Monday, January 21, 2008

Prayers for Fish Do Smell Fishy

In my last post, I argued that there is no reason to believe that God is uninterested in small things. To argue, even in jest, that he's too busy with major crises to notice the mundane events of life is to demean him and the human beings who are made in his image.

However, I don't want to give the impression that critics like Donald Miller and the author of that Slate article completely miss the mark when they critique certain attitudes about God. Despite my earlier resolution to form an opinion of Joel Osteen based on his own words rather than others', my impression of him continues to be shaped by second-hand accounts (such as the one given in Jim and Casper Go to Church, which I just finished). I agree with the critics that something doesn't smell right about the way Osteen and many other Christians talk about the power of God and answered prayer.

If you'll forgive the generalization, one gets the impression from the current Christian best-sellers that God's power is manifested primarily in a person becoming successful. The prayers that are spoken about are prayers for an advance in reputation, wealth, access to power, or comfort. These prayers resonate with certain themes of Scripture (see Ps 1:2-3; 90:16-17). Most of the book of Proverbs supports the notion that God lifts up into prosperity those who obey him. This is a fundamental theme of Wisdom literature, which intends to point the learner toward the path of life and away the path of death. But even within the body of Wisdom literature (including Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, and some psalms), this notion is nuanced somewhat.

More importantly, the persistent self-focused tone of these prayers makes them sound suspiciously like those condemned by James (whose letter is the book most like Wisdom literature in the New Testament):

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

So what does prayer that James would approve of look like? If God wants to give us good things, what good things does he have in mind?


Goatcabin said...

My Osteen information is also all secondhand. But I get bad vibes from the books (in addition to my skepticism of anything on the NYT bestseller list).

Matt Casper said...

Thanks for reading and writing about our book!

We are having a wonderful Osteen-centric conversation you might want to partake in! Visit us here:

There's a fella who regulalrly attends Lakewood who has some very balancing things to say about it all.

Thanks again,
Matt Casper