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…”

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The rape of the princess

Just a thought for all of you guys out there.

Every woman is a miracle. She is handwoven of God, His walking and breathing image before you. She is His daughter, His bride, and His sculpture as He is her Father, her Groom, and her Moulder. Even is she doesn’t now know or want Him, He made her, He died for her, and He is striving with her to bring her to glory. There is no woman on the planet for whom this is not true, and if there were, she would not be a woman but a succubus.

The point of this is to say that God has destined femininity for the glory of queenhood. A woman is the raw material from which a queen is formed, and for God, this is the point of the matter. In Christ, the human race is exalted to the highest place of royalty and honor under God, in which we will all participate if we are in Him. This makes men into kings and women into queens on the last day, and in the meantime, we are thereby princes and princesses, whether we want it and know it or not, and even if we never, in fact, reach out destiny because we despise the God through whom it must be realized. Every woman you will ever see is a princess, and the queenly glory for which she is being prepared is as close to the glory of a goddess as you can imagine.

More important than the woman’s status and destiny considered in itself, however, is the context in relation to God. She is God’s princess, the daughter of the One True King. She is the bride-to-be of the Lord of Lords. She is the masterpiece of the great Potter. He is the ultimate, the only real source of her glory. Everything good that she is or ever will be comes from Him. Her beauty, her honor, and her royalty are first and foremost His own, given as a gift.

But just as God gives to the woman all of her excellence as a gift, so He gives her entirely as a gift to whomever He chooses. Some women He reserves for Himself alone, and to give them a peculiar kind of glory He will share them with no man. But for many, even most, He gives them to a prince so that they can together learn how to become king and queen. He unites the two as one flesh, and He gives each to the other as an exclusive investment to be redeemed at the end of the world.

So what am I actually on about? It’s just something that occurred to me the other day. If a woman is a prince, and she is on sacred reserve for the King himself or one of His princes, that must determine how we treat her. This goes deep. It must affect how we see, think, feel, and act about and to her. We must recognize her dignity, her beauty, and her splendor as a queen-to-be. We must recognize as well that all of these are from God. Any offense against her is therefore against Him.

To get to the point, this is a lesson about lust (though of course there are many other possible applications). As Christ said, to look at a woman to lust upon her is wickedness, and it is easy to see why. She belongs to God. She is a princess for Him, perhaps with a prince waiting for her, or already with her. She is destined for the glory of the bride of the Lamb. To look at her and claim her in the mind, to reach out with your heart to grasp the one who is not yours, is to violate something sacred. It is to profane the goddess, to desecrate the image in the sanctuary, to rape the princess. She may not ever know, and she may not ever see, but God who exalted her, who adopted her, and who prepares her glory does. He sees the thought and knows your claim. He recognizes your depraved fantasy of grasping His princess and taking her for your own use. He will not ignore such a blasphemy. His royal household will not be desecrated. If the sons of Jacob slaughtered a village for defiling their sister, what will their God do to you? He is more merciful than they, so that He will forgive whoever repents. But He is also more just and furious than they, so that you would be better to fall into their hands than His if you do not repent.

Therefore look for your own princess. Receive her by grace. Do not touch her before the King gives her. Never look for or to another one. The wrath of royalty must not be taken lightly.

Every Lucid Moment

[This is a repost from The Nicene Nerd to help fill the new blog with some content.]

Hazy. That’s  the best word I could think of to describe many of the hours in my average day. I’m not sure what all I did or how much I enjoyed it. During the day I tend to slip into a mode: doing what I do. And at the end of the day I find myself wondering: what have I even been doing?

See, when I think about it, there is quite a bit I’d like to change about my life. I’d like to spend less time on the computer doing mostly nothing and more time enjoying the family God has entrusted to me. I’d like to pray more, and spend more time reading Scripture. While I read lots of random articles and blog posts online, I know I would benefit from reading more real books.

Beyond habits and time management, I have character issues and virtues to work on. I want to become less self-centered and more aware of others. In my relationships I want to be more genuinely interested in what other people say, do, and care about. I’m too arrogant in my knowledge and could use some humility. Perhaps my most practically difficult flaw is my grand introspection, where I inflate my every last mistake into a life-scale issue by tracing out all the flaws in my heart and worrying about my ability to fix them into the future.

All of this deserves my effort and careful attention as I live out my day. I can only make progress if I actually try to. But alas, I don’t usually think about these things until the hour that they become painful problems. After that’s over, I remember my lesson for a while and then forget as I get back into the groove of everyday life. Next thing I know I’m making the same mistakes again. And so the circle goes on.

What I have come to realize is how very necessary it is that I capitalize on the moments when I am thinking and genuinely concerned. During the times in which I am aware of my flaws, I have to make what progress I can before life sweeps away my focus. This is what I usually fear to do, sometimes out of the fear of what might happen if I do change, and sometimes out of the fear that I won’t be able to keep up whatever I wish to accomplish. I find myself too often paralyzed by the awareness of my impending forgetfulness. So then I lose the moment, and the pain which brought me clarify becomes vain.

Obviously, what I ought to do is very different. The lucidity which fills me with fear for my future ability to do right ought to take one more step. When I think even more clearly, I see that any progress I hope to make must start with the moments that I can see that I need it. This means taking the first act, doing whatever I can to grow, instead of doing like I normally will and waste the time fretting over my lack of willpower. I have to capitalize on the times God opens my eyes before they fall shut again.

The best way to do this is to pray. While other actions are also necessary, I must take every lucid moment to pray. After all, there is no way for me to grow apart from the Holy Spirit. My flesh can only do so much, and its fruits are always full of worms. So when I know I am nothing and in need, my immediate response must be to call on the Lord, who gives to all generously and without criticizing. He promises to be my healer, the one who sanctified me and will sanctify me. If I don’t do this, if I wait or let my apprehension keep me from moving, what hope will I have? If I don’t take the opportunity to ask, seek, and knock before I forget what I am looking for, I will only come away empty-handed.

Father, you are my only hope. In Jesus you have created the perfect human life that I so desperately need. So by your Spirit living inside me, uniting me with your holy Son, let me become the man you call me to be. Every time you open my eyes, let me make the move I must make, and pray so you can continue to move me. Then when I am back in the normal course of life, I can trust you to work behind the scenes. In the name of my only Lord Jesus, Amen.

So I find that this law is at work: when I want to do what is good, what is evil is the only choice I have. My inner being delights in the law of God. But I see a different law at work in my body—a law that fights against the law which my mind approves of. It makes me a prisoner to the law of sin which is at work in my body. What an unhappy man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death? Thanks be to God, who does this through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Romans 7:21-25a