Slaves to Happiness

Image

If one were to cut out all the political debate on Facebook one would think that the focus of mankind is to chase after happiness. A state of perpetual happiness; a life without conflict, without suffering, and without pain. It seems so simple really. According to the wisdom of Facebook statuses, all a person has to do to be happy is to think positive thoughts (constantly), get rid of or ignore anyone who is negative or causes turmoil and suffering, and only surround yourself with those who love and support you. Well, if it’s so simple, why do I keep seeing these same posts from the same people over and over again?

Because the fact is, no one can be happy all the time. Those negative thoughts will come upon a person with an unstoppable force. Those negative people you want to ignore will get louder and there is no way to completely cut them out of your life. Then even your loved ones which you depend on for support will let you down, just as you have let them down, time and time again. Then your pursuit of happiness has to start all over again. You have to work yourself back into a state of happiness by cycling through all the above mentioned methods, over and over and over again.

Don’t be a slave to happiness. To always be in pursuit of such happiness is to enslave yourself to an unrealistic, unachievable goal or feeling. Life this side of the grave sucks and it will always suck until we die in Christ or when He returns. Sin is what makes life suck. The sins and suffering committed against you. The sins you commit against others and the suffering you cause them in your selfish, self-centered pursuit of happiness.

Being happy all the time is an impossibility. The consequences of your own actions can cause your own suffering. For example, you tell a lie and  get caught, you have to suffer with the reputation of being dishonest. Then there is the suffering that comes upon you that is completely beyond your control. You’re fired from your job, your spouse has an affair and leaves you, your addiction rears its ugly head and won’t be denied, some crime is committed against you, the diagnosis is cancer, or a loved one dies. O dear gurus of Facebook and purveyors of prosperity gospel (Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer), are we supposed to be just suck it up, think positive thoughts and be happy again? Get real.

Suffering and sadness are just as much a part of this world as happiness is. There is nothing wrong with being sad or grieving. But I will tell you this, Christianity is the ONLY confession in the world that has an answer to suffering and offers hope to those who are suffering and are unhappy. All other religions in the world would have you cycle through the same futile cycle of thinking positive thoughts, cutting out negative influences, and surrounding yourself with positive people. All these so-called religions point you inward toward yourself and your own efforts. All you have to do is be honest with yourself as you look at your own personal history and you will see how futile and frustrating that is.

Christianity, however, is based upon the perfect work of God who became man. Christ is bone of our bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. Christ did not come preaching and teaching peace, love, and happiness. He came to suffer and die for us. To take our suffering upon Himself and to take upon Himself the sufferings we have caused others. Christ came to die for you, not to teach you how to be happy. Put your faith in the crucified and risen God-Man who knows your joys and your sorrows not just because He is God and knows everything, but because He has experienced them first hand in our flesh.

When sadness, suffering, or persecution come seek the Lord where He may be found so that you will be given the strength to endure. Find Him in His Word read and proclaimed. Find Him by confessing your sins and the sufferings you have caused others before your pastor and hearing the comforting words of Christ that you are forgiven all of your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Find Christ at the Altar in His Holy Supper where His Flesh and Blood are given to you for the forgiveness of your sins, the forgiveness of the sins committed against you, and for the strength to persevere in your suffering. Only in Christ will you find contentment, peace, and happiness. Because He has earned it and He freely gives it. There is no need to remain a slave to some self-centered Facebook concept of happiness. Christ has set you free, and you are free indeed.

Heaping Those Burning Coals

Image

When someone has wronged you, you are often told to turn the other cheek or to be nice to your persecutor so that “burning coals may be heaped upon their head.” In other words, you are to be nice to them and smile at them so that God will eventually punish them and then give you a pat on the head for being such a good little Christian for taking the high road.

I think that sometimes this verse (Proverbs 25:22, Romans 12:20) is viewed, whether admittedly or not, as an apology for passive-aggressive behavior when dealing with those we disagree with or don’t like. We can passively smile, nod, and do good to our enemies while hating them in our heart and waiting for divine judgment that will declare them wrong and us right. So heap those burning coals and may they burn like hell-fire upon your enemies head.

Look, these verses are not referring to a sanctified view of karma; of what goes around comes around.  Give heed to Martin Luther from his Romans Commentary on verse 12:20:

“Blessed Augustine says: “We must understand this expression in the sense that we induce him who has injured us to repent of his action, and thus we benefit him.” For these “coals” (that is, benefits) have the power to burn, that is, to distress, his spirit. The psalmist speaks of this in Ps. 120:4: “The sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals that lay waste.” Thus God also converts those whom He converts with a view of His goodness. And this is the only way to achieve a true conversion, namely, through love and kindness. For he who is converted through threats and terror is never truly converted as long as he retains that form of conversion. For fear makes him hate his conversion. But he who is converted by love is completely burned up against himself and is far more angry with himself than anyone else can be with him, and he is totally displeased with himself. For such a person there is no need for prohibition, for being under surveillance, and for making satisfaction. For love teaches him all things; and when he has been touched by love, he will exhaust himself in seeking out the person whom he has offended.

And thus the good deeds shown toward our enemies are the “burning coals,” not those shown to our friends. For a friend does not feel about a good deed the way an enemy does, for he assumes that he has the right to expect good deeds and never receives enough, nor is he surprised at the kindness of his benefactor. But an enemy, because he realizes that he does not deserve an act of kindness, is completely captivated by his benefactor. In the same way God gave His only-begotten Son for His enemies, so that He might make us burn with the warmest love toward Him and that He might bring about in us the greatest possible hatred for ourselves. Christ is the furnace filled with fire, as we read in Is. 31:9: “Thus says the Lord, whose fire is in Zion, and whose furnace is in Jerusalem.” We heap “burning coals” on the head of our adversary, but God heaps the Fire itself upon him.[1]

The purpose of burning coals being heaped upon your enemy’s head (your good deeds toward them) is that they will repent and turn to the Lord, which is for their benefit. It is not so that you can stand in judgment over them and help the Lord punish them. The will of the Lord is that all men come to the knowledge of salvation and receive the forgiveness of sins that Christ won for all mankind.  To love your brother and your enemy, repent of your hatred for them and pray that they remain in the Lord’s mercy or turn to it. By repenting of your own sins and forgiving and desiring forgiveness for those who trespass against you, the Lord will give you peace.


[1] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 25: Lectures on Romans (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.) (Ro 16:27). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.