Which Way Happiness?
Which is more important in the Christian’s life, happiness or holiness? Mr. Colin F. Anderson of Sudbury, Ontario, thoughtfully provides us with the answer.
The Christian should not be committed to the pursuit of happiness but to the pursuit of holiness. In the Old Testament God did promise the faithful Israelite material blessings, physical health and a happy life on earth if he loved God and served Him. He does not promise such things to the Christian.
A Christian’s blessings are all abstract. God may permit material wealth to come to a Christian, but it comes in the nature of a test rather than a blessing. Physical health may in part be promoted by the type of life a Christian leads, but it is not the guaranteed reward for that life. Joy is experienced by the believer today, but it is a joy sustained by faith in things to come rather than by possession of things present. His life is “hid with Christ in God.” We await the time when “Christ who is our life shall appear” to be compensated for faithfulness.
Much of the world today, particularly the Western world, is committed to “the pursuit of happiness” — that is, physical health, material wealth and psychological well-being. This is Hedonism. Christendom is infected with this spirit. “If Christ will give me these things, then I will have Christ. If He does not, then I will not have Him.” Some do not spell it out as bluntly as that. They prefer to adopt as much of Christianity as will give them religious respectability, but from Monday to Saturday it is business as usual. What they really seek is then before their eyes. Their faith, such as it is, goes into mothballs on Sunday at 8 p.m. if not by Sunday noon.
But earnest Christians, too, may have their philosophy affected by the current trend. If things do not go well, they privately question God’s love, power and wisdom. Or, if not daring to do that, they may spend hours in introspection — “What did I do wrong that all this trouble has come to me …?” These attitudes, these responses to trouble, show clearly that the Christian is convinced that his faith and faithfulness give him the right to possess at least a “reasonable amount” of health, wealth and satisfaction.
In the measure in which we pursue these things, we will be frustrated with life. God has not programmed us for such short term goals.
The Christian who is stumbled by trouble is a Christian who has been ill taught, or one who has neglected to read, not the fine print but the bold print in his charter. Listen to these words:
“We kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction” (1 Thess. 3:3).
“We exult in our tribulations; knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance” (Rom. 5:3).
“For whom (Christ) I have suffered the loss of all things …” (Phil. 3:8).
“Trophimus I left sick at Miletus” (2 Tim. 4:20).
The New Testament is replete with such statements. Here are three common situations that reveal that many, if not most Christians, are convinced that physical health, material wealth and personal satisfaction are the desiderata of life:
Harry is sick and he attends the healing meetings being held in town. The philosophy behind the ministry goes something like this: God is good; sickness is bad. Sickness must be of the Devil. Therefore, the Christian who exercises faith in God will be freed from sickness. And this is really what Harry wants most of all at this point. The preacher with his simplistic reasoning has given Harry and a multitude of others a hope of release. There they are by the hundreds (and we say it with compassion) all seeking what Harry seeks. Is it wrong to want deliverance from such trials? Of course not. God may heal His people when they wait upon Him, but such a mercy may be denied. There is sometimes a greater purpose to be served — that of holiness of heart. This is the lesson of 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 and thousands of saintly sufferers have learned it.
Now we are at the prayer meeting and the leader has reminded us of the intense persecution being experienced by believers in a country in Eastern Europe. One by one we pray and the burden of our hearts is that the saints might be relieved of this pressure. Strange as it may seem, that may not be the dominant note in the prayer cells in Eastern Europe. Suffering has taught them to think more deeply. They have learned in the house of mourning what we have not learned in the house of feasting. They seek grace to be faithful if need be even unto death, and they are in harmony with the early Christians mentioned in Acts 4:23-30 who, when persecuted, prayed not for release but that with all boldness they might continue to do that which had gotten them into their difficulty in the first place. Obviously their objective was not happiness.
The scene changes to a domestic one. Jack has been left by his unconverted wife. The elders at the local assembly are sympathetic and supportive. There is little chance that his wife will return. What should Jack do now? Get a divorce, of course. Then he can be free to marry again. Why should he be alone the rest of his life? Has he not a right to happiness? And this is often the real motivation behind the haste to get the past neatly parcelled up.
True, Jack’s experience is a sorrowful one, but is marriage the only road to reach the desired haven? Is the single state a second best? Short of reconciliation to his wife Scripture teaches that the alternative should be the pursuit of holiness rather than happiness. God’s service is carried out with greater opportunity by those who can serve without distraction (1 Cor. 7). Have the elders considered this and urged Jack to give himself with greater devotion to waiting on God? We shortchange our friends when we help them seek happiness rather than holiness, and when we choose the most comfortable for ourselves, we may miss that which will readily conform us to the image of His Son.
Has my handicap some life-enriching purpose? These trials, do they not deepen spirituality? This singleness, is it such a curse after all? I need to ask such questions before I so earnestly strive to escape from pressure. Spiritual enlargement may be forfeited (Psa. 4:1). Is happiness or holiness more important? In seeking the latter, the former will in some more blessed form become mine. The word is joy, I think.