The prosperity gospel has taken a religion based on the contemplation of a dying man and stripped it of its call to surrender all. Perhaps worse, it has replaced Christian faith with the most painful forms of certainty. The movement has perfected a rarefied form of America’s addiction to self-rule, which denies much of our humanity: our fragile bodies, our finitude, our need to stare down our deaths (at least once in a while) and be filled with dread and wonder. At some point, we must say to ourselves, I’m going to need to let go.
Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me
So why do bad things happen to good people? Didn’t Jesus suffer for us on the cross? Wasn’t his suffering a total and complete sacrifice for our sins? Do we need to unite our sufferings with Jesus to be saved, or is suffering just some random event that happens here on earth with no afterlife consequences?
The bible has the answers. St. Paul says in Colossians 1:24:
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church”
That statement packs a lot of theology. Pope John Paul II said that Christ’s sufferings were lacking nothing. What this verse means is that Christ expects us to unite our sufferings with His. Peter talks about this in 1 Peter 4:13:
“But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
And why is this? For the sake of The Church, which is the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:23):
Why We Suffer
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When Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote his great Summa Theologica, he could find only two objections to the existence of God, even though he tried to list at least three objections to every one of the thousands of theses he tried to prove in that great work. One of the two objections is the apparent ability of natural science to explain everything in our experience without God; and the other is the problem of evil.
More people have abandoned their faith because of the problem of evil than for any other reason. It is certainly the greatest test of faith, the greatest temptation to unbelief. And it’s not just an intellectual objection. We feel it. We live it. That’s why the Book of Job is so arresting.
The problem can be stated very simply: If God is so good, why Is his world so bad? If an all-good, all-wise, all-loving, all-just, and all-powerful God is running the show, why does he seem to be doing such a miserable job of it? Why do bad things happen to good people?
The unbeliever who asks that question is usually feeling resentment toward and rebellion against God, not just lacking evidence for his existence. C. S. Lewis recalls that as an atheist he did not believe God existed.
The Problem of Evil
“Yeah, he’s a real person,” Scalia continued, speaking of the Devil. “Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.”
The interviewer asked if Scalia had ever personally seen evidence of the Devil.
“You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.”
“What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way. […] He got wilier.”
Scalia sensed the interviewer was taken aback by his literal belief in the Evil One.
“You’re looking at me as though I’m weird,” Scalia said. “My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil?”
“I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.”
“I Even Believe in the Devil”: The Supernatural Catholic Faith of Justice Scalia