Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Disciple and Happiness

There is a line in Pride and Prejudice in which one sister tells another, and I am paraphrasing here, that she cannot have her happiness until she has her goodness.  Jane Austen is relying on a traditional sense of happiness (and goodness) to make her point that virtue is the path to true happiness. For a very long time philosophers and theologians believed that humans were made to be certain kinds of beings, namely rational and virtuous beings, and that we would not lead fulfilling lives until we began to function according to our created mandate. Thus, happiness was to be a consequence of reason and virtue. This idea, which reigned philosophy and culture for centuries, has fallen apart and been replaced with one form of hedonism or another. Happiness now is a factor of what makes us feel a particular emotion without any regard to virtue or the right training of character. In fact most people now find the idea, "the right training of character," to be odd or offensive.

But for the follower of Jesus Christ, we must return to a version of this traditional notion. Moreland and Issler say, "According to the ancients [Moses, Solomon, Jesus, Aristotle, Plato, and the church], happiness is a life well lived, a life of virtue and character, a life that manifests wisdom, kindness, and goodness" (The Lost Virtue of Happiness, pg. 25, italics theirs). The way I want to put it here is that in the life of the believer happiness is the place where there is no tension between what gives God joy and what gives you joy.

For the Christian, maturity consists in the building of the life and character of God within us. As the Apostle Paul noted, we have been predestined to be conformed to the image of God's Son. This is not a bad thing. It is a good thing. It is a beautiful and powerful thing. It is a joyful thing. But it presupposes that we currently, or in our broken human condition, are not in the image of God (Romans 8:29). We must be transformed to get there. Thus, the things that give us joy or happiness now may need to change and the things that give God joy must replace them in the makeup of our character.

So, at the very least, the Christian needs to learn that they cannot accept happiness on hedonistic terms, or to settle for the kind of joy that comes with a broken and sinful nature. As C.S. Lewis said in another context, if we do those things we are happy with playing in the mud when the glories of heaven are available to us. The Christian is given the Word of God, the life of Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, and these become our guides in learning God's kind of happiness and joy, and they become the power of our transformation.

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