The best kind of religion should make you rich here and now, right?

We see in today’s new surah that this was the presumption of some people in Muhammad’s time (43:31).  The Prophet was a poor, orphaned, traveling merchant who lucked into a job with a rich woman.  Surely God would have more discretion when choosing a prophet.  Prophets should be powerful, wealthy men.  They should be aristocracy in a significant city like Mecca or Ta’if.  If Muhammad were a real prophet, they thought, he would come with “golden ornaments,” high class, and a significant pedigree, a criticism made against Moses in his time too (43:53).  So, surely Muhammad can’t be a real prophet, and his religion must be a fraud, the disbelievers in this Meccan surah claimed.   

The premise that a good religion will be one that brings wealth seems to still be one some people work with today.  I point to the popularity of the “prosperity gospel” preached by some Christians as an example.  The best example in the West, though, is the American “gospel” of success.  The goal of life is to find as comfortable a life as possible, so surely a good religion will help me do that.  If it doesn’t, why would I want to adopt your religion?

God’s response to this charge is to question the very presupposition the charge is built on: why do you assume that wealth is a good thing?  Instead, this surah depicts riches as something that can “corrupt” the heart of a person (43:23).  If upward mobility were the calling card of a true religion, then, yes, God would have been able and glad to give the “mere enjoyments of life” to His followers (43:33-34.  They would be living the lifestyle of the rich and famous with their silver roofs, sweeping staircases, massive gates, comfortable couches, and golden ornaments (the phrase that is the basis for the name of this surah). 

However, God’s grace is better than all they can accumulate (43:32).  Where one does have wealth and social position it has been given by God anyway, so one should not think they have accumulated these things.  They can be taken away as easily as they came.  The greatest possession one can “accumulate” is the promise of the “next life” (43:35).  Hence, a religion that can give you everlasting life is far superior to one that merely brings the comforts and niceties of this life to a person.  In Paradise there will be great joy as one sits down to an “abundant” feast at a table set with golden tableware.  All “their souls desire and eyes delight in” will be there (43:70-73).  The best religion gives you this great reward.