Sunday, August 02, 2009

Happiness Is...

A warm puppy?

Or how about, "A short sermon."? Neither is a serious answer to a question that occasionally pops up, "Are you happy?"

Is happiness something we find, or make for ourselves? Ultimately, God is who can make us happy. Follow along.

Is happiness being filled with manna as illustrated in the Old Testament reading from Exodus 16, bread and fishes as seen in the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, or is it being filled with the living bread from Heaven? How can we obtain this happiness? Today's reading from John 6:28-29 helps answer that last question, and seems to point us away from a works theology:
Then they said to him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."

That sounds so simple doesn't it? The words need little explanation. Nevertheless, man has spent thousands of years and thousands of pages working on interpreting the Gospel of John. The rector, in his sermon today, stuck to the readings and did not attempt an interpretation. He wandered a little close to the edge when describing the pursuit of "getting theology right" as being something that is ultimately impossible. Theology, along with other things Christians try to "get right," can distract some people from the simple teaching contained in the above Gospel quotation. Fortunately the rector did not follow an anti-doctrinal path at this point., but I was left wondering this: The pursuit of "getting it right" may not lead to happiness, but should the pursuit be abandoned?

A modern look at the pursuit of "making myself right," suggests that the real work is done by God and not by me. C.S. Lewis in "The Problem of Pain" had proposed this definition of happiness (one which gave me goose bumps): It is to become, "such as He can love without impediment."

I quote from C.S. Lewis and "The Problem of Pain:"
"To ask that God's love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable. We cannot even wish, in our better moments, that He could reconcile Himself to our present impurities--no more than the beggar maid could wish that King Cophetua* (see below) should be content with her rags and dirt, or a dog, once having learned to love man, could wish that man were such as to tolerate in his house the snapping, verminous, polluting creature of the wild pack. What we would here and now call our 'happiness' is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy."

Our job is to welcome God, the master home renovator, in so that He can accomplish His work. How do we do that? By believing " him whom he has sent..."

Getting back to my original question, what will you say when someone asks, "Are you happy?" Let's make it a multiple choice type.

1. Happy as a clam.
2. I thought I was happy until I read this blog.
3. Relatively happy.
4. Not yet, but with God's blood, sweat, and tears, I will be.
5. Happy in the knowledge that I am going to be happy beyond my imagination.

*King Cophetua and the Beggar-Maid from "A Book of Old English Ballads"

"I read that once in Affrica
A princely wight did raine,
Who had to name Cophetua,
As poets they did faine.
From natures lawes he did decline,
For sure he was not of my minde,
He cared not for women-kind
But did them all disdaine.
But marke what hapned on a day;
As he out of his window lay,
He saw a beggar all in gray.
The which did cause his paine.

The blinded boy that shootes so trim
From heaven downe did hie,
He drew a dart and shot at him,
In place where he did lye:
Which soone did pierse him to the quicke,
And when he felt the arrow pricke,
Which in his tender heart did sticke,
He looketh as he would dye.
'What sudden chance is this,' quoth he,
'That I to love must subject be,
Which never thereto would agree,
But still did it defie?'

Then from the window he did come,
And laid him on his bed;
A thousand heapes of care did runne
Within his troubled head.
For now he meanes to crave her love,
And now he seekes which way to proove
How he his fancie might remoove,
And not this beggar wed.
But Cupid had him so in snare,
That this poor begger must prepare
A salve to cure him of his care,
Or els he would be dead.

And as he musing thus did lye,
He thought for to devise
How he might have her companye,
That so did 'maze his eyes.
'In thee,' quoth he, 'doth rest my life;
For surely thou shalt be my wife,
Or else this hand with bloody knife,
The Gods shall sure suffice.'
Then from his bed he soon arose,
And to his pallace gate he goes;
Full little then this begger knowes
When she the king espies.

'The gods preserve your majesty,'
The beggers all gan cry;
'Vouchsafe to give your charity,
Our childrens food to buy.'
The king to them his purse did cast,
And they to part it made great haste;

This silly woman was the last
That after them did hye.
The king he cal'd her back againe,
And unto her he gave his chaine;
And said, 'With us you shal remaine
Till such time as we dye.'

'For thou,' quoth he, 'shalt be my wife,
And honoured for my queene;
With thee I meane to lead my life,
As shortly shall be seene:
Our wedding shall appointed be,
And every thing in its degree;'
'Come on,' quoth he, 'and follow me,
Thou shalt go shift thee cleane.
What is thy name, faire maid?' quoth he.
'Penelophon, O King,' quoth she;
With that she made a lowe courtsèy;
A trim one as I weene.

Thus hand in hand along they walke
Unto the king's pallàce:
The king with courteous, comly talke
This begger doth embrace.

The begger blusheth scarlet red,
And straight againe as pale as lead,
But not a word at all she said,
She was in such amaze.
At last she spake with trembling voyce,
And said, 'O King, I doe rejoyce
That you wil take me for your choyce,
And my degree so base.'

And when the wedding day was come,
The king commanded strait
The noblemen, both all and some,
Upon the queene to wait.
And she behaved herself that day
As if she had never walkt the way;
She had forgot her gowne of gray,
Which she did weare of late.
The proverbe old is come to passe,
The priest, when he begins his masse,
Forgets that ever clerke he was
He knowth not his estate.

Here you may read Cophetua,
Through long time fancie-fed,
Compelled by the blinded boy
The begger for to wed:
He that did lovers lookes disdaine,
To do the same was glad and faine,
Or else he would himselfe have slaine,
In storie, as we read.
Disdaine no whit, O lady deere,
But pitty now thy servant heere,
Least that it hap to thee this yeare,
As to that king it did.

And thus they led a quiet life
During their princely raine,
And in a tombe were buried both,
As writers sheweth plaine.
The lords they tooke it grievously,
The ladies tooke it heavily,
The commons cryed pitiously,
Their death to them was paine.
Their fame did sound so passingly,
That it did pierce the starry sky,
And throughout all the world did flye
To every princes realme."

That He would deign to love a beggar like me.


  1. Frankly, I think humans make too much of the concept of "happiness." It has become synonymous with a sort of giddy, frivolity, which belies the human condition, based upon Original Sin. Better to strive for contentment, to "rejoice in the Lord always." Whether our emotional responses are pleasant or not is irrelevant.



  2. The Episcopal crowd no longer believes in sin--original or otherwise. Everything is "I'm OK, you're OK." Care for a rousing chorus of Kumbaya?

  3. Cato,

    If they no longer believe in sin, then according to Lewis, they will never be truly happy. It might also explain why they appear so unhappy much of the time (at least when they comment here).

  4. Randall,

    You see, that attitude doesn't get you get invited to many parties (here on Earth I mean). Never mind that; I can tell that you have been invited to the big reunion Lewis alludes to in the excerpt.