Faith

There Are Shades of Joel Osteen in the Book of Job

Pastor and best-selling author Joel Osteen (REUTERS/Richard Carson)

When reading the Book of Job, I’m often struck by the similarities between Job’s friends and Joel Osteen. Granted, Job’s friends probably presented themselves in a much dourer manner than Osteen does. If not in their assumed scowls, it’s the content of their unhelpful advice to Job that bears a similarity to the teachings of the smiling author of Your Best Life Now. More accurately, the words of Job’s friends are the opposite side of the same false coin held out by the message of self-idolatrous false-hope preached by Joel Osteen.

Many are familiar with the Biblical story of the ancient patriarch named Job. As way of a brief reminder of the first part of the story, after God allows Satan to afflict Job, three of the miserable man’s friends show up. The Bible records, “They made an appointment to come together to come to show him sympathy and comfort (Job 2:11).”

Showing him sympathy and comfort apparently meant scolding him. However, Job rebuffs the lectures from each of his friends, but they persist.

The core of what Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar tell Job is that he needs to humble himself before God and recognize that he’s a sinner who is being justly punished. Throughout their harangues, the three claim that the wicked suffer and the righteous live blessed lives. For them, Job’s distress is proof that he is being punished by God for unrighteousness. If only he would say/do the right things, he could live his best life again once again be blessed by God.

Reprovingly, Eliphaz tells Job, “The wicked man writhes in pain all his day. … Because he has stretched out his hand against God and defies the Almighty (Job 15:20, 25).”

Building on Eliphaz’s claim, in chapter eighteen Bildad lists a series of unfortunate events, so to speak, and then concludes, “Surely such are the dwellings of the unrighteous, such is the place of him who knows not God (Job 18:21).”

At one point, during the midst of the back and forth between Job and his friends, Eliphaz pleads, “Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you (Job 22:21).” His words echo Bildad’s promise found in Job 8:5 — “If you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy, if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore your rightful habitation. And though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very great.”

If you haven’t already picked up on the similarities between Job’s friends and Joel Osteen, you are either unaware of the mega-pastor’s teachings or you misunderstand the well-coifed charlatan. Or maybe you do understand Osteen, agree with him, and, hence, don’t want to acknowledge that Joel Osteen basically equals Job’s friends.

While expressed differently, the worldview of Osteen and the Book of Job’s infamous trio is the same — God is some form of a genie in the bottle, doling out goodies to those who respond the correct way.

The major difference between Osteen and Job’s friends is that Osteen rarely mentions personal sin. For Osteen, when he writes — “There is a seed inside you trying to take root. That’s God trying to get you to conceive. He’s trying to fill you with so much hope and expectancy that the seed will grow and bring forth a tremendous harvest. It’s your time. You may have been sick for a long time, but this is your time to get well. … You may be struggling financially, in all kinds of debt, but this is the time for promotion.” — he’s saying that you’re not being blessed because you aren’t jumping through the right hoops.

For Osteen, jumping through the right hoops doesn’t involve any repentance of personal sins or acknowledgment of one’s failings before a Holy God. Osteen wants his followers to embrace the belief that if God is withholding blessings, it’s because they don’t have enough faith in themselves. At least Job’s friends had a robust, albeit inappropriately and poorly articulated, view of personal sin. It was their understanding of God that was at the root of their problem. Osteen misunderstands God as well as the human condition.

In chapter one of Your Best Life Now, Osteen asserts, “Notice, God is always ready to do new things in our lives. He’s trying to promote us, to increase us, to give us more.”

According to Osteen, God’s plan involves good things in this life for you if only you’ll believe in yourself enough. Have faith in you and God will bless you. And those blessings are of the material, temporal kind. Got it?

Except that’s not how God works. In fact, that’s kind of the point of the Book of Job.

Before getting to God’s rebuke to Job and Job’s friends, a brief reminder may be in order of how the events recorded in the book were kicked off.

In one of the most puzzled over passages in the Bible, Satan presents himself before God in chapter one. In verse eight, God asks Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”

Satan basically responds with the sputtering declaration that of course Job is faithful, look at everything that God has blessed him with. God then gives Satan permission to take away Job’s health, family, and material possessions. Satan does, and that’s when Job’s three friends enter the picture.

Now, insert Osteen’s claim that God “is trying to promote us” into the story of Job.

God’s ways are God’s ways, and those ways are beyond the comprehension of humans, unless God reveals Himself to humans. One of the things that God has revealed to those who put their faith in Jesus is that His plan is that they will be remade to conform to the image of Jesus. Frequently, but not always, that plan involves suffering and pain. Look at the life of the Apostle Paul, as well as the other Apostles. In fact, ask Christians suffering persecution in China if they’re living their best life now. They’ll probably say “yes,” not realizing that the person who coined the phrase means things like good health, job promotions, and a bigger house (a bigger house is something he talks a lot about in his book).

Job’s friends assumed that if Job were faithful, God would’ve given him bigger flocks and a larger family; when, in fact, that’s not what was going on at all. God was working in Job’s life for His own purposes and glory. Suffering is not due to lack of faith.

At the end of the book, God shows up and tells Job that humans have no right questioning God. Chapters thirty-eight through the end of the Book of Job are a demonstration of what it looks like for the Sovereign Creator of the universe to call out finite humans.

After dealing with Job, God turns to his Eliphaz and says, “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right (Job 42:7).”

Joel Osteen would do well to heed God’s angry words to Job’s three friends.