Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Dream Life without God. . .

Like children who dream about ice cream for breakfast and candy for dinner and life without chores or school or anything they neither like nor desire, so do we relish the thought of life without God.  Without God, we think ourselves free from constraint and therefore free to indulge ourselves and be happy.  Without God, we smile at the prospect that no one can tell us no -- not even our conscience.  It is all good that we deem good.  Words can mean what we want them to mean and life can be about what we want it to be about.  In the midst of it all, we will find the happiness that seems to elude us.

As anyone who has read Dostoyevsky knows, his fear was not the unfair fettering of liberty but unfettered pursuit of it.  It is not that the absence of God might mean another who will place limits upon our freedom but that if God does not exist, everything will be permitted.   It is the fool who thinks this is the path to ultimate fulfillment, freedom, and happiness.  For the fools has decided that God exists only to rain upon your parade, to steal your fun, and to shut down your self-indulgence.  In reality, it is wisdom from above that strips away the layers so that we might see that fun was never enough, is never enough, and will never be enough to supply us with happiness or to end the wanderlust within.  The constraints of God do not deprive us of happiness but teach us what is true happiness (contentment).  Apart from this, it is all vanity.

Even in the Church we are quick to accuse any rule of intrusive legalism antithetical to the Gospel.  What we forget is that God does not trivialize sin or minimize it in any way.  Though we here on earth tell one another "It's okay" when we are offended and the offender seems to have noticed, it is not okay with God.  God does not shrug off our sin nor does He invite us to do the same.  He invites us to see what it is for real -- not the imagined ideas of sin that offend no one and cause no serious consequence but the honest sin that distances us from God and imparts death to the sinner.  This sin is so evil and so mighty that it requires the blood sacrifice of the one and only righteous One in flesh and blood.  The cross does not wish away sin but overcomes it with the ultimate act of mercy.

In the same way, the fruit of that redemption is not liberty to do as one might please but rather to love God above all things and to love your neighbor as yourself. Redeemed in Christ, we see the Law in a new light and it reveals to us the shape of the righteous life we were created for and have now been redeemed to pursue.  Even the admission that we will not pursue it perfectly or even mostly successfully does not shrink our endeavor to become the people we were declared to be in baptism. The end of it all is that the elusive thing called happiness was never hidden in the fog of fun, desire, and freedom but in the God who has revealed Himself most of all through His mercy.

Sin is not some arbitrary thing but the pursuit of whatever seems right or desirable in our own eyes  -- not because we just might have fun and be happy but because this is the undoing that will steal our humanity once and for all, isolate and abandon us for anything greater or grander than the moment, and imprison us forever in the pain of getting what we thought we wanted.  This is vanity.  At least God loves us enough to keep us from this vanity, to address the darkness of this life with His light, and to redeem us ultimately from ourselves.

I was asked once whether Jesus was happy in the life He lived born of Mary to death on the cross.  I admitted I had never actually thought about it.  At first I was tempted to say yes.  After all, we want Jesus to be happy because we think that there just might be a chance for us to find such happiness.  But I am not sure.  The happiness that we generally speak of -- freedom from -- is a happiness foreign to Jesus and His purpose.  He is not come to pursue His goal but to do the will of the Father.  And what is the will of the Father except our redemption?!  In this our Lord is perfectly content.  If this is what you call happiness, then I guess Jesus was happy in His mortal life growing up the child of Mary to fulfill the saving purpose of the Father in Heaven.  But I am not sure that even Christians mean happiness in this way.  We want to think of Jesus as enjoying a good joke and telling a better one in reply, of knowing how to balance life's stresses and pressures by blowing off steam, having varied interests and hobbies, and living a generally dream life of success and happiness.  But. . . does our ideal of a carefree and happy life square with the Jesus of the Gospels?  Note, I am not saying that Jesus was unhappy but that His joy was located not in Himself but in you and in me.  And for this joy set before Him, He endured the cross and scorned its shame and did not return evil for evil but found perfect contentment in a holy life.  And just maybe that should say something to us. . .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great question, "what does this mean?" What does happiness mean? What did it mean to those who wrote the Constitution? Not what it means to us today.