It’s time for another round of Bad Theology.
Bad Theology happens when we say ridiculous things about the Most Holy Trinity. And, a lot of times, that ridiculous talk comes from pastors and preachers. For example, the Reverend Joel Osteen, one of the most high profile religious figures in North America, often says things like this: “God wants you to be successful in every area of your life. God wants you to prosper in your career, in your relationships, in your health and in your finances.”
That perspective is super popular — it even shows up from time to time here in the Hill Country News — because, hey, who wouldn’t want to believe that The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are molding this entire universe to help me achieve my personal best? But it’s Bad Theology, through and through.
To begin with, it’s deceptive. This outlook maintains that the very best the Most Holy Trinity has to give us are things like a great job, close friends, good looks and a whole lot of money in the bank. But as attractive as all that sounds, the Most Holy Trinity actually wants to give us something even better.
What the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit want to give us is Themselves; They want us to be united with Them. That happens in and through the Church, and that union produces in us things like joy and hope and peace.
And those spiritual realities are forever. Each of our jobs will one day come to an end; sooner or later, our good looks will begin to fade; when we die, we will have to say goodbye to all our friends and all our money. But our bond with the Most Holy Trinity is eternal, and the joy, hope, and peace that arise from that bond will stay with us all the way into the next life.
So to ignore what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit really want to give us and to focus on concepts like success and prosperity is practically criminal. But this Bad Theology gets even worse, because in addition to being deceptive, it is also cruel.
I mean, let’s face it: Most of the people on this planet are never going to even get close to success and prosperity; what they are going to be dealing with throughout their lives is pain and suffering. But folks like the Reverend Osteen don’t have any place for pain and suffering in their theology. For them, heartache and illness and loss are simply obstacles that you overcome on your way to having your best possible life; those realities have no significance or value in and of themselves.
But what if you are never able to overcome the heartache and illness and loss? What if your relationship with your spouse of many decades ends in the oblivion of dementia? What if the job into which your poured your life abruptly disappears when your company is sold? What if the grandchild that you adore is now on her fifth rehab?
And that’s why this kind of theology is cruel; because the only response those folks have to those kinds of situations is to suggest that, if you can’t see those tragedies as just speed bumps on the highway to winning, then you’re just not the kind of Christian you ought to be.
But if our focus is on union with the Most Holy Trinity, then the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will sustain us even in the midst of tragedy, and those unbearable situations will be filled with joy, hope and peace.
If you would like to know how to be united with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or if there is some Bad Theology that you would like to see addressed in an upcoming column, send me a note or give me a call. I would love to speak with you.
— Father Aidan Wilcoxson is the pastor of St John Orthodox parish in Cedar Park (www.theforerunner.org); he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.