, live debt free, give money away without unnecessarily compromising your own economic security. He wants you to enjoy special things like vacations and time away, and even to throw money around on occasions like birthdays or holidays or whatever. Those are the good gifts God desires for us, his children. According to scripture, God really wants to spoil us. Paul says that Jesus, who was very rich, became poor for our sake. Why? So we would wallow in poverty? So we could suffer for him? No. Jesus suffered for us. We may, in fact, suffer at some point on behalf of the high and holy calling of Jesus Christ—but we should not force ourselves to suffer out of a backward sense of guilt. He suffered for our sake, we don’t have to manufacture suffering for his. We don’t have to be poor to be holy. And we should be just as careful about assuming that the rich are unholy, just as the rich should be careful about assuming that they prosper because they are holy.
Problems arise when we think our being spoiled in the western world has little to do with God. It’s a problem when our spoilage does in fact spoil us and make us rotten on the inside, and that our wealth often comes at the expense of someone else’s financial security. Usually this someone lives in an economically under-developed country and has little to no chance of enjoying financial security themselves. We’ll talk more about the ethics of looking after our fellow human being in another chapter, but for now let me say, yes that should bother us.
Knowing as we do that God’s plan is for all the world to experience Edenic abundance, delight, and prosperity, it must bother us that some of our fellows have no chance at such delight. It also must compel us to act on their behalf. The question is how much are we to rightly enjoy and how much are we to give away to those who may never have any of what we have? Is it okay to be rich while someone else is poor?
The real issue today is not whether we can live without monetary abundance, but whether we can live with it.
James Robison , TV personality
We are called to use our wealth and affluence so that our actions announce to the watching world that grace is free and abundant, that God uses his people to heal the world and reunite humanity with their Creator, that a new creation is promised, and that there is more than enough for everyone within God’s kingdom. God wants to prosper you so you have the means to cooperate with him in the redemption of the world.
Dr. David McDonald is the teaching pastor at Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, MI. The church, widely considered among the most innovative in America, has been featured on CNN.com and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. David weaves deep theological truths with sharp social analysis and peculiar observations on pop culture. He lives in Jackson with his wife, Carmel, and their two kids. Follow him on twitter (@fossores) or online at fossores.com