Easter Fools

It is a two weeks until Easter. This year Easter falls on April Fools’ Day, and all of the atheists and skeptics fall on the ground laughing. Rightly they should. Indeed, more Christians ought to do the same. There is something supremely absurd about Easter. It is the absurdity of saying that the world was created twice, exactly what Christians say that Easter is about. We are fools to believe it. And yet, God’s absurdity beats all of our reasonableness, and “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.”

In a real sense, Easter is God’s greatest joke. The resurrection of Jesus is the uproarious laughter of God that rolls away stones and knocks guards to the ground. In folk religions devils are tricksters, but in Christianity God one-upped them all. For there is something incredibly amusing about the way the resurrection played out. It was a joke at Satan’s expense, for one. The hosts of hell were undoubtedly thrilled at their major victory. The Messiah, God’s Son, was dead. Israel was doomed to curse and and endless spiritual exile. The Gentiles would never even hear of hope. No doubt that, as dawn approached that Sunday morning, demons danced and leprechauns laughed.

It was also a joke at the Jewish leaders’ expense. The smug compromisers were undoubtedly relieved when they awoke. The rabble-rousing Rabbi was defeated. They no longer had anything to fear from a heretical, imposter Messiah. Things could go back to the way they were, the same people in charge with the same old dreams for Israel’s future.

Even the disciples were ready to become a joke. Their situation is more ironic than anyone else’s because they had been told that Jesus was to return. Yet instead they were in shock, thinking about how to return to a previous life, dealing with the collective disappointment that either God had abandoned His Chosen or that they had been wrong all along.

Meanwhile, God was snickering from His throne. The time had come to raise Jesus from the dead. So He did. Satan’s hordes were in a nightmare as dark as their souls, the Jewish leaders found their wrongful victory righted, and the disciples all became fools for their obtuseness. But out of them all, only the disciples could laugh at the joke. They were fools, but they were happy fools, fooled by God with the miracle of a new creation and a new covenant. The most impossible absurdity had happened—the great resurrection began early with a crucified Messiah!—but it was the absurdity of God. So they spent the rest of their lives retelling the divine joke, sharing it with everyone who would listen. They didn’t expect everyone to believe it, foolishness as it is, but they loved it.

Even today, with Jesus’ resurrection being 2000 years old, the Good News still sounds foolish. In our scientific age, we are supposed to know that people don’t come back from the dead (the joke’s on us: the ancients knew that, too, probably better than we do). In our postmodern pessimism, no one really believes that there can be a new creation which actually rescues everything good from the old. In our modern optimism, it seems ridiculous that we even need a new creation to save us when progress is always on the march. For both the alt-right and the social justice left, the idea that all kinds of people could find new life in the resurrection of one particular man of one particular gender from one particular race and be formed into His one body is a fool’s fantasy.

But if the Gospel is foolishness, it is foolishness to those who are perishing. For we fools who believe, it is true wisdom. If the world laughs at us, God laughs first and last. So we revel in the life-giving laughter of God. And this means that we, too, can laugh this Easter.

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God actually does want you to be happy

The only worse teaching than “God just wants you to be happy” is “God doesn’t want you to be happy.” Of course, not that many people teach this specifically, but a number of people come close. Some of them do this by hammering in a more spiritual sounding point, something along the lines of “God is more interested in you being holy than being happy.” And, technically speaking, they’re right. If God had to pick between giving you a holiness boost and a happiness boost, I’m sure He’d pick holiness.

But the problem lies in the question itself, not so much in the answer. Or, to be clearer, asking whether God prefers your happiness or holiness more is already a bad way of putting things. It’s kind of like asking if my I would rather my son be happy or healthy. If I love him, I want both very much and would not wish to choose between them. But at the same time, a large part of the reason I want him healthy is because it will make him happy. A basic problem with unhealthiness is that is leads to unhappiness, or at least makes happiness all the more difficult. While I definitely wouldn’t mind making Nathan temporarily unhappy to make him healthy (I’ll get him his shots and medicine as needed), the point of that temporary unhappiness is so he can play happily later instead of being miserably ill. If the cure were worse than the disease in the long run, I’d probably pass it up.

What we tend to miss, then, is that holiness is a lot like health. In fact, holiness could be considered spiritual health. Health, after all, is when the various parts of our body work together in the right order and harmony. Holiness is when the various parts of our lives—thoughts, feelings, and actions—work together in the right order and harmony as defined by how God has made us to live.

