Now read this:
…I believe there may be a real exercise of faith and growth in grace, when our sensible feelings are faint and low. A soul may be in as thriving a state when thirsting, seeking, and mourning after the Lord, as when actually rejoicing in him; as much in earnest when fighting in the valley, as when singing upon the mount: nay, dark seasons afford the surest and strongest manifestations of the power of faith.
To hold fast the word of promise, to maintain a hatred of sin, to go on steadfastly in the path of duty, in defiance both of the frowns and the smiles of the world, when we have but little comfort, is a more certain evidence of grace, than a thousand things which we may do or forbear when our spirits are warm and lively.
I have seen many who have been, upon the whole, but uneven walkers, though at times they have seemed to enjoy, at least have talked of, great comforts. I have seen others, for the most part, complain of much darkness and coldness, who have been remarkably humble, tender, and exemplary in their spirit and conduct. Surely, were I to choose my lot, it should be with the latter. -John Newton
Everything Joel Osteen says above may actually be medically true. It is true that we probably would be healthier if we would lighten up a little. Laughter really is good medicine. So, medically speaking he is probably not wrong. There is even one sense in which what Osteen says is actually quite helpful. Sometimes what really needs to happen with a depressed, anxious, insomniatic person is that they do need to chill out and smile.
But at the end of the day Osteen’s preaching is meant to give you your best life now. God’s aim is much deeper. Those that buy into Osteen’s “gospel” inevitably undercut one of the greatest graces that the Lord gives us to bring about holiness; namely, suffering.
The apostle Paul says in Romans 5:3-5, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…”
Who sounds more like the Scriptures? Newton or Osteen? Osteen is essentially saying above “hate your sufferings, run from your sufferings, laugh off your sufferings, whatever it takes keep yourself from pain. Pain is the great enemy of God.” Whereas Newton, is saying, “look to Christ in the midst of your sufferings, cling to grace when comfort seems to be nowhere to be found, whatever it takes throw yourself on the mercy of Christ. Sin is the great enemy of God.” Newton, rightly sees God working in the midst of suffering to root out of our hearts sin and unbelief.
Most of Osteen’s stuff can fall under this rebuke. I’ve heard many people swallow this stuff, confess that it may not be fully the gospel, and then ask, “what harm does it do”. It seems like good advice. If feels really good. It matches well with our distorted view of God—that he’s around primarily for us and to make us happy.
The problem is Osteen and all such prosperity theology actually undercuts the hope that it means to give. It offers those suffering a best life now in a world of rape, starvation, greed, murder, slander, and all manner of God-belittling sin. The gospel—as Newton faithfully preached—tells us that this is not our best life now and that God is in the midst of rooting out of our world all sin and unbelief (including our own). There will be a blessed day when laughter reigns instead of depression. But that’s accomplished through the triumphant Christ and not through making yourself laugh at the television. In the midst of a broken world we ache—we don’t smile our way through life pretending like this is what redemption looks like.
And that’s why the prosperity gospel is garbage. Saying Osteen is harmless is like letting your children have a prostitute for a babysitter because she’s pretty, has a nice smile, and smells real nice.
I’d also recommend this from John Piper: