Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sunday Morning Meds--Prosperity Theology


Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! 
We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.”
Psalm 65:4

In Peter Sellers’ masterpiece allegory, Being There (1979), Chance, a sweet and simple dunderhead gardener who knows nothing about real world politics or culture, is madly thrust into the national media spotlight because the words he utters seem immensely profound even though they are, well, innocuous.

In one memorable scene, the President himself asks Chance for advice on the national economy: “Do you think we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?” he says.Chance pauses, then responds with truth from the only world he knows: “As long as the roots are not severed, all is well and all will be well in the garden.”

“. . .In the garden?” the President asks, searching for meaning.

“That is correct,” Chance says. “In a garden, growth has its season. There is spring and summer, but there is also fall and winter. And then spring and summer again.”

The comic genius of the movie—and the idea behind it—is that it prompts viewers themselves to press meaning from Chance’s “chance” answers. Between the words he utters—simple references to gardening—one can lug in whole worlds of meaning. Chance really knows nothing. But the precious words he utters prompts The President—and the viewers—to draw their own conclusions.

It’s a scary movie for fundamentalists, I suppose, if any care to watch—scary because the implications of the story (from a novel by Jerry Kosinski) are quite clear: text is meaningless on its own; interpretation is everything. Meaning—and truth itself—is totally subjective.

Being There comes to mind with the fourth verse of Psalm 65, in part because the gospel of success is doing so very well today, all over the world, not only in its blatant forms—as in “Jesus Christ promises success for those who follow him,” but also in far more subtle ways. The meteoric growth of Christianity around the world isn’t all the work of the Holy Spirit. Oppressed people—the poor of every land—sometimes come to believe that western Christianity is the way to wealth. Follow Christ and your life will hold the glamor of American television.

Chance could utter this verse, and to many—especially the poor, it might seem the gospel truth, which it is. But then, what are “the good things of your house”?

The answer to that question lies, as Being There demonstrates, in interpretation. No one can look at this verse and not do some hermeneutic excavation.

What are “the good things”? A clear blue sky; the Second Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln; a marital bed; chicken fajitas; my children happy; something started in joy, finished with gusto; a novel that teaches me something; a profession of faith; my two-year old grandson singing a prayer before dinner. Create your own list.

It’s easy for me to say that the promise of verse four does not include money. I have plenty, after all. If I didn’t, if I were as impoverished as millions in this world, my list would look at least somewhat different than the one I’ve given.

So what is my interpretation of verse four?

What David means is simply joy—joy in being loved by God. That’s the only, real “good thing.”

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