This is why, for all our disagreements, I think John Piper is really getting at something important with his so-called “Christian Hedonism.” Piper is very right to say that there is nothing wrong with wanting or trying to be happy. Instead, what makes trying to be happy right or wrong is the way in which we do it. Sin may make us happy in the short term, but it causes misery in the end. Living by faith in Christ, on the other hand, may make us unhappy today as we take up our crosses, but it will turn out far for the best. And while Piper usually focuses on the eternal payoff, holy living pays off in the “short-long term” as well. Sexual restraint protects us from broken homes, broken hearts, and often broken bodies. Generosity and mercy build meaningful relationships and improve mental health. Getting wasted every weekend may be fun, but all too often leads to regrettable choices and mistakes that can never be undone. And this list can go on. Virtue is hard work and can involve suffering, but it makes a brighter life. Vice can be thrilling, but it quickly drags us into the lonely dark.

All of this comes back around to creation, to the subject of my last post. God made life to be lived and enjoyed. He smiles to see His children playing on the playground of the world. But He won’t—He can’t—tolerate sinful play. However much fun it may seem in the moment, it will ruin everyone’s day. This is the great sin. What God wants is to call His children in as the night falls to feast on bread and wine, with joy and laughter bought at the steep price of His true Son’s blood.

So, why make this point? Am I picking on words and phrases to be a pain or know-it-all? By no means! This is something that I believe causes serious trouble when forgotten. This is because everyone wants to be happy, and they feel that, in some way, it is right for them to look for happiness. And it is God who crafted their hearts with this desire. So when they hear it preached that God’s not concerned with their happiness, or if they only hear rules and “don’t’s” without a clear explanation of how God gives these commands because He truly does want their smile, it is far too easy to conclude that God is simply against joy and fun. They start to view God as a grumpy old man aggravated by seeing young people enjoy themselves. And I’m not talking hypothetically. This is something I have seen and heard myself.

Once this mistake is made, their God-given desire for happiness leads them away from the very unhappy picture of God they have developed. And while sinful pleasures aren’t as good for joy long-term as God is, they’re way better on any time scale than the Curmudgeon God who they have come to believe gave us Christianity. This becomes their excuse for sin. And sin will ruin their happiness, which God will not take lightly. God will not, of course, let them get away with their excuses, but we should be taking those away first with good theology. If we don’t, they won’t be the only ones having to give an account.

What we should be teaching, then, is not the technically correct answer to the misguided question of whether God prefers happiness or holiness. Instead, we ought to say, “Of course God wants you to be happy. But He knows better than you do what makes us happy. After all, He designed up. So let’s crack open the Bible and see what God has to say about what makes a happy life. You ask if partying will be involved? Let’s turn to Revelation 19:6-9…”

Faith grows

Everyone familiar with Genesis knows the story of Abraham and Hagar. God promised to give Abraham a son. But it was taking a very long time, and his wife Sarah seemed simply barren. Eventually, they reason that he should try the common practice of taking his wife’s slave as a second wife. So Abraham slept with Hagar and got Ishmael. Impatience and perhaps some lack of faith created another line, outside of the promise, which led to lots of trouble down the road. God promised Abraham children, and he didn’t know what to think about that promise based on his life situation, and he messed things up by trying to fix it himself.

Abraham, however, did not stay this way. In Genesis 24, another stage has come to the story of Abraham and God’s promise. Abraham is old and about to die, and Isaac is all grown up. Isaac needs a wife if he is to continue the line of promise. So Abraham sends his servant back to his extended family to find a wife for Isaac. The reason for this restriction is obvious: Abraham’s family worshipped Yahweh, but most other people were idolaters.

But if Abraham’s family is to provide a wife for Isaac, and they don’t live in Canaan, what happens if they don’t want to send a daughter into a distant land to marry Isaac? The servant asks Abraham about this possibility, and the conversation goes as follows:

The servant asked him, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?”

“Make sure that you do not take my son back there,” Abraham said. “The Lord, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give this land’—he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there. If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there.”

Genesis 24:5-8

Abraham has certainly changed. He is no longer worried about how God will fulfill His promise to give them descendents. If Isaac can’t get a wife from Abraham’s family without leaving the promised land, then Isaac will just have to wait. They will not leave the land. They will simply have to trust God that He will provide for Isaac as He provided for Abraham. There is no doubt here, only faith in God and His promises.

This, of course, is by the grace of God. God worked on Abraham, trying and refining him over the years to hone his faith. He brought Abraham from faith to faith, and the growth brought about great good. So if our own faith is weak, and it tries to fail, we must persevere. We must keep holding on, despite the difficulty, for God will work on us and teach us to trust Him. Abraham’s faith grew, and so may our own.