Life sucks sometimes, especially when a freak of nature named Hurricane Harvey floods your whole neighborhood and leaves you in financial ruin. In those "dark nights of the soul," it is human to throw our hands up to the heavens and scream to our Lord, "Why have you forsaken me?"
We have this from the Book of Job, the Psalms, Jesus on the cross, and the various testimonies of Catholic saints throughout history. While traveling the rugged roads of Spain, St. Theresa of Avila slipped off her donkey and face-planted into a stream. After lamenting to God her struggles, He replied, “Teresa, whom the Lord loves, He chastises. This is how I treat all my friends.” Then the good saint hit Him with this whopper: “No wonder you have so few!”
Pain coincides with the human condition every bit as much as joy, and to encourage people to just smile their way through tragedy ignores the reality that in the kingdom of God, not all that happens makes sense. Sometimes horrible things happen without resolution, sometimes people die for no apparent reason, sometimes evil wins the day and laughs in the face of good, and sometimes a hurricane destroys your livelihood.
Megachurch pastor, televangelist, multi-millionaire, and prosperity gospel promoter Joel Osteen just cannot seem to get a grip on this theological and emotional reality, even as his whole city suffers the worst natural disaster on record, leaving much of his own congregation in ruin.
Last week, Osteen came under heavy fire for allegedly not opening the doors to his 16,000 seat Lakewood Church to give shelter to hurricane victims. As the days passed and the full story came to light, evidence weighed in Osteen's favor that he did not reject shelter to those in need. This site defended him on this multiple times, even after the trolls mercilessly mocked him on social media.
But now Osteen's digging himself a hole with his latest statements, urging his followers not to have a "poor me" mentality and that God will "pay back" what the flood victims lost.
Giving his first sermon since the hurricane hit, Osteen said to his followers: "We’re not going to understand everything that happens, but having a ‘poor old me mentality’ or ‘look what I lost’ or ‘why did this happen,’ y’know that’s just going to pull you down."
"So let’s don’t have a victim mentality, let’s have a restoration mentality,” the pastor said. “Lord, we thank you, that you’re going to pay back what belongs to us.”
Like most of what Osteen says, he speaks partial truth. He is correct in saying that we must not wallow in our problems and succumb to despair and that we must always give thanks to God even in the face of tragedy. However, in our dark moments, when life has tested us, when God seems further away than ever, we are not faithless to stare into the void and ask "why me?"
Osteen should rightly be commended for the acts of service his Lakewood Church has done following Hurricane Harvey and in other disasters, but his "prosperity gospel" has finally met its match.