The Illusion of Happiness and the Kindness of Want

God put eternity into our hearts (Ecc. 3:11) so that we can, if we aren’t too distracted, sense that something more awaits us.

Photo cred to Deb Zeyher

To CS Lewis was posed the following proposition and question:

“Many people feel resentful or unhappy because they think they are the target of unjust fate. These feelings are stimulated by bereavement, illness, deranged working or domestic conditions, or the observation of suffering in others. What is the Christian view of this problem?”

Today, the same question has taken on a sharper edge aimed at Christianity and the character of God: If God is all good and all powerful, why does God allow evil and suffering in the world? Either God isn’t all good; or God isn’t all powerful; or God simply does not exist.

CS Lewis answered the question put to him as follows:

“The Christian view is that people are created to be in a certain relation to God. If we are in that relation to Him, the right relation to one another will follow inevitably. Christ said it was difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt, 19:23; Mk. 10:23; Luke 18:24), referring, no doubt, to riches in the ordinary sense. But, I think it really covers riches in everything – good fortune, health, popularity, and all the things one wants to have.

“All these things tend, just as money tends, to make you feel independent of God. Because if you have them, you feel happy already and contented in this life. You don’t want to turn away to anything more, and so you try to rest in a shadowy happiness, as if it could last forever.

“But God wants to give you a real and eternal happiness. Consequently, He may have to take all these riches away from you. If He doesn’t, you will go on relying on them. It sounds cruel, doesn’t it?

“But I am beginning to find out what people call the cruel doctrines are really the kindest ones in the long run. I used to think it was a cruel doctrine to say that troubles and sorrows work punishment, but I find in practice that, when you are in trouble, the moment you regard it as a punishment it becomes easier to bear.

“If you think of this world as something simply intended for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable. Think of it as a place of training and correction, and it’s not so bad.

“Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think of it as a hotel. The other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is what comforts and strengthens you in the end.

“The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world become pessimists; the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.”

I like to say that perspective changes everything. Because human beings are finite, our perspective is limited. Change it, and the world looks different from the new angle.

Lewis had a perspective of this world that allowed him to see it as beautiful, for what it is worth. Perhaps, he was colored by his experience as a late teenager fighting in World War I. He knew the worst the world had to offer.

When he became a believer in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he found the “silver lining”. He found hope and light in the darkness of the world.

Many people who live in the late 20th and 21st centuries have had a relatively good time of “this life” compared to people just a few generations before us (and even more dramatically compared to people of centuries past). Our perspective is colored by our relative prosperity. In the United States today, even those who live below the poverty line live higher and better than most of the people in the rest of the world (and in times past).

The comparative riches we have tend to make us feel independent of God. Indeed, the shift in the question of the problem of evil from focusing on individual unfairness to thinking it is proof that God does not exist is a product of our perspective.

We have enough that we are willing to accept that what we can gain in this life is all there is. We have embraced a shadowy happiness in lieu of true joy that God offers to those who seek Him.

Continue reading “The Illusion of Happiness and the Kindness of Want”

Give Me Neither Poverty nor Riches

Lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord ?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God

“Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me….”



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Proverbs 30:7-9

I read this short passage in Proverbs in my early years as a follower of Christ. It might have been in college after I gave my life and my heart to the Lordship and salvation of Jesus Christ, or it might have been in the few years that followed. I remember praying these things to God earnestly, and I have remembered these words and my prayer ever since.

During my late 20’s and through my 30’s, I struggled through many difficult years with a young and growing family. I didn’t realize how much this prayer would mean for me. At the age of 28, married for 3 years and with 2 children, I was restless. We had no debt, but we lived hand to mouth. I felt God leading me (I believed) to law school, but I was also focused on what I needed to do to increase my income so that we were not one bad circumstance away from the poorhouse.

I believe God did lead me to go to law school, but I also let worry, and sometimes even fear,  creep in and sit at the threshold to my heart. Those three years of law school were very difficult. We had a third child at the end of my first year. The pressure of the work, of the necessity not to fail, of going into a hole financially, of an uncertain future and more was a very great burden. The pressures and the worry and fear overtook me.

I let those weeds grow up and choke the spiritual life in me. I didn’t maintain the discipline of regularly reading Scripture or daily prayer. My prayers were Hail Mary’s thrown up in the midst of the weariness and pressures of my life at that time. Even going to church was filled with tensions of herding three rambunctious boys into a car on Sunday mornings amid the whining, squabbling and desire simply to take a break. it became more of a duty that something I looked forward to.

Three more children, and new pressures and tensions as a new lawyer, struggling under the load of debt, and many, many activities threatened to snuff out the spiritual life in me. The worry, fear, busyness and lack of discipline on my part to take time out on a regular basis to sit before my God, listening for His voice, waiting on Him, being renewed by Him was a recipe for spiritual death.

