The Power of Favor 8 | 2.2 Where are we?

by Glenn on March 24, 2020

In his most recent podcast, a “12 Rules for Life Lecture” from Australia, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson talked about how his Biblical lectures had been received. He reflected on spending three hours talking about just the first line of the Bible (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”) and made a joke about how long it takes to read through the Bible when you spend three hours on each sentence. And then he talked about Christians:

 “Orthodox Christians in particular seem to be happy with me which is quite a strange thing, although I kind of like their doctrine, and Catholics think that I would be a good Catholic if I just smartened up a little bit. Protestants—they’ve pretty much completely decided that it isn’t necessary to believe in God, so (laughs) they’re ignoring me completely and that’s fine.”

I was struck by that line that “Protestants … [have] pretty much completely decided that it isn’t necessary to believe in God.” I think most Protestants would say in response, “No we haven’t,” but it’s interesting to think about this in relation to The Power of Favor. This is a book written by a pastor to, one imagines, speak for God. What is God like according to Osteen after two chapters?

In Chapter 1 we’re told that God favors people. By favor, he means that God is going to push them to the front of the line, he is going to give them new levels of income and promotions for which they aren’t qualified, he is going to help them find the best deals. In Chapter 2, Osteen suggests that God wants to provide parking spots close to the shopping mall and free phones.

There are a few odd things about this. First, there aren’t really any conditions around this. For whom is this true? Is it necessary to read the book? [1] One of the things that would have helped this book is any kind of introduction to explain who the book is for, how this insight was discovered, and to let us know upfront what, if anything, is required of the reader. In Chapter 1 there are some vague references to needing to work hard or to have faith, but those aren’t really explained and they certainly aren’t emphasized to any extent. In fact, it’s suggested that God will actually work around them. The point is that God is going to give favor. But then Chapter 2 comes along and now there is a condition—Favor must be declared, rendering Chapter 1 sort of meaningless or at least incomplete.

Second, the claims sound universal, but certainly the way we understand them isn’t. When you look at the world, it’s hard to see how it’s at all true. There are Christians around the world who are being persecuted for their faith or live in impoverished places. How does favor apply there? They aren’t really interested in parking spots or free phones, are they? This feels like a book for American Christians.

Third, the way Osteen uses Biblical stories doesn’t seem fair. A character will say they received favor from God and that is used as evidence for how God is going to give favor to me the reader. The problem is that for each story that Osteen references, where a character receives favor, literally everyone else in the story did not receive the favor of God. [2] In the parking spot example, if I get the best spot in the parking lot, literally everyone else in the mall has a worse spot. God can’t favor everyone, can He? Or what does it mean that everyone is going to be sent to the front of the line? Or does favor get spread around and we take turns? Sometimes we get the good spot and sometimes we don’t. In which case, how is God’s favor anything different than just luck or random circumstances? Further, there is a context for each character who received favor from God. Sometimes, as in the case of Daniel, favor is preceded by weeks of fasting and prayer. It doesn’t seem like you can isolate favor in the way he is.

To read this book in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis is just strange. What world is he talking about? He is writing about being pushed forward even as we are headed toward the possibility of 20% unemployment (or worse). A win right now is simply having or keeping your job. [3] In one sense, this isn’t fair to write about this book in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. But the Gospel—the good news about Jesus—is meant to be true in all times in all places and for all people. The fact that this book doesn’t really apply right now suggests that maybe we aren’t dealing with the Gospel at all.

And everything is focused on externals—status, income, etc. There doesn’t appear to be much of any sort of demand on our inner lives as we relate to God.

Chapter 2 is about declaring favor and, finally, we discover some demands. But they aren’t really demands. God wants to favor you and the reason you aren’t receiving that favor is because you aren’t doing your part, which is declaring it. It’s interesting that Osteen doesn’t really bring God into this. Osteen makes this sound very mechanistic. Declare favor, then God can favor you. Missing in that formula is help with how this mechanism works or the reason God needs us to speak these words. Faith certainly is part of this, but it’s not discussed too much. Faith is essential. There are stories in the gospels where Jesus was prevented from healing because of unbelief. What’s different here is that the person who is declaring favor is expressing faith. So, once we’re speaking it, what is preventing things from happening. Where is the resistance?

The end result of this is that declaring favor sounds like an incantation. It sounds like magic: “Declare favor, and favor will come one you.” Sort of like how “Wingardium leviosa” will help a first-year Hogwarts student float a feather. [4]

I am not making fun, because I want to take faith seriously. Faith in God is what saves. The message of this book feels like a distortion of faith. What Hebrews 11 says it that when we trust God, we’re not guaranteed results. Sure, faith produced many good things in the lives of God’s followers—God delivered on his promises. But it also says that there were many people who died without obtaining what God had promised. These people are commended as well for their faith (in spite of the lack of results). My understanding is that an eternal God is able to deliver on his promises before or after this life. God may choose to heal in this life, but if we are trusting God for healing, even if we die that faith will produce an eternal healing. The point is to trust and leave the results to God. This book makes it seem as though it depends on me. We need to be chanting certain words throughout the day so that can (?) will (?) work.

What I think the actual message of this book should be is something like, “There are things that God wants to do in your life that you need to trust him for. But radical trust is no guarantee of anything. The circumstances of your life may or may not look like God has his hand on you. In fact, your circumstances may not say much about your relationship to God. Don’t worry about that. Your number one job is to trust God.”

 

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[1] Following the “If a tree falls in the wood and no one around is to hear it, does it still make a noise?” conundrum, what is the relationship of this book to an individual receiving favor? If you didn’t read the book, could you still experience good things from God?

[2] I suppose an argument could be made that the result of God favoring one person was that God was able to bless others through them. So, for example, God favoring David and making him king resulted in good things for the nation of Israel. This goes along with the idea that we are blessed to be a blessing. Osteen does hint at some responsibilities that come with God’s favor, but for the most part the idea of favor seems to be a rather selfish pursuit, if we can call it a pursuit. So far, it’s not clear that we actually can pursue it. We’re simply to know that it is coming. We help it along by declaring it.

[3] I suppose there are many books that seem largely irrelevant right now. Who wants to be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The issue I have with this book is that it promises so much in the temporal realm. When the temporal realm is in disarray, the whole foundation of this book is gone.

[4] Noting that it’s important how you pronounce “leviosa.” As I recall, it’s “Leh-vee-OH-suh” and not “Leh-vee-oh-SUH.”

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