God’s chief desire for us is more than happiness. Our earthly comfort and security and sense of fulfillment are gifts from God, but they are not what he wants most for us.
In fact, for the sake of our eternal relationship with Him and with all of His children, God is willing to make us unhappy. Regret, frustration, heartache and even pain can be God’s instruments for the redemption of our lives.
His infinitely good plan for us is the fathomless joy of seamless relationship with him. But this is possible only when we refuse to substitute something else for God.
When we pursue happiness as our highest purpose, we end up relating to God only as an instrument to get what we want. And what we want in that case is the earthly goods. If we could get them without God, that would be fine.
It’s like what Jesus said to the crowds that chased him down to make him king after he fed them with the miraculous multiplication of the loaves:
Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. (John 6:26-27)
In other words, “You don’t want me. You only want the stuff I can give you.”
Having God fully and having perfect fellowship with his children will not happen in this life. God has set us on a pilgrimage toward the life after this life that only Jesus Christ can give us.
We tend to lose sight of our true destination and to suffer the miserable disappointment that inevitably follows by asking earth to be heaven. God can will our unhappiness precisely because it is the cure for this spiritual shortsightedness.
That’s what I suggested in my previous post. And now I imagine some of my readers saying something like this:
“Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.”
Jesus taught us to serve the poor, they might say. Focusing on heaven gives you an excuse to ignore the plight of the poor (or the state of the environment or victims of racism or any number of pressing human concerns).
You can just sit back and say that God will fix it in the end. Maybe you even say that those who suffer deserve punishment.
Neither of these claims is true, of course. Putting our lives in the proper context of the Kingdom will make us more courageous in our service to the poor. And we will be more likely to persevere and to avoid bitterness when, in every generation, we discover that the work seems no less urgent and heart-rending.
God will prevail in the struggle we have engaged in his name. That is the source of our hope and perseverance.
And as for anyone deserving punishment, remembering that we dwell on a fallen planet as fallen creatures makes us aware that we begin in desperate need of the mercy that we have received in the Cross of Jesus Christ.
As a result, we are more likely to be people of compassion and mercy than are those who think that by social engineering, government intervention, and educational programs we can create—by the might our own intellect and skill—a utopia devoid of injustice and poverty and prejudice.
You see, if you admit at every step that you need mercy, you can never stand in judgment of someone else’s condition. You can only extend the mercy you need every day. By contrast, you must find someone to blame for the human misery you encounter when you believe that we humans can eradicate that evil if we just try hard enough.
Somebody somewhere isn’t tying hard enough, you end up thinking. And since it’s not you (after all, you’ve devoted yourself to social justice), it must be somebody else. It’s the Republicans or the Conservative Christians or the Greedy Capitalists or some other group you despise.
Actually, it’s all of us. We fallen human beings whose hearts love in stunted, distorted ways.
The truth of the matter is, if we become too earthly minded, if we set as our highest goal something like eradicating poverty or ending war or saving the environment, then we will be too earthly minded to do any earthly good.
Please understand me. God wills that we should serve the poor, live in peace, and respect our environment. But we can make any of these things an idol just as surely as we can make sex, power and money into an idol.
We can replace God with serving the poor. We are perfectly capable of thinking (or at least assuming the preconscious posture), “If God can help, fine. If we can conquer hunger, homelessness and achieve world peace without him, fine.”
And what will happen? We will succeed merely in changing the face of the evil we think we’re conquering. A new class of people will be made poor and oppressed. The makers of war will simply become the new victims of violence.
We can change human organizations: tax codes, laws, treaties, economic structures. The human heart will remain unchanged. And the misery we visit upon one another will simply assume a different shape.
Only Jesus Christ can change our hearts. Remembering that we serve him and his Kingdom gives us a chance to do an enduring good in our generation. A good that stands as a sign of hope that Jesus’ reign will one day be complete.
(The image above is Nicolas Poussin’s “Healing of the Blind of Jericho” from this link. )