Prosperity Gospel can leave you poorer

A friend was describing a lavish house she had just purchased. She listed multiple bathrooms, Jacuzzis and marble countertops, and then came the zinger, "It's all because of God!"

She is a firm believer in the prosperity gospel, so she expects God to reward her prayers with houses and cars, and whatever else her heart desires.

From this perspective, health and wealth mean you are right with God, while hard times indicate something is amiss.

Problem is, the prosperity gospel is spiritually bankrupt.

Nowhere did Christ promise his followers opulent houses and glittering jewelry and all the trappings of wealth.

Instead, he recommended picking up the cross daily and following him. You'll notice he didn't say go get your bankroll.

He also said rich folks would have a tough time getting into heaven. When a wealthy young man sought his advice on becoming perfect, Christ told him to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor—and "come follow me."

Following him means at times enduring suffering, but prosperity-gospel folks sidestep that conclusion. They believe that if you're down and out, that's a sign of dwindling faith.

They apparently forget the many Old Testament figures, like Job, who lost health and wealth while remaining faithful to God. They seem to overlook the crucifixion itself.

Proponents of the "health-and-wealth" gospel also cast a blind eye to reality. Just think about all the poor people worldwide who struggle each day to find shelter, a decent meal and clean water.

Shall we tell these desperate people —whose children die from starvation and who live in broken-down huts— that their faith isn't strong enough? And God doesn't love them sufficiently to help them?

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not opposed to prosperity, nor do I think wealth inevitably leads to dangerous sins.

In truth, many well-off people fund missionary work, helping to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. And it was a rich man who provided the tomb for Jesus.

Still, it is spiritually dangerous to proclaim that people with money are God's chosen few.

There is a deeply moving refrain in the psalms, "The Lord hears the cry of the poor." The poor obviously include those with little money, as well as people with failing health.

And people, rich or poor, who are faithful to God's commandments will indeed be blessed. The spiritual treasures include grace and hope in times of trouble.

But let's not expect God to reward us with sparkling health and tons of material goodies. That is, sadly, a big slap in the face of people who are suffering.

It also goes against the grain of the Lord's Prayer, where we humbly ask for our daily bread—and not the entire loaf.

Lorraine V. Murray's books include "Why Me? Why Now?," a spiritual guide for women with cancer, and "The Abbess of Andalusia," a biography of Flannery O'Connor. Her email is