It’s never a good idea to start a book with a falsehood, but that’s how Joel Osteen begins his best-selling book, Your Best Life Now. Here’s the first sentence of the Introduction:
“The future is yours for the taking.”
Osteen clearly agrees with this common phrase, heard in many graduation ceremonies, as he goes on to explain why it doesn’t always work out for some people.
Contrast this opening falsehood with a truthful saying we often hear in Christian circles:
“We don’t know what the future holds, but we know God holds the future.”
Starkly different theologies right there.
The future is yours versus the future is God’s.
You can take the future into your own hands versus God holds the future.
These are two very different views of God, of humanity, and of living the Christian life.
A Slither of Truth
As with so much of Osteen’s theology, there’s a sliver of truth in what he’s saying. Our future is influenced by our present choices. But influenced by is very different from determined by.
Yes, what we choose today may have an impact on tomorrow, the next year, and even extend to future generations. Who we decide to marry, where we choose to live and work, whether to make that phone call or write that email, all of these things influence beyond the present moment and may have a bearing on the rest of our lives and on the lives of others.
However, that’s a very different thing to saying that we can take the future into our own hands and determine our future by our present choices. That completely fails to take account of the sovereignty of the God who has His own plan for our life and can thwart and overrule any of our choices.
This means that our good choices do not always mean happy outcomes, and, thankfully, bad choices do not always mean unhappy outcomes.
Yes, we must live responsibly and make our choices prayerfully, but all our choices are ultimately under the overall sovereignty of God.
A Terrifying Message
Although Osteen is trying to inspire people to take charge of their lives and make a better life for themselves in the future, his message here actually scares the wits out of me.
If the future is in my hands, then I will either work it out independently without reference to God’s wisdom, God’s glory, or God’s will for my life.
Or else I will be paralyzed with fear at the thought that I’m in total charge of my destiny and everything depends entirely upon my decisions.
That’s why I’m utterly baffled that Osteen can teach that the future is in our hands and then say:
“No matter where you are or what challenges you are facing, you can enjoy your life right now!” (K50)
There’s no way I could enjoy my life right now if the future is entirely in my hands. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or do anything profitable with that crushing responsibility on my shoulders.
But if my sovereign God not only knows but holds my future, if God can guide and bless my good choices and even overrule my bad choices for good, then I can enjoy my life right now.
Moreover, trust in God’s sovereignty means I can enjoy my life even in the midst of pain and suffering, even pain and suffering that has resulted from my poor decisions, and those of others.