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Friday, April 16, 2010

Happiness

Our Christianity tends to focus on things that really have nothing to do with Christianity at all. We hear sermons and bible studies that tell us that God is interested in you, that He wants to know you, and that He wants to bless you. In essence, the focus is taken away from the namesake of Christianity (the Christ) and shifted to the most insignificant of objects in the equation: us. God is not the focus, you are. God loves YOU. God wants to know YOU. YOU are important to God. Instead of acknowledging the biblical truth of God's love for humanity and its necessary conclusion that God loves sinful men for his OWN glory, the message is shifted from God's valuing of Himself through His love for us, to simply God's love for us. The message is insidious. And it's everywhere.

One of the ways this plays out, at least as I've seen it, is the belief that God wants us to be happy. Consider that in nearly 2000 years of this religion, no culture has so insisted on the happiness and contentedness of the individual as much as American Christianity. We have seeker-sensitive services geared toward making people feel comfortable. We offer watered-down Bible studies for fear of the "deeper" things of God scaring away potential converts (or, God help us, current converts). But lest you think this is something to charge the Willowcreeks of the world only, I want you to stop and take an honest look at your own conception of God.

If you're anything like me, you were taught (at least implicitly) that because God loves you, He wants to bless you. If you do His will, He will reward you. If you do not do His will, then perhaps the bad things that are happening in your life are a message from God that He wants you to turn from those bad things. For the philosophers out there, this is generally referred to as the Retribution Principle. There are two ways to look at the Retribution Principle. First is that if you do evil, you will suffer. The biblical proof-texts for this abound, never mind that the promises of suffering for disobedience were part of the covenant between God and Israel, a distinct people from you and I (unless you happen to be Jewish). To apply those promises to us is just bad hermeneutics and bad interpretation. If I do evil, will I suffer? Maybe. Or maybe, just maybe, I will rape, pillage and plunder my filthy little heart out, living a life of reprobation and die wealthy and in ease. I question the biblical warrant for assuming that bad action X has any direct correlation to bad consequence Y, such that X -> Y. Just because I do X (the bad action) does not mean that I will reap Y (the bad circumstance). Conversely, just because Y is happening, there is no reason to assume an X (perhaps unknown to me). Ask Job, as this is one of the major themes of the book.

Job does righteous things and is a man set apart. However, when bad things start to happen, he stands firm and asks why bad things are happening. He has done no evil deserving of the fate that has set upon him. His moronic friends continually try to convince him that he has sinned. Surely his sin is the reason that God is punishing him. However, in the end, we see that Job's friends have no leg to stand on, for even God pronounced Job's innocence of covenant transgression early on. Why did bad things happen to Job? Did he do evil in God's eyes? Nope. It was not for Job to demand that answer, nor did God ever really explain why bad things came upon him. From Job's point of view, things just happened that way, and God is under no obligation to tell him anything as to the why.

But God is a God of love you say. He wants to bless his children. He wants them to be happy. After all, are we not supposed to delight ourselves in the Lord? Are we not to be joyful? Are we not supposed to be happy? Do you think the believing remnant cast into Babylonian exile was "happy" about it? Do you think the poor man Lazarus was happy about being poor and destitute and dying like that? Do you think first century Christians were "happy" about the prospect of being fodder for the pagan machine of Rome? What makes you think God has any concern about your happiness? Things aren't going well in your life? Join the club. Wish things were better? Who doesn't? Does God care about your happiness? I don't know...

I once spoke to a woman who was planning to leave her husband. She was no longer happy in the marriage. She knew that divorce was wrong, but surely God wanted her to be happy. After all, He is a God of love; how could he ask her to remain in an unsatisfying marriage? I would like to put forth that God does not care in the slightest about your happiness. You will not find the command of God to be happy as God is happy. No, you see the command to be holy, even as HE is holy. Does God want you to be happy? Maybe. Does God want you to be holy? With infinite, absolute certainty. If you have to pick between the two, which do you pick? If you find yourself in the situation where you can choose to make yourself happy, to be content, versus being holy, if you're anything like me, you hold your head in shame at the number of times you've chosen happy.

"Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness..." Find fulfillment, hope, joy, even happiness! in the surety of the promise of the resurrection of the dead into the new life to which we will be raised, to which we have already been raised in Christ, the firstborn from the dead. In light of that, let us live like we believe it. Let THAT be our happiness.

8 Comments:

Blogger tagskie said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5/02/2010 9:05 AM  
Blogger joven said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5/14/2010 3:15 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Jeff writes:

Great post. One other thing that gets missed when we think in terms of retribution, is the principle that identities lead to actions. In American Christianity, too often we think that doing bad things makes us bad people. This is totally backwards. We do bad things because we are rotten sinners. Beyond that, recall that uncleanness is contagious. That means our good actions are contaminated by our rotten natures. Thus in the X->Y paradigm, all of our actions "X" are inherently evil (regardless of how virtuous they may appear) because they are committed by sinners. If we truly hold to the retribution principle, everything we do should lead to our destruction. The bible teaches that on our own, this is true. This is why conversion is not an exercise in rehabilitating bad behaviour, it is rebirth to a new identity in Christ. Only when we are redeemed can we say that those things done for Christ's glory, through faith in Christ are actually good.

6/17/2010 8:51 PM  
Blogger joven said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7/07/2010 9:55 PM  
Blogger joven said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7/07/2010 9:55 PM  
Blogger joven said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7/07/2010 10:00 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

I would like to cut and paste the first two paragraphs of this and put post it on my blog, linking it to your blog of coarse, and with your permission.

5/14/2011 11:19 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Knock yourself out Dan.

5/14/2011 1:50 PM  

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