In 2014, on the platform at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, TX, his wife, Victoria, told the crowd,
“Do good ’cause God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God, really. You’re doing it for yourself because that’s what makes God happy.” (Watch the video clip here.)
I don’t know where she got this information. But one thing I do know: she didn’t get it from the Bible.
Not only is Osteen’s theology incorrect, it’s impractical. It doesn’t make sense of the despair we see in the Psalms, in Lamentations, or in the suffering of the Apostle Paul. One wonders how Christians today whose lives are marked by deep suffering, tragedy, or persecution for their faith could apply Victoria Osteen’s words.
Mrs. Osteen’s statements would be hard to explain to those who suffered for their faith in the Bible.
The Bible says in Acts,
“James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.”
Early church tradition says all the disciples met a gruesome death due to their devotion to Jesus.
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.
Recounting the courageous faith of those who’d gone before, the writer of Hebrews records,
Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
Fifty years after John’s death, Polycarp, the pastor of the church in Smyrna, was burned alive at the age of 86 for refusing to worship Caesar.
Of course, there’s Jesus.
In one Old Testament prophecy referring to Jesus, we’re told,
“He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief…. It was the Lord’s will to crush his son (he was pleased to crush him severely.)” (emphasis mine)
And Paul counseled Timothy, who was pastoring in a cesspool of cultic activity,
“Suffer hardship with me as a good soldier in Christ Jesus.”
If, as Osteen claims, our happiness is what makes God happy, why would it be his “will to crush his son.” Why would Paul equate suffering hardship with being a good solider.
And, why would Peter, writing during the reign of the psychopathic emperor, Nero, tell us,
“For you have been called for this purpose (do good even if it means suffering), since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” (emphasis mine)
I would like to see Victoria Osteen cite her quote to Polycarp. To the Arab Christians who are being beheaded for their faith. To the single mom just trying to keep her head above water paying bills and raising her children. To the dad who was just laid off from his job. And to people like me and my wife who’ve lost a child to suicide.
Please don’t misunderstand: my point is not that Christianity is intended to be a miserable life, but rather, that pain and suffering are not only part of the Christian life but sometimes, as Joseph told his brothers, God intends it for good.
Victoria Osteen tells us an absence of happiness in our lives suggests we’re not making God “happy.” This is foolish nonsense.
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” (emphasis mine)
On the night before he was crucified, Jesus comforted,
I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.”
And James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote,
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (emphasis mine)
I close with the story of the 16th century reformer, William Tyndale, pictured for you below. For it was on the date of this posting (October 6th) in 1536 that he met a tortuous death for the sole reason of translating the Bible into a language the common people could read and understand.
Happiness is based on circumstances. Joy is based on biblical truth. Happiness is temporary and fleeting. Joy is eternal, guaranteed by the suffering of Christ Jesus.