Recently, a short clip of Joel Osteen’s wife, Victoria, preaching at their house of worship has been making the rounds on social media.
In it she essentially states that the purpose of church, worship, and prayer are to make us happy. That God wants nothing more than to see happy people is the divine reason behind everything. Why do we go to church? to make us happy. Why do we worship? to make us happy.
I don’t dislike the Osteens, but I do disagree with the message. I chose this video because it is recent and it summarizes the Gospel According to America, though in an unveiled manner that shamelessly embraces its own narcissism.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus warns us, “False messiahs and false prophets will arise…” (24:24). It is worth noting that he does not tell us to beware of bad philosophies or crooked politicians. Rather, we are to beware of false christs/messiahs. This does not simply mean, “watch out for people pretending to be Jesus,” but includes the doctrines and lifestyle of anything that sets itself up against that which Jesus Christ and his holy Church have taught us (through scriptures and tradition).
In what is sometimes called the Prosperity Gospel, the Christian message is reduced to the following: God wants us to be happy because we are his children. He wants us to have that nice car, the best house in the neighborhood, and a high paying job. If someone is not living a life of materialistic wealth, then there is probably something wrong with them or their faith. However, such teachings are nothing more than American Consumerism pretending to be Christianity.
THE UNAMERICAN GOSPEL
Christians have not been persecuted for thousands of years because they told people, “God just wants you to be happy.” The Christian message has always been counter-cultural and opposed to the ways of this world, which is not to say that God wants a bunch of unhappy children, but it is to say Christianity teaches us that the way to God is the road of suffering.
Yes, may I know him [Christ], and the power of his resurrection, and the communion of his sufferings, becoming conformed to his death if by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:10-11)
St Paul also warns us about those who reject a gospel that includes suffering, saying,
But there are many who live as enemies of the cross of Christ, as I remind you often, as I do even now with tears. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and their glory is in their shame as they think about earthly things.
DISCERN THE EVIL WITHOUT JUDGING
I don’t like writing articles that are meant to bash others, because it can create a Pharisee-like condition within us when we begin thinking that we are spiritually superior to others. By pointing out the errors of others, we can potentially become more like Satan than like Christ. Paul also writes in the Epistle to the Philippians,
In humility, consider others better than yourselves.
However, we are called to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. We must be aware of the false doctrine being preached within our culture. I used the example of the Osteens, not in order to personally bash them, but because their message readily exhibits the Gospel According to America.
THE BIBLE ON SUFFERING
Both the Bible and the saints of the Orthodox Church teach us that Christianity is the way of suffering. A few examples from the Bible:
- Paul wrote that when he preached among the Corinthians “I resolved not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor 1:2)
- Peter writes that we are blessed when we suffer for Christ (1 Peter 3:14).
- In the eighth chapter of Romans, Paul teaches that we will not be glorified with Christ unless we suffer with him.
- Paul also teaches that as much as we suffer for Christ we will be consoled by him as well. He continues that, “if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation.” (2 Cor 1:5) For any consolation that does not come through Christ is a worldly comfort, and is not the type that leads to salvation.
- To the Galatians, he writes, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (2:20)
But what does all of this language mean? Was Paul speaking of a historical event when he states that he was “crucified with Christ”? Obviously not. He instead was confirming the teaching of Jesus Christ that we are to daily take up our cross and follow him.
WHY DO WE SUFFER?
There are two general reasons for our suffering:
- We experience the consequences of our own actions
- We suffer due to reasons not readily known to us
Regarding the first type of suffering, both the Bible and the Church teach that when we suffer due to a sin or error on our part, we should accept the suffering quietly and without complaint. This suffering has been sent our way for our healing and salvation. Should we seek to justify ourselves, belittle our mistake or sin, or make excuses to ourselves and others then we will be thrusted into deeper darkness.
The only path of healing for the ego, pride, self-will, self-love, and vanity are through suffering crucifixion of those things. It is the path that every single one of us must accept if we wish to be saved. It is difficult at first, the flesh does not like to be crucified. But it leads to great inner peace as we experience freedom from the passions.
Other times we suffer, in big and small ways, though we have seemingly done nothing to directly cause it. While I do not want to take the time to elaborate on the various types in this category, the suffering may include religious persecution, bullying, being born into dire circumstances, and illness.
The cause of these types of sufferings may never be known in our lives. However, the saints have taught us that we are to fully embrace them as our path of salvation. Those who have followed this way have found incredible peace and joy in their lives even if they are in immense pain or facing imminent death.
By accepting whatever suffering comes our way, our lives themselves are proclaiming the glory of God by saying, “Thy will be done!” While our bodies may experience pain, inwardly we are being healed and renewed. And through the righteous path of suffering, we will find union and communion with Jesus Christ himself, and in the end, we will be glorified with him.
*All Bible passages are from the EOB (Eastern Orthodox Bible)
*Some caveats about suffering: I am in no way justifying people staying in abusive homes nor am I seeking to empower oppressors. If you are in such a situation, please seek help. Also, I am not teaching that we should never seek medical assistance when faced with a serious illness.
What I am advocating is that when we experience suffering in our own lives, that we set aside our vision for the way our life is supposed to look, or how that day was supposed to go, and embrace the suffering with thanksgiving and praise. Or, if you’re imperfect like me, just trying to not grumble, whine, or complain is a good start 🙂
1 thought on “The UnAmerican Gospel”
I had someone leave me a thoughtful comment on Facebook and I thought I would include my response here as it may be beneficial to others in helping to further explain my blog post:
I know from our previous conversations, R-, that we pretty well agree that the “stuff” in life is not important. As you mentioned, and as Paul mentions in one of his epistles, Jesus taught “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
The problem I have with the prosperity gospel’s and Unity Church’s “this is something you can have if you choose” message is that it is based on America’s current economic situation and bears no absolute truth. For example, a child born in Palestine may be doing well to receive enough food and clean water to live; he can’t think positive thoughts to bring wealth his way. Unfortunately, we don’t choose where or when we are born, nor do we usually have much choice regarding our deaths either. With that said, the examples abound of why the message of “this is something you can have if you choose” through positive thinking bears no universal hold on truth.
There is something to be said about positive thinking. It is the beginnings of what the saints in Orthodoxy teach on keeping your mind on “good thoughts.” But in Orthodoxy, the goal is to transform the person so they can be unified with Christ rather than changing the circumstances around the person.
Regarding suffering, I agree that we should not seek it. In fact, I think we are much in agreement; I personally don’t like suffering. My point is that if we live any amount of time we are going to have to deal with suffering. In our culture, it is usually a bombardment of the “little things” as well as emotional turmoil, though chronic illnesses do abound also. I apologize if I didn’t make that very clear in my blog post.
Unlike the sado-masochism you mentioned, Christians do not look to suffering as a form of pleasure. Rather, it is a necessary and beneficial tonic that heals us of spiritual disease. Like a bitter medicine, we don’t down a bottle of it and look for more, but accept whatever is given to us with joyfulness and thanksgiving.
I hope that makes sense. Thanks for your thoughtful feedback!