Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Happiness is...

When I was a boy, I had a book by Charles Schultz entitled, "Happiness Is A Warm Puppy". (Apparently I can have it again for $5.95.) Each page had a warm, fuzzy sentiment about happiness wonderfully illustrated by the author of Peanuts. I always considered that Charlie Brown was never quite happy and always identified with him and his "Good Grief" brand of misery. Nothing seemed to go right for good old Charlie Brown. As baseball team manager and pitcher, he was the leader who no one respected. He trusted Lucy not to pull the football away and offer helpful psychiatric advice after spilling his guts to her. She did neither. He hoped beyond hope that the kite would launch and not get tangled in a tree. Even his dog was more popular than him and his hopes of puppy romance were quashed when the little red-haired girl moved away. We all thought he may have had something in his friend, Peppermint Patty. However, we soon realized that her interest in "Chuck" was given with more self-interest than anything. Perhaps the greatest thing Charlie Brown had was a benevolent relationship with Linus. Linus was the philosophical thumb-sucking, blanket-snuggling brother of his greatest foe. He was hardly a social maven himself.

Poor Charlie Brown. We delight in the one who had no delight.

In the Declaration of Independence, we learn that we sought freedom from England in order to obtain unalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Hey! Happiness is a right, right? Given by whom? Why our Creator, of course. That's what we have told ourselves. While we have declared for ourselves a "right" to pursue happiness, we have not declared for ourselves a "right" to be happy.

... and it shows. As a culture, we have created so much wealth for ourselves that it has become a curse. On average, our poor live like royalty compared to most of the rest of the world. We pursue stuff thinking that it will make us happy. We think stuff will make us more comfortable, make our living more convenient and make us more popular. We pursue fame or try to find a niche specialty so we can feel important. We see others with these things that think that they must be happy. We want that happiness.

...but we find that the happiness doesn't last. The stuff gets old. There's always something new. A thing only attracts attention for a moment and then everyone goes away. Many of my fellow Christians refer sophomorically to the "God-shaped-hole". The happiness we pursue is a sense of value within a meaningful community. This is what that hole is. But we fool ourselves by confusing happiness with joy. Perhaps this is why so many famous people have attempted suicide. Aren't they happy? They have lots of stuff. They have fame. They have all sorts of people surrounding them who would treat them like friends and value them. But they're not happy.

I have heard self-professed Christians use as an argument for dissolving a marriage in favor of another lover that "God just wants me to be happy." Yet, I just heard yesterday from a brother in Christ. He suffered a divorce and years later is still single. He told me what I already know - it's not worth it. Lest you think I'm speaking personally, I'm not looking for a divorce. I have a good wife and a... happy(?) marriage. No - I have a marriage full of joy.

God doesn't want us to be happy. We have no right to be happy. The pursuit of happiness has been a red herring. We have done nothing to warrant happiness. God offers us joy instead. We don't need stuff. We don't need to be accepted by others. We SHOULD be accepted by our brothers and sisters in Christ, but like us they are flawed human beings and likely will never perfectly accept us this side of eternity. The only thing God asks of us for joy is to die to our sin and trust Him. It's the same thing. If we sin, we don't trust God. If we trust God, we won't sin. God doesn't want us to be happy, He wants us to be obedient.

He summed up obedience in the simplest terms: Love Him. Love each other. How do we love? Like Christ. Christ sacrificed Himself to pay the penalty for the sins of His people. To love God is to die to sin. We are therefore, no longer identified with sin - we are instead identified with our Creator. To love each other is to recognize the mark of the Creator in each other and serve Him in each other. That's the simple rule. That's obedience. It is an obedience not of works, but of intent. Therein is true joy.

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