And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Monday, September 19, 2011

September 19, 2011 Does God Want Me To Be Happy?

A year or so ago, that is the question a Bible study group addressed: Does God want us to be happy? We were fairly ruthless in our discussion. I shared a few personal situations in which I saw, with 20/20 hindsight, ways in which I had sacrificed righteousness for the "happiness" I longed for loved ones to experience. I had actually encouraged wrong behavior in a few instances, because I so wanted this child, or this relative, to be happy. 

It backfired almost every time. The very happiness I wanted to encourage got lost along the way of bad choices and poor decisions. I doubt anyone remembers my support in those trying times with fondness, or even appreciation. More likely, the individuals concerned think, "I wish someone had just told me to stop, to go another direction. I wish it hadn't been so easy to take that path."

There are, absolutely, more important issues in the universe than me having a smile on my face, or you feeling particularly perky, but...and it is an important but...I believe that God does want us to be happy.

For one thing, joy ranks high on the lists found in the Bible. The fruit of the Spirit: love, JOY, peace... (Galatians 5:22). The kingdom of God is not meat or drink but righteousness, peace, and JOY....(Romans 14:17). 

Christians are so smug about joy at times. "Joy, yes, but that's not the same thing as happiness," you might hear (and want to slap the a good Christian manner, of course). "Joy is spiritual. Being happy is all about being human. It's fleshly."


God is the one who wondrously, awesomely created our flesh, remember. And he took the time and trouble and printing space to include some candid remarks about happiness:
  • For one year (a man) is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married (Deuteronomy 24:5)
  • To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness (Ecclesiastes 2:26)
  • Come and share your master's happiness! (Matthew 25:21)
  • May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful (Psalm 68:3, italics mine)
  • A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit (Proverbs 15:13).
Is happiness to be the main goal in life? I think not. "God is love," St. John wrote, not "God is happiness" or even "God is joy." And yet, he is the source of the highest forms of happiness and the highest joys. Surely, we should never see happiness in a negative, less-than-spiritual light.

The greatest argument for God's desire that we be happy is that of his role of Father. What loving father does not want his children to be happy? As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 7: 9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Even WE know how to make our kids happy. We are, unless it is taught out of us through neglect and terror, instinctively aware as we become parents ourselves, of our children's need for love, encouragement, training. We delight in taking our children on fun outings, or seeing their eyes glow on Christmas morning. We may not have the means to provide everything our children want, but most of us will bend over backward to bring a smile to our children's faces.

A friend of mine tells me that during a particularly trying time in the life of his family, his wife was not living at home. Taking on the role of both father and mother, he found a creative way to communicate how special his daughter was. If he saw that something was coming on television he thought especially worthwhile, he'd send his little girl to bed early, then wake her up during the night to watch the show with him.

That is cool on so many levels. It made her feel special. It gave them important together time. Maybe it wasn't something the parenting books of the day (or even our day) would have advised, but it worked wonders. When this little girl, now all grown up, thinks back to her happiest memories it is to those days, despite other troublesome factors.

A regular guy knew how to make his daughter happy during what might have been a traumatic, dismal period of her life. Her happiness was paramount to him. Think back to times your parents did something special for you just so that you would be happy.

I am hesitant to withhold that facet of being a parent from the best Father of all. He wants me to grow, to learn, to be holy...absolutely. But he also wants me to be happy. And he has the best ideas of all, about what that will require.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

September 3, 2011 A Challenge to Look Within

There was an interesting letter to the editor this morning in the St. Lucie Tribune. The writer begins:

For the 11 years I have lived in Florida the editorial page has been filled with letters from atheists and religious believers. It has taken me a lifetime to come to the conclusion that I'm an atheist. I also feel that I'm a good Christian. One may ask how is this possible? I do not believe in an anthropomorphic god, but I have lived by the teachings of Christ. I also believe in the Ten Commandments and believe that Christ was perhaps the greatest teacher who ever lived.

The writer goes on to point out evidence of the good life he has lived under the influence of Christ's teachings: he works with a charitable organization. He ministers to the poor. He closes his letter this way:

I realize that I open myself to a great deal of criticism, however, when you criticize me you will be criticizing one who lives his life based on the teachings of Christ.

Readers have already left a hefty collection of comments. My favorite was the one that says you can't obey the Ten Commandments without faith in God. That's hilarious! You can't obey them WITH faith in God. That's why Jesus came! NO ONE could obey God's perfect Law because none of us is perfect. Not the writer of the comment. Not the guy who wrote the letter to the editor. Not you. Not I. And if you don't believe me, believe these verses:

Romans 3:23  For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God 
Proverbs 20:9  Who can say, "I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin"? 
Romans 3:10 As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one.

Other letters cheer the writer on for being an atheist or that he is more an agnostic. One rebuttal maintains that no one cares what he believes.

Jesus Christ cares. I'm sure of that.

There is a temptation to take up an offense for the Church, but dare we argue with a man who lives his life based on the teachings the Church cherishes? He opened up a dialogue by writing a public letter, welcoming, in effect, response. Opinion is opinion. One person has just as much right to express his than the next. I doubt that anything that was written online, or anything that might appear in the future in print, or anything I might say here, will change his mind, but there is a legitimate reason to try, however awkwardly some might try, however ruffled a few feathers may appear. But I would advise restraint, nevertheless, at least until a healthy amount of soul-searching and thought has gone on.

Mahatma Gandhi, the great leader and philosopher who inspired the masses of India to work for independence from Great Britain through civil disobedience, said to a church leader: I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

We've already established, with the brief passages above, that this last is true. None of us is righteous; therefore we are unlike Christ, who holy and righteous. But perhaps Gandhi was not referring to our inability to fully obey God so much as our inability to fully love those around us.

The writer in the newspaper may well have been put off by the hypocrisy he sees in the Church, by the intolerance and lack of mercy, by the chasm between what Christians often say we believe and our actions. Perhaps there are personal reasons why he can't make “the leap of faith” as he calls it, to accept the death and resurrection of Jesus. One cannot possibly know the many people and events that have colored his thinking.

Dare we judge him, then? I think not. In Mark 9:40, Jesus said that whoever is not against us (i.e. Jesus and his followers) is for us. I'm taking the verse out of context, obviously, but the words are valid. Those who have not yet concluded that Jesus is Lord are not the enemy – especially those who, like the man who wrote the letter, are seekers of the truth. He is trying, as best he can, it sounds like, to live a good life, a productive life, a life of compassion. Why would anyone want to dismiss his efforts, or challenge him?

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that those who seek, will find. Instead of trying to convince this person that he is wrong, perhaps our time is better spent looking at our own hearts. If I say that I DO believe in God, that I DO follow Christ – not because he was a good teacher, but because he is God-in-the-flesh and therefore worthy of all obedience and worship – perhaps I need to ask myself if my life is reflecting it as well as this guy. Saying he doesn't believe, he apparently bears the fruit of belief in his life.

I say that I do. Is my fruit as evident? In some areas, I can honestly answer “yes.” In others? Not so much.