Tag Archives: Happiness

If comfort is your god… (Sermon brief on Jeremiah 1)

Tomorrow I will be preaching on Jeremiah 1, looking specifically at the patterns in Jeremiah’s call. Here I have attempted to crystallize one of the ‘big ideas’ of the text:

If comfort is your god, you will never do what the LORD calls you to do when it threatens your comfort.

If happiness is your god, you will never do what the LORD calls you do do when it threatens your happiness.

If the approval of others is your god, you will never do what the LORD calls you to do when His approval is all you can expect to receive.

God will not only ask you to do things which promote your comfort, happiness, and approval of others. He will ask you to do hard things that threaten them.

Those who follow the pattern of Jeremiah follow the LORD simply because the LORD is their God, and they are not free to disown Him.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and the warping of basic beliefs

In the last post I mentioned that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism emphasizes, and makes the whole of religion, the beliefs that (1) religion makes you moral, (2) religion makes you happy, and (3) God helps you when you need Him.

There is a kernel of truth in each of these statements and, when understood within the context of biblical Christianity, are profitable for believers to meditate on. However, in the hands of MTD, which is fundamentally self-oriented instead of God-oriented, the ideas are twister and warped so that the resulting doctrine doesn’t match that which arises out of orthodox faith. Let’s take a look at each of these in a little more detail.

(1) Religion makes you good:

Orthodox view: We are dead in our sins and fundamentally opposed to God. But God made a way for our salvation. Through the sacrifice of Jesus our sins are paid for if we respond to Him in faith. When this happens we are made alive in Christ. We are justified, made positionally righteous. We are renewed. God grants us His Holy Spirit so that God performs a work in us as we make every effort toward holiness. We are made progressively righteous by the supernatural work of God.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4, 5)

MTD view: Religion provides a series of carrots and sticks which we, on our own, respond to. We don’t want to get in trouble and we want to make God happy. Sometimes, we just need some good advice, or a few tips on a Sunday morning. Religion helps us raise and “civilize” our children, regularly teaching generic platitudes about being nice and helping others. Moral absolutes are self-determined, not established by God.

(2) Religion makes you happy:

Orthodox view: God is our gracious Father and He desires our well being. We are most fulfilled when we are living in accordance with His will. He grants us the fruit of the Spirit which includes joy and peace (Galatians 5:22). When we cast our anxieties on God he grants us a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). There is significant reason to rejoice when we think of the promise of eternal life. We can rest in the promises of God. However, the path to peace and joy often follows a hard road, one of repentance, suffering, trials, and self-denial. In fact, a godly grief which leads to repentance is necessary for salvation. Additionally, happiness is an effect of salvation, not its aim.

MTD view: Happiness (or fulfillment) is the aim of religion. You don’t need repentance to be happy. You need feel-good religion. You don’t need faith that Jesus took away your sins. You just need faith that everything will eventually work out.

(3) God helps us when we need Him:

Orthodox view: God is intimately involved in every area of our lives. He is in charge of all of history. Nevertheless, we have the privilege to come to him in prayer (again, Philippians 4:7), which includes worship, thanksgiving, confession, and supplication (requests). In all things God’s will is done and, in all things, God acts as a gracious Father who knows how to respond to the requests of His children and give them good gifts. God’s goals are not always the same as our goals and what we think is good is not always the same as what God thinks is good.

MTD view: Usually God keeps at a safe distance. He monitors the world but is not usually very involved. Sometimes he steps in to help someone feel better or accomplish a life goal, win a football game, get a raise at work, etc. He doesn’t really place and hard demands on our lives. We can talk to him, and he is obliged to give us what we ask for. The worst this God can do is fail to fulfill our desires.

Wednesday: Six Signs You’re a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist

QOTD: I just want to be _____________.

I deviated from the Question of the Day Plan. I had two more questions to ask out of Soul Searching but some conversations throughout the week made me decide to go in a different direction. So, as the kids streamed in to Attic After School I asked each to complete the sentence “I just want to be _____” on a little slip of paper. I got a total of 35 responses.

There were several ways of answering the question (though I was fishing for a particular one). A lot of the kids answered the question “I want to be a _____ when I grow up.” There were a few who wanted to be dancers, a couple singers, three soldiers, an anthropologist, etc. No small number just completely goofy: “I just want to be peanut butter.” One kid wanted to be a basketball player. One wanted to be a basketball. Go figure.

There were a few that said, “I just want to be me.” I’m still not quite sure what this means (a topic for another day, I suppose) though I think they meant, “I just want to be the best I can be,” another one of the responses.

Several went with religious answers. “I just want to be godly,” “I just want to be pure,” and perhaps most telling, “I just want to be innocent again.”

All were excellent answers, even the goofy ones, which made Talk Time more fun.

What I was fishing for, however, was the handful of people who responded, “I just want to be happy,” and it was to this that I turned my attention in my conversations with the kids. The goal was to point them to four simple truths.

(1) It’s not wrong to want to be happy. God created us that way. The problem is that (2) many of the ways we look for happiness lead to despair. Much of what the world offers is at best temporary, and at worst destructive. We lack the knowledge of ourselves and the world to know what will make bring us joy and so we go looking in all the wrong places. The good news is that (3) God, our Creator, knows just what we need to find lasting joy – and, in fact, He is just what we need. So, as Jesus says, instead of seeking happiness, (4) seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, rejoice in God first, and allow Him to fulfill the desires of your heart.

As C.S. Lewis says (because you can never go wrong adding a C.S. Lewis quote to your blog post):

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Let Your Happiness Be Your Guide…

 

Over my lunch break I came across an interesting article on Slate called “Why You Shouldn’t Work Less: Even if you prefer spending time with your family.” Having just spent three weeks on vacation from work I can very much relate. Even though I loved spending time with my family I was definitely ready to get back to work.

What I found disturbing, however, was the author’s criteria for determining how much time you should spend with your family vs. how much time you should spend at work. From the article:

“Knowing this [that people get bored], how do you divide your time to make yourself as happy as possible? It’s simple: The last hour of your time doing each activity should contain equal amounts of happiness. If I spend eight hours at work and three with my daughter, then this is ideal if the eighth hour at work has the same amount of happiness as the third hour with her.” (Emphasis mine)

Again, to the question of how you would spend an extra hour in the week:

“If the answer is that you’d much rather spend that hour with your family, you are spending too much time at work. If the answer is that you’d much rather spend that hour at work, you are spending too much time with your kids. If the answer is that some weeks you’d work, some you’d stay with the family, then congratulations: You are as happy as you can be.” (Emphasis mine)

Notice the criteria for making decisions about how to spend your time: personal happiness.

What about the impact on your children? What about your relationship with your spouse? It’s OK to consider your own happiness in making decisions, but things get pretty imbalanced if you let that be the major criteria for how you spend your time.

There are many times when I’m not particularly enthused about reading “If you give a mouse a cookie” for the third time in a row but I’m a dad, and doing my job as a dad matters, even if it’s not the thing that will make me as happy as I can be.