There is always a challenge that exists within Christendom, which is how to fully teach the truth and preach the Gospel in a loving way. Many times, I have seen too many people who have chosen the two extremes of either being very condemnatory or “all loving at all costs,” which, in my opinion, is missing the whole point. There is a delicate balance of how to preach the truth without compromising its integrity or making ourselves too standoffish. Furthermore, too often, I have seen many bigger churches (of different denominations) who have chosen the path of monetizing or doing business using the name of God. Have we come to the point of only professing the Lord only in name and in ideology but do not truly love Him with all of our heart, all our soul, and all of our mind? (cf. Matthew 22:37)
There are too many televangelists and preachers who are preaching the positive, self-forming, empowering message. Yet, hidden behind these positive messages often lie hidden a very humanistic desire: the desire to let ourselves and our happiness be the criteria of everything that goes on in life. God, then, no longer has sovereignty nor is He the criterion of truth, just a butler of our personal needs per se. If everything is positive, and God is portrayed as a cheerleader and supporter of whatever we have desired, is he really God? If He exists to only empower and loves us unconditionally no matter what we like to do and what lifestyle we choose to live, is He or are we in control? If we get upset at failures and negative outcomes and think that God has failed us if we do not get what we want, then how genuine is the relationship between us and the Lord of the universe? The letter, “Placuit Deo,” to all Catholic Bishops from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith warned of the error:
“A new form of Pelagianism is spreading in our days, one in which the individual, understood to be radically autonomous, presumes to save oneself, without recognizing that, at the deepest level of being, he or she derives from God and from others. According to this way of thinking, salvation depends on the strength of the individual or on purely human structures, which are incapable of welcoming the newness of the Spirit of God.” (no. 3)
Of course, many will not go this extreme, but there are many natural temptations to do so (with the different degrees of application). Even though many Christian teachers teach that we depend on God and His grace, often time, we do end up with simply creating the image of the Almighty as always having to be there for us at all costs. Reading between the lines, one can see many popular messages simply telling us that we actually portray, understand, and see ourselves as the criterion of judgment while God is there to simply act as the Provider of grace and Mover of things to make what we want happen.
When one begins to capitalize on God, can one really talk about the whole Gospel and teachings of the Sacred Scriptures? I would imagine that it would be hard, especially parts where the Lord asks us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. (cf. Matthew 10:38, 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23, 14:27) For sure, it would be mighty hard to begin talking about moral law and its responsibilities, and we are not even talking about the greater understanding of solidarity, communion, or stewardship yet. As you can see, when we begin to capitalize on God, we begin to formulate our teaching and preaching moments to maximize the beneficial, monetary, or desired outcomes. We no longer discern or able to see anything wrong when the popular preachers are multimillionaires, living in mansions, and having a lavished lifestyle because these things are understood as the materialistic objectification of the Lord‘s favors. “See how much s/he is blessed by the Lord!”
Hence, it begs the question about the preacher serving the truth, or using the truth for his or her own benefits? Honestly speaking, when I listen to many “positivity-oriented” and “empowerment,” I can see why their messages are so appealing. If I am an ordinary listener, I would feel very inspired, lifted, and moved, yet those things are very short lived though. Too many promised are being given on the basis of “if you just believe in Him!” There are simply too many cheapening of God‘s grace by our materializing and quantifying of His favors. I find it disturbing that when these programs end, they always ask for people to “listen” to their hearts, “do not be afraid,” or “be generous to Him as He has and will be to you,” as to see how they can return their blessings to God by “blessing” the particular ministries. Simply put, they are just indirect ways of asking for money. Therefore, at least for me, these ministries only exist in order to monetize and capitalize on God and His grace.
What if I do not get what I want? Is it because God has failed me or because I do not believe enough? When we equate success, achievements, and glory to “God’s favors upon His beloved if we just hand over everything we have and trust in Him!”, it will — sooner or later — leads us to the real faith-centered, paradoxical, and existential question of theodicy. When things do not go our ways, when sufferings happen, when crises come, we tend to simply think that God has abandoned us or that we are not doing something right. When I was a doing my hospital chaplaincy, I had seen too many cases of people blaming themselves and thinking that they were where they need to be because “they have not believed enough!” There is, without a doubt, a lack of an intimate and personal understanding of who God is instead of only looking for what He can do for us.
Even though many believers can say that they have a personal relationship with Jesus, it begs the question of what does that really mean in this day and age. One can think that he or she has the personal relationship by knowing who the Lord is, he or she might pray, but to truly be knowing in the Christian sense requires both the proper knowledge of the Scripture, theology, and catechesis and the personal life of prayer to truly love the Lord for who He truly is instead of what He can do or promise to us. Fr. Pedro Arupe, SJ, a former Superior General of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) once said:
“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
Our faith is not dependent on what God has to do for us or our happiness is based on what we want or desire for ourselves. The Lord has come to show us who we truly are and invites us into a deeper communion with Him and with one another. Our true joy is not self-centered but grounded in the real, personal, and intimate faith, hope, and love for the Savior who had given Himself up for us. It is not just about what we can get out of the relationship but in obedience to His words and by imitating His own sacrificial examples of love for the greater good of all. We are to become like Him by the dying of ourselves to love, trust, and believe beyond the materialistic or quantifiable goods, especially through our own personal gifts of service to others.
The true Christian faith is not an individual nor a benefit-based one. Just as we have received the Good News of salvation and redemption through the Church, we have to understand that we are not alone nor ever meant to be alone. We are not saved and redeemed as isolated individuals, but have been incorporated into a communion of persons that participates in the Trinitarian communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our relationship and blessing are, then, grounded on the love of Christ as we continually grow and interiorly renew our love for Him through the sacraments. Hence, relationship is understood not just on the quantity of goods but on the concreteness of our love for Him through the service of one another, especially the poor, abandoned, and weakest.
We do these things and seek our real blessings through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy by loving Christ through the gift of ourselves.
Hence, our joy is then found in our own personal and intimate awareness of a life well spent, the fullness of life immersed in the love of the Savior and living out the real mission of the Gospel. We are full of life because we live fully in the glory of the risen Christ, who — through the working the Holy Spirit — will bring us each day closer to our relationship with the Father, with our brothers and sisters, and with all of creation. This is truly our holistic and complete understanding of solidarity and communal love, for we are not alone! When we stop worrying about what we have to have or what we can do by capitalizing on God, we become more focused on Him as to intimate and grow His love. Truly, loving Him “will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”