“‘Quit your preaching,’ they preach. ‘They should not preach these things; shame will not overtake us.’ House of Jacob, should it be asked, ‘Is the Spirit of the Lord impatient? Are these the things he does?’ Don’t my words bring good to the one who walks uprightly?” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Nobody likes to hear bad news. Well, we like to hear bad news about somebody else—after all, that’s all they deliver on television and millions of viewers still watch regularly—but we don’t like bad news personally. We don’t like someone telling us what we’re doing is wrong. The most popular preachers are the ones who are best at telling us what we want to hear. This is the case now and it has been the case for a very long time.
One of the benefits and dangers of being rich is that you can afford to not be told you’re wrong anymore. I understand this not as someone who is particularly wealthy (in a relative sense anyway) but as a pastor. Pastors do hear criticism from time to time. Don’t have any doubts about that. But we tend to only hear either that we are awesome or that we are awful and not much from that constructive middle.
The same goes for rich people. They either hear that they are the worst people in the world (most often from social media), or that they are geniuses on a level with Einstein. The former mostly comes from people who are jealous of them and are expressing that in unhelpful ways. The latter comes from the people whose employment depends on their wealth.
Well, you can avoid social media and other types of media in order to filter out the negative stuff. To a certain extent that’s a good and wise thing to do. But when you do that, all you have left is the positive. And while that may sound good, when all you hear is unconstructively positive feedback all the time, the natural tendency is to start to believe it. That is, when everyone around tells you you are awesome all the time, eventually you start to believe them.
The thing is, though, this is not solely a rich people problem. While most people aren’t in the position of only hearing how great they are from everyone around them because they pay them to do so, we do tend to give our greatest attention to the people who tell us what we want to hear. This becomes doubly true when it comes to the matter of religion.
Religion deals with matters of morality and ultimate destiny. There are few matters of life in which we want to hear we are doing okay and we will be doing okay later more than these. Voices that tell us we’re not as bad as we fear and that a reward of some type is waiting for us on the horizon are the ones we tend to flock to hear.
This was a major problem in Micah’s day. People who could afford it were paying willing prophets to tell them what they wanted to hear. They paid them to give them assurance that God was happy with what they were doing and didn’t have any plans for judgment against them. Prophets and priests willing to adjust their messages to the whims of their patrons could make quite a nice living this way.
Today we have a similar phenomenon in the Health and Wealth Gospel. Preachers like Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyers, and others of this same sort make lots and lots of money telling people what they want to hear. They wrap themselves in a blanket of Christian orthodoxy, but what they offer is a largely heretical blend of false positivity and you’re-doing-fine-ism.
They assure people that God loves them which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but they assure them that God’s love means they shouldn’t be suffering at all. In fact, they assure people that if they are getting God right they shouldn’t be experiencing any negative life outcomes of any kind. Just believe in God, give them money, and everything in your life will be okay.
The problem here is that this just isn’t true. But who cares if it’s true when it feels so good to hear it? And so people sign up by the millions to be told what they want to hear: God’s okay with whatever you do as long as it isn’t hurting anyone else. If you give money, all sins will be forgiven. Just believe and receive. You’re okay. You can have everything you want.
This works too…until we run into reality’s firm walls. Paid prophets don’t prepare us for how the world really is because they don’t present the world as it really is. If we want a pleasant fantasy, we can stick with that path, but when we’re ready to experience real life with all of its joys and blessings, the Scriptures will be there to show us what’s true. What’s true isn’t always easy—in fact, it often isn’t—but it is good.
When we are ready to accept the truth—most notably the truth that we are broken and lost but that there is a Savior who loves us and will give us eternal life if we will only give our lives to Him and receive it—the glories of real life are ours for the receiving. God’s words consistently bring good to the one who lives by them. We just have to decide if we want the good or the good-sounding fantasy. The choice is ours, but only one path leads to life.