Social media is good for a lot of things. I never knew it would be such a great place to learn philosophy. Here is one of the latest happy face slogans, “Happiness is the ability to move forward, knowing that the future will be better than the past. Today, I choose happiness!” Yes, I am somewhat of a curmudgeon. At the same time, sayings like this sadden me. In many ways the modern feel good, positive thinking philosophy is a denial of some very basic realities of life, and in a very real way, instead of producing joy, such philosophy prohibits true joy. Let me explain.
Christians are at the same time the most negative and the most positive of people. On the negative side we believe that the world and everything in it is seriously broken. Mankind is not by nature good. He is controlled at the core of his being by self-interest, and that self-interest is the root cause of every one of our personal, political, and societal ills. Regardless of how much we attempt to progress, we get nowhere. The great optimism of the late 19th century which believed that mankind had actually gained ground against the great evils of the world was shattered royally by the Great War, a war which saw atrocities that were inconceivable for a progressed civilized society. Then came the next great war. Then came terrorism and an endless parade of civil wars and the resulting famines around the globe. What is next? If we are honest, we have to admit that corruption exists on every level. Men and women use and abuse one another for personal gain, even at the earliest age. We can’t simply blame it on our environment or lack of education. Some of the most educated and privileged have demonstrated the worst evil. Do I need to say more? It appears we have not progressed much at all.
To have a “smiley face” attitude towards a world like this is the vain attempt to anesthetize ourselves against the pain it brings. For too many the purpose of life is little more than to be happy, and pain then becomes the great enemy of life. Pain is meaningless and destructive. Therefore, we despair to stop the bleeding we cannot fully escape by pretending it does not exist.
The unintended effect of a numbed life is that it also numbs us to the pain of others. If we live to avoid the real pain of our own life, then we cannot and will not step into the pain of others and walk with them in their shoes. We can do no more than sugar coat it and preach from a comfortable distance “Think positive!” as they bleed and weep. People suffer real abuse and heartache, and babies die. Divorce, disease, racism, hunger, violence, and death are all real. A smiley face gives little hope and little light to darkness that is incurable by our hands in this life. Therefore, to put hope here is foolish at best.
Whoa, that is dark! Yes, it is. I call it soberly realistic. For Christians, though, it is not the end of the story, an epic story of this world moving from darkness to light. We believe that, though lasting happiness might not be found in the present day, there is a day coming when we will experience so much more than momentary relief from pain. We will know what the Bible calls Shalom. That word in Hebrew most often is translated “peace”, but it’s true definition is much richer that English can capture. It carries the idea of things being as they were meant to be. Shalom means everything is right. No more disintegration of the human psyche. No more breakdown in relationships. No more cursed world that fights against us at every turn. No more injustice and violence. Instead, peace. I will no longer hurt those I love. I will no longer know anxiety, fear, hunger, loneliness, or emptiness. Peace. I will be as I was made to be and find life as it was meant to be.
What am I made for? If what the Bible says is true, I am made for eternal love and joy. I was made to be a bride, a bride who relishes and is enraptured by the love of her bridegroom. The joy of a wedding day is unmatched in this life. On that day I am the beloved. I am embraced, loved, cherished, and enjoyed as on no other. My deepest dreams are fulfilled. Of course, in this life the joy of the wedding is often dampened by the hardness of life. Not in the shalom that is coming. The Christian awaits the promised coming of the ultimate “Prince Charming”, one to whom no fairy tale prince can compare. Eternity, then is so much more than just a place where our golf shots always fly straight and our singing is always on key. It is the celebration of the passionate joy of lovers, an elaborate (to say the least) wedding feast and party like no other.
The Christian might endure pain and hardship now, in the moment, but he knows that a day is coming when pain will be no more. He does not look to ignore evil, even the evil that resides within. Instead, he looks to the One who will forever eradicate evil from our existence. He is not satisfied with appeasement of suffering. He wants it completely erased. He looks to the day when abuse, suffering, violence, hatred, cancer, and tragedy will be banished from life once and for all. He even more looks for the day when the evil within, that self-centered and self-serving bent to his heart is softened and made pure. What a glorious day that will be!
The Christian can know these promised realities in the here and now. It is not just in the great by and by. Even now I am being transformed into the beautiful bride that I am promised I will be. Even now I am tasting “integration” within myself and with my relationships with others. I also know now that everything around me, as dark as it might be, is only temporary, and the redemption of all things is on the way. Everything from the smallest atomic particle to the grandest vista will be made new. And even now I can know intimately the One I was made to love. To Him I have been fully reconciled. He is the One who loves me deeply, the One who delights in me joyously, and the One who gives Himself to me lavishly. The fulfillment of all of my dreams has come. “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Songs 6:3)
From this position I have something valuable to give to those who suffer in the moment—hope. For those who trust in Jesus, that pain is momentary. A glorious feasting day is coming. That pain also has a purpose. The pain we go through has become the very tool our bridegroom uses to reshape us and wean us from the empty pursuits of this life. It is the loss of the cheap imitation to be replaced with the genuine. In Christ I no longer have to run from pain or fear stepping into another’s pain. I know its end, and I know the One who endured that pain on mine and their behalf and who now walks with us in and through the pain.
For me to resolve to find satisfaction in a fleeting painless pretend moment is sad and pointless. It also means I have nothing of substance to give to anyone else. The one who is truly wise will look at the reality of this life and world soberly, seeing the corruption and ugliness for all it is. In Christ we can do that without fear. For only then will we look beyond this life for true joy and the ultimate fulfillment of delight. Only then will we have the means to endure pain in the moment with hope and even joy, and only then will we have the tools to bring real lasting hope to those who suffer.
Written by Ron Clegg