In addition to praying the prayer of Proverbs 30:7-9, I prayed desperately to God before those days of tension, worry and fear not to let me slip ever from His hands. I didn’t pray that because I saw anything in my own heart that caused concern, but I had seen enough other people who seemed to have had it all spiritually together at one point walk (or slip) away into spiritual darkness.

It puzzled me then (in the joy of being a new Christian), and the inability to understand it at the time added to my concern that I might be no different than they. After all, everyone of us sins and falls short. There is nothing new under the sun. Though I had fully embraced Christ, and even left family and home and all that was familiar to me, to follow Him, Scripture gave me pause not to be so confident.

 As I look back, I see that I was right to pray those prayers. Not that I count any advantage to being right. Rather, I have learned that Scripture is full of wisdom to which we would well to pay attention. Above all, though, God is faithful! Continue reading “Give Me Neither Poverty nor Riches”

Rascals for God

Relationships are more important than the things we have

Young Girl with Pigtails Grinning - smWe visited a church today. The pastor invited some of local youth theater kids to lead worship. It was a small, but sweet congregation. The kids did a great job, just being themselves, and singing their hearts out, which is what they do. God has gifted them with musical talent, good voices and really good friends, and they aren’t afraid to share their talents.

Everyone in the church today was blessed.

The sermon was on a parable not often referenced found at Luke 16:1-9:

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ “‘Nine hundred gallons[a] of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels[b] of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

What a weird parable! The manager is called “dishonest”; but he is commended for his “dishonesty”?

The clue to unlock the meaning is in the opening line: the rich man was critical of the manager for wasting “his” possessions. The phrase “his possessions” on first blush means the rich man’s possessions, but use of the pronoun, instead of “rich man” or “manager”, leaves open the possibility that they could be the manager’s possessions. Jesus doesn’t clarify.

The parable only makes sense when we understand that God is the rich man, and we are the manager. The possessions are God’s, but we are entrusted with them. We have nothing that doesn’t originate from God. The gifts (talents) we are born with are from God. Even the things we work hard to “earn” ultimately come from God. God created the universe out of nothing, and everything that exists, including the gift of life, was created and given to us  by God.

God gives everything to us; and, ultimately, we “can’t take them with us”, as the saying goes. We are only the managers of the stuff we have.

The manager in the parable is commended for using the “worldly wealth” to gain friends. The manager knew that he was only a steward of the things the rich man left him, and those things would eventually be taken from him, so he used those things wisely to build relationships for the future. Jesus commended the manager and said he will be “welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

A clear implication of this parable is is that relationships are more important than the things we have. The things we have are temporal. They are subject to rust and rot, but relationships are lasting.

The “moral of the story” comes several verses later:

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”  (Luke 16:13)

The most important relationship we have is with God, and a relationship with God is more important than money. We can’t take money with us when we die. Money and possessions will only benefit us while we live. They are ours to manage during our lives. If we use the things we accumulate only for our own benefit, the benefits are only enjoyed (if at all) during our lives.

This isn’t God’s purpose for us. God isn’t happy when we choose the temporal over the eternal.

He also gives us good things to share with others. Sharing our talents and wealth with others is what God wants us to do.

Jesus said it a different way when he told people to store up treasures in heaven where moths and vermin cannot destroy them and thieves cannot steal them. (Mark 6:19-20) If we use our riches for ourselves only, we have our reward, but it is a temporary reward. It’s of no use to us when we die. It is “here today, gone tomorrow”; or maybe more accurately, we are here today, gone tomorrow.

Using our money to bless other people, and thereby build relationships, is the eternal work of God. I don’t believe this principle applies just to money: substitute any other “possessions” (gifts) innate or “earned”, like musical talent, property, whatever it is. If we use what we have on ourselves, we have ultimately wasted and squandered those treasures away. If we use what we have to bless others, we have God’s blessing and we will be welcomed into eternal dwellings!

As pastor Mark Flory Steury said in his sermon, the manager was a “rascal”. He used what the rich man left him to endear himself to the people who owed debts to the rich man. We all owe debts to the rich man (God). The manager collected payments that might not have been paid if the manager had not offered the “discount”. When we use our gifts for other people, we only build relationships with other people, and we “collect” from them thankfulness to God for the generosity that is shown.

Jesus told us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. He said whatever we do for the least among us, we do for God. When people are filled with gratitude for the things we do and the generosity shown to them, are they not also being thankful to God ? Jesus said they would know us for the love that we show to one another, and that love points to God. When we use what we have for the benefit of others, we store up our treasures in heaven – we are rascals for God.