and I walked right through it.
Joel and Victoria Osteen have received a lot of well-deserved criticism of late, some from my exceptionally astute and articulate fellow blogger, Kyle Cupp. The Osteens preach a message that doesn’t align with the true gospel of Christ. Theirs is a personal message of deliverance from financial limitation, emotional and physical suffering, and a lack of joy and happiness. It’s more a self-help manual than a gospel proclaiming the Kingdom.
Speak the right words and you will heal your own life:
“Start calling yourself healed, happy, whole, blessed, and prosperous. Stop talking to God about how big your mountains are, and start talking to your mountains about how big your God is!”
Believe with your heart and mind that God wants nothing more than your happiness and success and it’s yours. Limitation, suffering, and failure are not God’s plan for you:
“God made us for more than just barely getting by. We weren’t meant to sit on the sidelines of life because with God, we are on the winning team!”
You were created for great things. You are special. You even deserve an excellent parking space:
“Even if I’m going to drop my kids off, or I need to park somewhere, I’m like, ‘OK God, you know I’m in this parking lot, you know any place you can open up for me would be great!'” she said. “I just have this relationship – I’m not dumbing down prayer. What I’m doing – it’s just part of my life.”
The Osteens’ message contains bits and pieces of truth. In many ways, that is what renders it particularly false, and particularly dangerous.
Of course, God wants us to be happy. But that happiness is rarely obtained through earthly pursuits or derived from earthly ends.
The Catechism, citing both St. Augustine and St. Aquinas, teaches that:
1718 The Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness. This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it: We all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition, even before it is fully articulated. How is it, then, that I seek you, Lord? Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life, let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul and my soul draws life from you. God alone satisfies.
Nothing in Christ’s words promise us a deliverance from suffering, or lack, or hurt. In fact, He offers us words in Matthew that evidence quite the opposite:
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
It’s virtually impossible to reconcile Your Best Life Now with the lives of the Martyrs. Or with the horrific lives of Christians around the world who are today displaced, tortured, and crucified. There is no doubt that the Osteens’ message is incomplete, misleading, and distracting. It is, in many ways, simply false.
And yet. And yet.
There’s one thing about the Joel Osteen controversy that gives me pause.
I left the Church when I was 14. I was hurt, broken, and angry. Years passed. I wandered and wondered. I was suspended somewhere between belief and non-belief. Mostly, I didn’t care.
Then one Sunday afternoon, I was flipping through TV stations. That telegenic preacher with the broad, happy smile caught my attention. He spoke of joy, and happiness, and success. I stopped. I listened. Like many before me, I got intrigued. I dared to hope. I even attended two live events, one held at Madison Square Garden.
Finally taking Osteen’s advice given at the end of each broadcast, I joined a local “bible-based,” non-denominational Church about 10 years ago. For the first time in years, I was finding my footing. I was grounded. I was primed. And I was ready for more. My heart had finally softened.
Then came Francis.
As I have described it to close friends on many occasions, it was as if a literal “electric shock” jolted my system when I first gazed upon his peace-filled face, and recognized his chosen Papal name. (I had always kept a place in my heart for the words of St. Francis.)
I was compelled towards rediscovery. And my life changed. Dramatically. Forever.
Baby steps morphed into a marathon.
From the Church to angry critic. From angry critic to Joel Osteen. From Joel Osteen to Protestant. From Protestant back to the Church.
So, yes, Joel Osteen held open a door for me and I walked right through it.
Now, I can’t say whether this exact route was ordered, planned, coordinated, pre-destined, or even necessary. And I can’t say whether my time away from the Church might have even been shortened if not for this detour. I just don’t know.
But I do know that this is the particular path that I walked. I am home now.
Maybe others will follow that same path. Maybe none will. I’ll have to leave that to the Holy Spirit, and to the Father’s will.
But even Francis has now interacted with Osteen. So who am I to judge?
Image Credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons (Jeremy Rasmussen)