I don’t know about the rest of you, but my experiences have taught me that the Christian life is not a cake walk. It is not about getting our way all the time, and it is certainly not about things always going well for us. Just read the Bible. Over and over you’ll read about mighty men and women of faith who experienced great hardships and made great sacrifices for the Lord. Their life was anything but a bed of roses. Jeremiah was persecuted severely by his own people (according to tradition, he was eventually martyred by them) for following the Lord’s command to prophesy against them for their sinful ways. Paul’s missionary career seemed to have been one difficulty after another, from shipwrecks to beatings to imprisonment. And in 2 Cor. 12 we read that he experienced some kind of terrible problem (the nature of which we can only speculate about as he chose not to provide any details) that the Lord refused to take away from him despite his prayers. Of Jesus’ original apostles (excluding Judas, of course), it is believed that all but one died as martyrs. And then we read of saints throughout the Church’s history who likewise suffered much both in their endeavors to grow spiritually and in their service to God and the Church.
Likewise, the lived experiences of countless ordinary Christians, including yours truly, show that hardships can strike anyone, and we often won’t find quick fixes for them or even answers as to why we are going through them. I’ve had numerous problems–emotional, spiritual, family, career–that the Lord did not make go away, no matter how much I prayed that He would. I’m plenty of people can relate to what I’m saying.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I come from a charismatic evangelical background. While there are many aspects of that background that I do respect and appreciate, there are other aspects that I can’t help but look back on with some disgust. One is that far too many charismatics/pentecostals seem to have gotten hooked on the idea that they can always get what they pray for–healing, happiness, financial prosperity, etc.–as long as they pray the right way, make a positive confession, have enough faith. I’ve even known some to judge people who are not healed of an illness or injury or who struggle with some kind of emotional or psychological problem, claiming that “God always heals” and therefore those who are not healed are at fault for their prayers going unanswered.
And it isn’t just ignorant lay people who believe such things. There are even preachers who promote such a mentality. Many of you may have heard of Joel Osteen, the “pastor” (I put that in quotes because I don’t see that he actually performs any sort pastoral functions) of Lakewood Church in Texas. The video clip below has excerpts from some of his talks (I won’t call them sermons!) that illustrate what I’m talking about. For instance, he suggests at one point that those who suffer from health problems are that way because they’ve simply given up–i.e., it’s their own fault that they’re still having those health problems. What upsets me is that he doesn’t preach the Word of God; rather, he just gives his listeners a shallow “feel good” message. I recall watching him on TV one time and recognizing that he was simply saying the same stuff I’ve heard secular motivational speakers say, with the exception that he added a veneer of evangelical lingo. (And Osteen himself has said he considers himself a motivational speaker, not a preacher.) He makes it sound like the Christian life is all about earthly benefits, about having a perfect life.
Sorry, but Osteen has missed the point entirely. I can’t get inside his head, so I can’t say whether he’s sincere or whether he’s a phony who’s just out to profit from his so-called motivational speaking. However, I’ll admit that he comes across to me as very artificial. But sincere or phony, he’s presenting an inaccurate view of the Christian faith and life. The words superimposed in the video clip point out that Osteen misrepresents Eph. 1:4, which although it does speak of God knowing of us before “the foundation of the world,” it then adds that this was for us “to be holy and without blemish before him.” In othe words, God isn’t a big Santa Claus to give us our every wish to keep us happy.
I’ll close with a quotation from an article by David Karp:
The theologian and philosopher Thomas Moore puts it well with his distinction between cure and care. While cure implies the eradication of trouble, care “appreciates the mystery of human suffering and does not offer the illusion of a problem-free life.”
I fear too many people are buying into Osteen’s spiritual placebo rather than getting what they really need to grow spiritually and weather the storms of this fallen world.