Every Sunday, I religiously watch Meet the Press. It has become sort of like my church. Unfortunately, right after that is Joel Osteen. (Insert eye roll here) Everyone knows this guy — he’s that positive preaching guru, whose snake oil salesmen smile stretches almost as wide as the TV screen. He’s sold millions of books on the bogus idea that believing hard enough and wishing long enough, will bring you blessing upon blessing. Sermon after sermon, he preaches on how God is in control if we just keep trusting. Well, that sounds nice and pretty innocuous, right? I guess. But what about the mother who prayed, believed and hoped but has to face the reality of burying her child because the cancer was stronger than her prayers? Or the family who lost their home despite their fervent praying, hoping and wishing? Then those positive and innocuous messages actually become hurtful and cruel.
Recently, I was listening to a friend’s podcast, (www.whatifproject.net) where he interviewed author Thomas Jay Oord. Oord’s latest book is called God Can’t. He argues in his book that because God is Love, there are many things God can’t do. God can’t take a gun out of someone’s hand. God can’t always cure disease because God cannot override bacteria, cancer cells and the like because these organisms have free will — God defers to modern medicine and people to get most of His work done. There are some things I agree with in Oord’s book, but I would have to say I disagree with the majority of it, even though I am not a theologian.
The larger point, though, is this…
We often hear about how eating too much sugar and artificially flavored foods is unhealthy. But some brands of spirituality are just as sweet and sugary as a box of Fruity Pebbles, yet are consumed in an abundance. Is Joel Osteen really helping anyone in the long run? Is his spirituality healthy for our souls? Our minds? Our lives? Even if it gives us a temporary sugar high and makes us feel good for the moment, inevitably it will wear off as all highs do, and we will be left with the questions about if what we are consuming is actually doing us any good.
Can we consider the following?
Maybe we need to embrace the fact that our prayers can connect us with Love in its highest form, and with each other — and that can be healing in ways we never gave thought to.
Prayer doesn’t always cure the disease. We need only look around and see the many people suffering who have prayed for over a decade and still are without relief. Maybe God is in the support of the people around us, or in the medicine we take, or the doctors we see.
Maybe prayer doesn’t “work.” Praying for a specific outcome is great, but prayer doesn’t guarantee this outcome. And if you get your desired outcome, it doesn’t mean your prayer worked any more than not getting it means your prayer didn’t work. “Everything is grace,” said St. Therese of Lisieux. Prayer can open our minds to new ideas and guidance that helps us in our treatment. Prayer can give us the strength to carry on or the peace we need to rest.
God is not always in control. You need only look around and see the major cities that have been leveled by Tsunamis and earthquakes. God couldn’t stop those things from happening, but maybe God is in the rebuilding – the making of something new.
God can’t swoop down from the heavens and take the gun out of the shooters hand. You need only look at the media coverage of the horror stories of senseless killing of innocent children. God is in the weeping and mourning with us and God is in the tireless efforts of people who stand up and work toward stricter gun control laws.
Finally, there may not be some grand plan for your life as Osteen and others like him seem to repeatedly suggest. However, your life has immense value and worth. You were created with talents, abilities and ways of being in this world that are unique to you. When you put those to use, even in the smallest of ways, the world is better off for it and forever changed. You are not a puppet on string being dragged along by some divine taskmaster. Your life was given to you and you get to decide what you do with it. There is no one path you must take to get it right. When confused, God will help you, empower you and inspire you but will never coerce you or force you.
So, while I disagree with some of Oord’s theology…I’d have to agree with him that there is a brand of spirituality out there that hasn’t gotten us very far or done much good for our souls. I think we need to wean people off the sticky-sweet theology of a Higher Power who comes along like a genie in a bottle to fix everything to our liking if we just stay positive and full of faith. Clearly this deity does not exist and faith is not what these people are full of.
Of course, there are miracles. This is a universe where not everything can be understood or explained…just yet. We are dealing with immense mystery. Embracing that mystery is hard and messy and confusing…but God is in that, too.