Suffering and a
theology of glory
Michael S. Horton, Ph.D.
is a part of a collection of essays written recently by Dr.
Horton after his interview on
60 Minutes which aired on October 14, 2007.
Jesus knew why he came. It was not to help people find a little
more happiness and success in life. In fact, his life was filled
with suffering, under the long shadow of Calvary. “For this
purpose I have come,” he said, referring to the cross (Jn
12:27). “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which
was lost” (Lk 19:10). The disciples thought that the road to
Jerusalem led to victory. Entering as conquerors at the side of
the Messiah, they would drive out the Romans and usher in the
everlasting reign of God. Each time he reminded them that he was
going to Jerusalem to die on a cross and be raised on the third
day, they either didn’t respond or (especially in Peter’s case)
reprimanded Jesus for his “negative thinking” (Mk 8:31-38;
10:2-5; Mt 16:21-23). Ever since his temptation by Satan,
Jesus had been offered glory without a cross, but it was a false
promise, and that’s why Jesus rebuked Peter’s attempt to
dissuade him from the cross by saying, “Get behind me, Satan.
For your thoughts are the thoughts of men, not of God” (Mt
16:23). We can be grateful that Jesus embraced the cross and
then entered his glory, instead of demanding glory first.
Paul regularly picks up on this theme. Familiar to suffering
himself, Paul was always joyful not because of his circumstances
but because of the gospel’s promise that after we suffer for a
little while we will share in Christ’s resurrection glory. He
warned the church of false teachers who deceive “by smooth talk
The “health-and-wealth” gospel that Osteen preaches cannot deal
with suffering. It is a theology of glory: the offer of the
kingdoms of the world here and now. For those who take this
path, it may well be that they will have their best life now.
But even now, there is no place for suffering in this
quintessentially American religion. Not Christ’s suffering for
our sins or our suffering for being united to Christ. In a New
York Times interview, Osteen was asked why there is suffering.
Although he is correct that we cannot solve this dilemma
philosophically, he offered no suggestion that it is solved in
historical terms by Christ’s resurrection as the first-fruits of
the new creation. “‘The answer is I don’t know,’ Mr. Osteen
said. “‘We deal every week with someone whose child got killed,
or they lost their job. I don’t understand it. All you can do is
let God comfort you and move on. Part of faith is not
How can God comfort those who mourn apart from the gospel? Even
here, Osteen easily skirts the tragic dimension of our existence
by burdening believers once again with their duty to “name and
claim” prosperity in their life. So much for the more “positive”
message of Joel Osteen. He has nothing to say to people who are
at the end of their rope except, “It will get better.” But what
if it will not, at least in this life? Can his message reach
someone who is in the final throes of AIDS? Could his message
provoke anything but cynicism for a mother holding her dead
At the end of the day, God’s favor—measured in temporal
terms—depends entirely on our obedience:
Thus, to those who are burned out on trying to merit God’s
favor, Osteen’s only answer—though said with a smile, is, “Do
more.” “Believe more for your miracle and God will turn it
around.” Is this a kinder, gentler God or a more than slightly
sinister tyrant who keeps raising the hoops for us to jump
through before he gives us what we want?
I believe one of the main ways that we grow in favor is by
declaring…And some of you are doing your best to please the
Lord. You are living a holy, consecrated life, but you’re not
really experiencing God’s supernatural favor. And it’s simply
because you’re not declaring it. You’ve got to give life to your
faith by speaking it out. (2)
Christianity announces the good news that God in Christ has
saved us now from the condemnation of the law, dethroned the
tyranny of sin, and delivered us from Satan’s oppressive regime.
But it gets even better: One day, this salvation will be
consummated in the gift of resurrection, glorification, and
everlasting life, free of the very presence of sin, pain, evil,
and violence. According to America’s pop religion, we save
ourselves with God’s help from feeling guilty and unhappy.
Osteen has at least helped us to see just how stark the contrast
is between the gospel of Christ and the motivational hype of
popular American culture.
1 Quoted in “A Church That
Packs Them In, 16,000 At a Time,” New York Times,
July 18, 2005
[back to text]
2 Audio clip on “The Bible
Answer Man” radio broadcast, April 26, 2004 [back to text]
Read other essays in this collection:
For additional resources on this subject visit Dr. Horton's national radio broadcast website: The White Horse Inn >>
Westminster Seminary California All rights reserved