By C Michael Patton @http://www.reclaimingthemind.org
What a presumptuous question, right? The presumption is in the fact that I would even pose such a question. The question itself presumes that I might answer in the negative. What is wrong with you Michael? Why take off your irenic t-shirt with the quote from Rodney King on the back? Why are you now shod the polemic boots of battle? What would possess you to ask such a question?
Calm down. It is just a question. But your are right. The presumption behind the question does evidence my uncertainty as to its answer. I was listening to Olsteen last night. He was very pleasant and had a lot of nice things to say. For the most part, except for his interjections of the word ”God” here and there, his speech was a typical motivation speech. He did not use the Bible, but he attempted to give the impression that he was. He held it in his hand the entire time.
Why he bothered interjecting “God” into his motivation speech, I can only suppose. Maybe because his speaking venue is called a “church”? Isn’t that what you are supposed to do at church? Mention God? Maybe its because they sang hymns and if you sing hymns, God needs to be talked about afterward. Or maybe its because he thought attributing his thoughts to God would give his propositions and stories more authority? It would seem that his placements of the word “God” were very strategic. It would come at pivotal points in his message. “God does not want you to be sick. You can have the best life now. God does not want you to be behind on your bills. You can have the best life now. God wants to make your dreams come true! The best life is here and now. God wants you to take a hold of it.”
In the end, I thought to myself This is not a church. This is not preaching. This is not Christianity. And, I wonder . . . is his God is my God? If Olsteen’s God and my God are the same, God may have a case of bi-polar disorder.
Now, this is not as far-fetched as you might think. People DO worship other gods. They always have. Since the beginning of time, people have found replacements for the true God by filling in the “gaps” that God does not fill to their liking. Whether it be a rain god, fertility god, sun god, or god of war, people have a desire to have their perceived needs met. In the old days, people would create a new god and give it an appropriate name. Marduk, Apollo, Diana, Sol, and Cupid are all names of popular Romans gods who fill in the gaps. The Japanese even have a god for weavers named Am-No-Tanabata-Hime. For weavers!! Each of these gods had a particular function and role. The Japanese god Daikoku is the god of wealth. If you desire money, this is the god to go to. Binzuru-Sonja is the god of health. Are you sick? Do you have cancer? Binzuru-Sonja is your man . . . I mean god.
I am going to do something radical here (warning: satire forth-coming). I propose a new god. Let us combine the last two Japanese gods: Daikoku and Binzuru-Sonja. “Daikoku-Sonja” will be the initial designation of this new god. Now lets do something to make this more palatable to a monotheistic western Christianized world. Let’s call Daikoku-Sonja “Jesus.” Let’s even say that he died on a cross and rose from a grave. Let’s give him all the characteristics that would not detract from his ultimate power and will for us to be happy, healthy, and wealthy. These other characteristics can come from the Bible. He will have a Father, he will be gracious and kind. He will die for our sins and offer forgiveness. Then, he will reveal his ultimate plan—to make us happy. To fill our bellies and pockets with comfort and joy. Yes, that is nice. We will talk about how nice he wants to be to us. How much he wants us to be nice to others. Yes, other gods have done the same, but this one rose from the grave and has therefore proved that he wants us to be rich and healthy. This sounds nice.
Now, we must stay away from the Bible for the most part because is does not present much in favor of our god other than the basic details and historical facts. We can draw from the Old Testament here and there, emphasizing the “heal all your diseases” and “shoes never wearing out” parts. But we cannot put those in context or that would narrow the application. As well, we must leave out all the parts where God’s wrath is spoken of. (The Gnostics did it, so can we!) Troublesome passage such as these cannot be mentioned:
1 Peter 4:12-13 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.
1 Peter 5:9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
1 Thessalonians 3:2-4 And we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.
2 Timothy 3:12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
James 1:2-3 2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
Those passages are downers. Daikoku-Sonja . . . umm . . . I mean Jesus is not about bringing people down in such a way. He want you to have “The Best Life NOW!” The best life does not involve suffering and pain or heart-ache and loss.
We can call this movement “Christianity.” Why not? People are comfortable with the name. And, more importantly, people don’t really know what it means. Essentially they think it is about this nice guy named Jesus, who is God, who wants us to do what is right and be nice to each other. We can capitalize on this. In the end, what we are doing is just rewarding people with positive thinking. No one should dwell on their problems. No one should think Daikoku-Sonja really wills for people to suffer. This just is not nice.
(Okay, satire complete.)
Let me be serious. I don’t know if Olsteen’s God is different than mine. What I do know is that there are characteristics and motivations in his God that are completely opposite of mine. My God allows suffering and pain for His own purpose. My God is a potter, who has sovereign right over His creation. My God does what He will, not what I will. My God is loving, but He is also one of great indignation. My God does love everyone, but He also created a terrible place called Hell for his enemies. My God does not have it high on His agenda for me to be rich (or even pay the bills).
I also know that this theology, while motivational for a time, destroys lives. It builds false expectation. It makes people put their trust in characteristics of God that just do not exist. When these characteristics fail (and they will fail —ever heard of “death”? It is hard to escape no matter how positive your thinking is), then, in these people’s minds, God has failed. I have seen to many people walk away from the “Jesus” that they created when he failed to heal them of their cancer or when he could not seem to get them a job. But the question is Did they walk away from Jesus or from Daikoku-Sonja (aka Jesus)?
Here is the question: Where does one draw the line? When has ones description of God become so foreign to the biblical God that it should thought of as a different god with the same name? After all, a name does not mean much if that which the name represents does not mirror its true characteristics.
Where do you draw the line? What do you think? Do Joel Olsteen and I worship the same God?