Wednesday, August 24, 2011

More Than Happiness


God wants us to be happy.  Right?
Well, actually, no.  Now, this doesn’t mean that God wants us to be miserable.  He wants more than happiness for us.  Not less.  

Nevertheless, God can and does will disappointment and failure and frustration and even heartache for us for the sake of the good that He desires for us.
In other words, for the sake of something greater, God’s Will for us can be that we will be unhappy.
This doesn’t sound like a loving God.  Does it?
And yet, the paradox is that God’s willingness for us to be unhappy is actually proof of His unquenchable love for us.

I know that this is counterintuitive, so let’s start with some specific experiences of unhappiness.  Then I’ll talk more generally about happiness and God’s greater desire for us.
When my children or my wife are sick or sad, I am not happy.
As a young man I committed a sin.  Well, okay, I committed lots of them and still haven’t exhausted my capacity to sin.  Nonetheless, this one particular sin clearly hurt other people and brought me a heavy burden of guilt and shame.  I was not happy.
I have comforted people on the death of sons and daughters.  They were not happy.  Neither was I.
A friend of mine was denied tenure at a university.  He was not happy.
Another friend proposed to a beautiful young woman and was rejected.  Not a happy day!
When my best efforts have been unappreciated, I was unhappy.  The same can be said for the dead end job interviews I’ve endured and the rejection letters from publishers I’ve received.  Happy? Not so much.
Unhappiness is actually a mark of something greater than happiness in some of these cases.  When we feel genuine compassion for the sick and the sorrowful, then we are wounded along with those who suffer.
Jesus himself said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)  If we assume that God’s greatest blessing for us is the comforts and status and rewards of this world, Jesus’ words make no sense.
The Holy Spirit inflicts us with a sense of remorse about our wrongdoing.  More than one spiritual writer has pointed out that the Spirit brings us to contrition by first making us aware of God's mercy and forgiveness and only then revealing our desperate need for that them.  In any event, the fruit of my own unhappiness was repentance and reconciliation with God.
Career failure and romantic rejection are not anyone’s happy place, and yet they can be precisely the means by which God does more for us than we can imagine for ourselves.  
Some of us are tempted to justify ourselves in our career achievements or to seek our worth in the love we get from a man or a woman.  In other words, we look for something in our earthly lives to save us.
No finite achievement or person can satisfy our infinite desire for significance.  A career failure or a romantic heartbreak can be God’s ways of turning us from the empty pursuit of an idol that will never deliver what it promises.
God wants more than happiness for us.  He wants us to enjoy seamless relationship with him and unbroken fellowship with his other children.  He accomplishes this for us in the Cross of Christ.
God changes us in Christ into those who can see our Redeemer face to face and can sit joyfully at the great banquet with all of God’s honored guests.
Don’t get me wrong.  God has placed us in a wonderful world filled with good things.  Food and drink, significant work and close friends, the love of family and the beauty of nature are gifts from God.  He gives them to us so that we can be happy.
God is a God of blessing and happiness is a blessing.  But it is not God’s highest blessing for us.  In fact, to confuse our earthly happiness with God’s greatest blessing is to lose sight of His chief desire for us.
God does not want our happiness to stand in the way of eternal life in his Kingdom.  Eternal life is more than an existence that goes on forever. 
It’s a different kind of life that we begin to glimpse from time to time on our earthly pilgrimage.  That is, we begin to glimpse it, and even yearn for it, when we don’t let our pursuit of happiness get in the way.
(The image above is Gustave Dore's The New Jerusalem.)

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