3 “Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. 4 “Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad. 5 “Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth. 6 “Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full. 7 “Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy. 8 “Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God. 9 “Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children. Matthew 5:3-9, CEB
I saw a pretty funny internet debate recently. Joel Osteen’s wife got into trouble because she said that when we worship, we really worship for ourselves. Her logic went something like this: Worship makes us happy, and the number one thing God wants is for us to be happy, therefore we worship because we benefit in the form of happiness. I’m pretty sure her logic started with God being a middle man and then ended with him completely removed from the picture. Yikes. Now, I’m sure she did not intend for her remarks to come out as they did. Anyone who has ever spoken in front of a group of people knows we get nervous and tend to say things that come out in a totally wrong way.
I then saw a lot of responses to this. I saw a lot of people say that the Bible says very little about our happiness (true enough) and that God’s concern is not our feelings but, instead, our obedience. Granted, Victoria Osteen said something that sounded pretty ridiculous. She basically encouraged us to worship ourselves (whether she meant to or not). When extreme things are said, people tend to respond in extreme ways. Do I think God wants us to live obedient lives? Yes, absolutely. I think he wants us to reflect his character in our lives in every way we can. Do I think he’s totally unconcerned with our emotions? Absolutely not.
I’ll clarify this in a few ways. I have no idea what God thinks or feels, for starters. However, we have some clues about his character. I agree with the responders in the sense that I don’t think our emotions are God’s number one priority (nor should they be ours). I think the way we carry out our faith in the midst of various emotional states is far more important. I also believe the Bible points us to a loving and compassionate God (who has a tough side when he needs it, of course). Could a loving and compassionate God be so totally dispassionate about our experience of life on earth? I suppose it’s possible, but it doesn’t seem likely. Would a dispassionate God promise the things we see in these verses (such as: to end grief, to bring his kingdom to the hopeless, to show mercy, and to create a family)?
I think the lesson here is about learning our priorities in faith. Victoria Osteen missed something in her speech (perhaps unintentionally) that we learn very early on in recovery: I am powerless. There is a God, and I didn’t get the job. Her responders missed something else. We have a God who provides peace, comfort, and rest for the weary. Our emotional state, our happiness, cannot be our God nor the sole purpose of our faith. That kind of thinking will get us into a heap of trouble. But that doesn’t mean we need to worship a God who doesn’t care.
There’s middle ground there somewhere. Seek and ye shall find!