Expectations and delusions: Faith, sin, and the pursuit of happiness

While attending my twenty-five year high school reunion, I ran into one of the Christians who had been in a music theory class with me during our senior year. He was drinking a five-dollar beer, and I was sipping free black coffee like some kind of refugee from Alcoholics Anonymous. He said he was glad to see me and wondered if I was still writing because he always thought the music reviews I did for the school paper were good enough to have been in Rolling Stone.

I brought him up to date on my literary pursuits and told him I was wondering if he was still a Christian like he was in school. He told me he really wasn’t “into that” anymore, but was still spiritual, whatever that was supposed to mean. Of course, I shared some details about my own spiritual experiences since graduation.

He listened politely and then asked, “So, are you happy?”

I thought about his question for a moment and replied, “Is that even relevant?”

He seemed surprised by my answer. Perhaps he thought our personal happiness was the supreme test of the Gospel’s value. If we use that as a gauge, we’re all going to be disillusioned because the pursuit of happiness is very often a quest for novelty. Eventually the shine of newness wears off, and then we’re stuck with the everyday life we had before. Or, even worse, real tragedy comes our way. We find ourselves out of work, lose a loved one, or become gravely ill.

There’s a lot of unhappiness in this life, but in the midst of it all, we can seek God and commune with Him in our hearts. He is always unchanging, but He never becomes a mere routine. He Himself helps us get through this life and makes us well prepared for the next one. We are able to live good and decent lives, but we will be incomplete until we finally see Him in full instead of in part, and all our distractions and tribulations are put away once and for all.

Very often, we have to refuse opportunities that could make us happy or rich or that otherwise seem good in order to stake our claim on that which is unseen and eternal. Doing all this requires a lot of faith. The Bible states, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:27). Unfortunately, I’ve had my own hearing dulled by the clamor of this present age, and I really like pleasure, money, success, and happiness.

While God is not against any of these things, He doesn’t value them nearly as much as we do. The Apostle Paul said, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22), so why do we expect an easy ride?

Even Jesus Himself told us we would have many trials, but to cheer up, because He overcame the world (John 16:32). We also are called to overcome this world and not let it put us down, but I must admit, it’s hard to do. After all, I’m blood and skin and bones like everyone else, and I don’t like to suffer. In fact, I try to avoid hardships as much as possible, but they find me just the same.

Adapted from Keeping It Between the Ditches