Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happiness is . . . ?

Well, I can't say I watch Oprah a lot, but she's having a show about happiness, a suitable subject for evaluation on New Year's. You can take a test to score how happy you are. I got the moderate score of 22. The perfect score is 35.

Bobby McFerrin's song is somewhat reminiscent of a passage from the Sermon on the Mount:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)

But McFerrin's song does not say HOW to stop worrying and be happy, just TO do it. Jesus says the how is: Seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness. Not that Jesus uses the word "happy." Earlier in the sermon, he uses the word "blessed," which is often translated "happy" (Greek: makarios), but he gives some pretty stiff definitions of happiness/blessedness:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5:3-12)

Not really a hard sell, but it doeesn't sound too, too bad (mercy, purity, peacemaking) until you get to the persecution part. Is this really what you want to sign up for? Jesus advises you to think about that, too:

And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
(Luke 14:27-35)

Basically, Jesus seems to say that if the price seems too steep to you, don't buy what he's selling. Don't sign on if you're not going to follow through. Reminds me of the traditional Jewish saying that a rabbi should turn away someone who wants to convert three times, and only accept him or her if the person comes back a fourth time. I wonder if Christians, when they evangelize, should spend some time saying that to really live out your faith is not that easy, takes effort and commitment, may in fact feel like a lot work sometimes. G.K. Chesterton said that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and not tried.

Well, maybe I should consider re-reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. It's a close reading and explication of the Sermon on the Mount, and very challenging.

In addition to considering the cost of discipleship, one must consider the reward, which is Jesus himself. As Question and Answer 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism say:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own,
but belong—
body and soul,
in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

No comments: