Tuesday 17 June 2014

The Great Delusions - #1 - I Want To Be Happy

We all want to be happy surely? Isn't it reasonable and completely normal for Christians in the 21st century to want to enjoy the Christian life and find it a source of happiness? Well it may certainly be a widespread aspiration among Western Christians, but it is hardly the experience of most Christians in the world, and throughout history. Indeed the search for happiness is a measure of immaturity and self-interest rather than a legitimate aspect of the character of the Christian Faith.

The idea that Christians should expect and deserve happiness is simply another feature of the false Gospel of Health and Wealth. A smartly dressed Christian TV preacher who experiences himself the very best of health and wealth may well be able to convince others that they should experience the same. He may even be able to persuade his audience that it is only a lack of faith and financial commitment to his ministry on their part that prevents them enjoying a similar lifestyle. The demand to be happy is part of this same insidious deception.

How do we know it is a deception? It is because at this very moment there are Christians in the world with much greater faith in Christ than we have ever experienced who are suffering violence, hunger, poverty and circumstances of great misery. It is shameful indeed to suggest that if only they had more faith they would find everything transformed. Even in the West in previous generations it was clearly understood by all that life was lived to the fullest as an expression of duty and mutual responsibility, of self-sacrifice and self-less love.

How do we know it is a deception? Because Christ Himself sets the example of a life that was not live in the search for happiness, and the life he calls His followers to is not one of happiness. The author of Hebrews says..

Heb 12:1-4  As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God's throne.Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up. For in your struggle against sin you have not yet had to resist to the point of being killed.

This is hardly a description of the Christian life as occupied with the search for happiness. On the contrary, even those who have suffered are reminded that they have not yet suffered to the point of death.

And Christ Himself commands us all...

Luk 9:23  And he said to them all, "If you want to come with me, you must forget yourself, take up your cross every day, and follow me.

We are to take up our cross every day, not just once. And the cross we take up each day is our denial of self-interest. Far from seeking our own happiness we are to deny that search as being incompatible with the life of Christ. The one who says 'I want to be happy' cannot become a Christian. Happiness is not one of the fruits or marks of the Christian life. Here are those characteristics we can ask God to produce in us slowly and with much painful effort by the Holy Spirit...

Gal 5:22-24  But the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  humility, and self-control. There is no law against such things as these. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death their human nature with all its passions and desires.

Do we want to be filled with love? The narrow way of the cross may produce this fruit in us if we are obedient. Do we want to be filled with joy? This is not the same as happiness at all. Happiness is an emotional response to our circumstances. It is rooted in the experience of the world and fluctuates with our situation. Joy is an experience of the Holy Spirit and is the transformation of our experience of even the most difficult circumstances.

Do we want to be filled with peace, patience and all the other fruits of the Spirit? These are the proper objects of the Christian life. But they require a life of self-sacrifice and denial of selfish interests. The person who sets their heart on being happy will always be disappointed or deceived. Disappointed if their lives have any of the shadow of trial and tribulation. Deceived if the experience of health, wealth and happiness is confused with an experience of God.

Gal 6:7-9  Do not deceive yourselves; no one makes a fool of God. You will reap exactly what you plant. If you plant in the field of your natural desires, from it you will gather the harvest of death; if you plant in the field of the Spirit, from the Spirit you will gather the harvest of eternal life. So let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest.

Happiness is a fruit of the spirit of this world. Our circumstances change in a moment and we are miserable. If we plant the seed of such worldly desires we will reap only a worldly fruit that will not last to eternity. Happiness is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit. But if we do not cease to make the effort required of us in obedience and service of others, rather than ourselves, then we might hope that in the field of the Spirit, as St Paul writes, those fruits of the Spirit, that peace, joy and patience which the world cannot give, will be found to flourish in this life and for the life to come.

Do not deceive yourselves. If we want to be happy we will be disappointed or deceived. Such a desire suits our Western materialistic and individualistic age, but it is not Christian and it is a Great Delusion.


  1. Indeed, "The kingdom of God is taken by force" - struggling in daily prayer, fasting and worship of God. Abba Isaac the Syrian " the harp of the Holy Spirit" says that true prayer is NOT the one which avails comfort of heart/soul, rather the one with struggle, is the one which avails much". It is truly shocking and painful to witness the fruit of haughty Western imagination in the form of deep spiritual hunger, thirst, and deprivation and at times profound delusion. May our beloved Lord have mercy on us and on these poor souls, for we live indeed difficult times.