Thursday, May 14, 2009


Just What DID God Promise Me?
Today I did a Google search for the sentence "God wants me to be rich."

Most of the early results referred to the Houston-based mega-church leader and television preacher Joel Osteen. Time Inc. web site posted an informative article in September 2006. It reads in part:
But for a growing number of Christians … the question is better restated, "Why not gain the whole world plus my soul?" For several decades, a philosophy has been percolating in the 10 million--strong Pentecostal wing of Christianity that seems to turn the Gospels' passage on its head: certainly, it allows, Christians should keep one eye on heaven. But the new good news is that God doesn't want us to wait. Known (or vilified) under a variety of names--Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Name It and Claim It, Prosperity Theology--its emphasis is on God's promised generosity in this life and the ability of believers to claim it for themselves. In a nutshell, it suggests that a God who loves you does not want you to be broke. Its signature verse could be John 10: 10: "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." In a TIME poll, 17% of Christians surveyed said they considered themselves part of such a movement, while a full 61% believed that God wants people to be prosperous. And 31%--a far higher percentage than there are Pentecostals in America--agreed that if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money."

Four years ago the Boston Bureau Chief of BusinessWeek, William C. Symonds, did an interview with Mr. Osteen. Here is one interchange taken from their conversation:

Question: Some of your critics say that your so-called prosperity Gospel isn't in keeping with the traditional Christian message, which has often been suspicious of material wealth. How do you respond?
Answer: I believe that God's dream is that we be successful in our careers, and that we be able to send our kids to college. I don't mean that everyone is going to be rich, and I preach a lot on blooming where you're planted. But I don't have the mindset that money is a bad thing. [My views] may go against some of the older, traditional teachings. But I think we should have a mindset that God wants us to prosper in our relationships, our health, and our finances. God's desire is that we excel. And we see business leaders who are good strong Christians running [big] companies.

A Spiritual Answer to Our Troubled Times?
Evidently Osteen has not changed his message during the terrible economic recession of recent months. Another more recent article said "Osteen hasn’t necessarily tailored his message for the downturn. Instead, he has continued his feel-good preaching, his exhortations to focus on the positive and banish negative thoughts, his reminders that God wants you to have a good job, a beautiful home, and decent cash flow. His vast ministry has become, in effect, shelter from the storm. “God wants you to have a big life,” Osteen reminds his flock. “That is his blessing. God has a big dream for your life.”

I'm not interested in talking about Mr. Osteen or his church, but it seems to me that our "Spirituality for Troubled Times" needs to at least acknowledge his position and perhaps comment on it. I'm particularly interested in the thesis that material prosperity is part of God's plan for me.

What Do You Want for Your Children?

I've always found it difficult to know exactly just what it is that God wants for me, but here's a line of thought that may be worth considering. At this time of year when we celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day, it would be appropriate to ask parents, "What do you want for your children?"
What would your answer be?
I believe that if someone had asked my parents to give a thoughtful answer to that question, material prosperity would not have been the first thing on the list. (I sure hope it wasn't, since two of us four took vows of poverty in religious life!)

I suppose that I took my own parents as the model when considering the following question suggested recently by a friend: "What would God as Parent want for you?" It frankly never occurred to me that God may have wanted me to have a six-figure salary. That's not what my parents had wanted for me, and I trust I have not disappointed my heavenly Parent is this regard either.

Obviously Joel Osteen's controversial "feel good" evangelism has proven to be a satisfactory "spirituality for troubled times" for plenty of Christians -- but not for me, thanks. With the Lord's help I'll just keep on trying to figure things out. I hope you'll keep joining me in the effort.


  1. What God wants for me is intrinsically related to why he made me, and if I remember my Baltimore Catechism correctly, that was to "know, love and serve Him in this world and the next." Not a word about sending my daughter to Yale, driving a Maserati or being richer than Warren Buffett. There's nothing inherently wrong with any of those things, as long as they don't cause me to deviate from my purpose in life. Osteen's message turns this around 180 degrees, confusing the means with the end. He sees the relationship with God as the way to get to the material goodies, rather than seeing that God blesses us with health, strength, wealth and everything else so that we can know, love and serve Him and build a better relationship with Him.

    St. Benedict had it right: Ora et labora.


  2. On some level I agree with you, Fr. Al. However, Osteen's message has been a lifeline for some people in their troubled times. He's been the go-to guy for some who aren't 'churched' or who haven't found God in other ways. I've had this debate a few times: Is hearing his message better than nothing? Overall, I think the answer is yes. And I'm not sure it does more harm than good...