Okay, so what happened to Part III? Well, in essence, I already wrote it, only under a different title…https://pastorjameshein.wordpress.com/2010/04/08/is-that-what-i-really-want/. It’s about a Christian’s list of priorities and how mixed priorities (i.e. priorities incompatible with faith) will always make us unhappy. In fact, that article was the one that got me thinking about doing this series of Unhappiness. Hopefully it’s been more of a pick-me-up than a downer. And, by the way, if you’re wondering where I became qualified to give anyone instructions on how to not be unhappy…..good question. It’s been more of a personal reflection of experience than anything. It’s a combination of being a student of God’s Word, a fairly ardent fan of psychology as a hobby, and a past that has at times, allowed me to experience what I perceived to be “rock bottom”. I remember in those low moments telling myself (and God through prayer) that if I got through this (i.e. depression) I would do everything I could to help other people not go through this too. Years later, the end result was not the book deal I’d anticipated :), but a quaint 4 installment blog. But if any of what I’m saying here helps one person not face the lows of sadness that I recall, then it was worth it.
Part IV of this series is the killer. It’s the reason the others exist – sin. The other installments to this series chronicled items that, to a degree, we have a greater sense of control over. And yes, in our personal lives, we have been empowered by the Spirit living in us not to sin. And yet we’re still sinners. And yet we still live in a world saturated by sin. That we can’t control. You know why I’m convinced that we can’t control this? Here’s one example: no matter how much sun (or other potentially lethal rays) I avoid, no matter how few cigarettes I smoke, no matter how little I abuse alcohol, I might be able to avoid one of the most common killers: cancer, but I can’t avoid death. No matter how safe I drive, no matter how many multi-vitamins I take, no matter how few empty calories, fat grams, or cholesterol I resist, I can’t resist death. I’m not advocating careless management of the body God has given you. But I am boarding us all on the boat called death. You can’t avoid it. It’s the final evidence that there’s something really, really terribly wrong with this world. And no disarmament of nuclear weapons, no march on Washington, and no Congressional legislation is going to stop that. As a species, we wanted to be like God, we ate the fruit, we were banished from the perfect Garden, and now we walk around in a wilderness so sick and depraved that the reality is that at any minute we’re a mere “thief in the night” away from God saying “enough is enough”. It’s time to be honest: our world is crippled by sin. And the effect of that sin, in the end, is death (Romans 6:23).
As ironic and pessimistic as it sounds, one of the things that keeps Christians from a certain sense of peace and happiness is the failure to recognize how sinful the world is and how we’re not only victimized by it, but that we too fall for it and even contribute to the problem.
One of the questions that I hear Christians struggle with most when facing pain and sadness in this world (whether or not they actually come out and say it) is “Doesn’t God want me, as his child, to be happy?”. The answer to that is…..absolutely! Of course your Heavenly Father wants you to be happy. Here’s the catch though – he doesn’t just want you to be happy for 70 or 80 years, but he wants you to be ETERNALLY happy. If that means that he has to allow some bumps on the highway to salvation in order to keep you repeatedly turning to him – to keep you safe on that highway – then that’s the most loving thing for him to do.
In recent years there has been a surging trend in American Christianity towards what’s called “prosperity theology”. Don’t know what this is? Check out a list of top-selling, top-broadcasted Christian ministers in the past 10 years – Joel Osteen (far and away the closest thing to “America’s Pastor” today and very, very different from Billy Graham), Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar – all of these people promote the concept that “you don’t have because you don’t believe hard enough”. In other words, your life here and now can be much, much better (from a material standpoint) if you just have more faith. All of this is simply a misunderstanding of the kingdom that Jesus came to bring to us – a heavenly kingdom, not a material kingdom on earth. And one of the reasons why this prosperity theology is so appealing to the masses is that it pushes aside the concept of living under the weight of a sinful world and says that if you just believe in God enough, your earthly problems will go away. While I admire the trust in God to help, because he promises to help when were in need (Psalm 50:15), I resent the thought that Jesus came to make us rich here on earth.
My home is in heaven. My treasures are in heaven. None of us is immune to this thinking that, as God’s children, we deserve more glory in this life. The Apostle Peter himself wasn’t immune to it. Look at the Transfiguration account in Luke 9:28-36. When Peter saw the glory of God on earth, he wanted to set up some tents and make it last, thinking to himself “now this is what life is all about”. God has to remind Peter (as Jesus had done earlier in the chapter) that this life is often painful. God’s glory belongs in heaven, where you’re going, but not quite yet.
Christians today still want the glory of God here on earth. Prosperity theology, although it encourages a healthy sense of trust in God’s benevolence, fails to understand Christ’s assessment of this world as flawed and painful. Some who live by this prosperity theology have discovered this the hard way. A friend recently clued me in to a couple of very interesting articles on speculation that this prosperity theology thing has actually been a great contributor to the housing market collapse of the past 2 years (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/12/did-christianity-cause-the-crash/7764/). Is it possible that God could bring about calamity to try to straighten his people out spiritually? I think so (see Old Testament).
All of this boils down to a statement that Jesus once made to his disciples that we have recorded for us in several of the Gospels: “Then he (Jesus) said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:23-25). As followers of Christ, we are never going to know the pain that he suffered on the cross for us as he took the world’s sins upon himself. However, at times we experience “cross reminders”, a little personal suffering that may come specifically from being a follower of Christ (as those in Communist countries or the Middle East at times have faced) or more generally, simply being a child of God and yet suffering from sin in this life. It’s gonna happen. Jesus told us it would happen. We’re sinners in a sinful world. The fact that we experience any pleasure in a sinful world is a testimony to God’s grace. Now I’m not suggesting we carry ho-hum, pessimistic attitudes throughout life. That’s not going to make anyone happier nor is it going to be an accurate reflection of the hope that we have in Christ. What I am suggesting is that we maintain a realistic standpoint of what living in a sinful world is going to be like, and understand that we won’t even truly know what happiness is until we enter the gates of heaven.
Jesus said to his disciples: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). Because Jesus conquered this world (and my sins with it) on his cross, I can look forward to the hope of a new world. When I have the proper perspective on the next life, guess what, I stop caring so much about the things of this world that in the grand scheme of it all don’t matter nearly as much as what they sometimes feel. If I don’t get the job, who cares? If I don’t get the girl, who cares? If I don’t get the win, finally, who cares? Why do I care about the things of this world so much? Because I’ve lost sight of the things of the next world. Again, it’s not that this world is not important. It is. Live it to the full and live it to God’s glory. But, a healthy understanding of how a sinful existence stacks up against a perfect eternity will make you happier.
It shouldn’t surprise us that when God’s children live in harmony with his will, they’re at their happiest. That’s how he created us to live. Will we be problem free? No. Will we be rich? I don’t know. What kind of job do you have? Can we be happy, joyful, and contented? YES! In a sinful world, holding on to God’s promises and molding our will to resemble God’s revealed will is the greatest shot at happiness that we have.