Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Breakfast Part II

I've been mulling over another part of the breakfast conversation.

My friend said, more than once, "All you can really do in this life is choose whether to be happy."
Or something to that effect.

I don't believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. Happiness is a nice side effect, and one that probably a majority of Americans experience much of the time.

Of course, a lot depends upon how you define happiness. But I think it's safe to say that in a world filled with wars, violence, starvation, deprivation, and disease, an awful lot of people do not find happiness in any conventional sense of the word.

The Presbyterian Church teaches that our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. The Catholic Church, that it is to know and love God. My friend St. Ignatius, that it is to praise, reverence, and serve God, or (in more contemporary language), to live with God forever.

Thus those of you who are not religious and from time to time dismiss faith as a crutch or a false source of comfort might see that the purpose of our lives, as stated in major Christian creeds and confessions, is often at odds with comfort.

I can assure you that is not much of an opiate to be told, in the face of the loss of a child, that glorifying God is the chief end of your life.

But as I see it, to say that the point of life is "to be happy" renders our existence virtually pointless, while the alternative, "to know God," offers us dignity and significance.
If all that is available to me in the face of the death of my child is "to choose happiness" ~ well, that seems to me to represent the epitome of triviality. However, if knowledge of God ~ which would also mean knowledge of love, knowledge of ways to remain present to those I care for, knowledge of my life having some purpose ~ remains a possibility, then there is a point to life.

I'm not saying it's easy. And I'm not saying we should seek out misery for ourselves, or view life as a grim narrative of pointless toil or senseless suffering.

But the hard reality is that to know God in the context of Christianity is to know sorrow.

It might seem, then, that it would only make sense to choose the pursuit of happiness over the pursuit of knowledge of God.

But really ~ if the choice were placed in the stark relief drawn by the worst kind of scenario, would you choose trivia over dignity and value? And perhaps it is in choosing the latter that genuine happiness lies.


Cross-posted at Search the Sea.


August said...

i love these sorts of semantic quagmires. I guess my thought is that the word "God" is so broadly definable that perhaps what your friend meant by 'happiness' is the same thing (or at least one aspect of the same thing) that you might mean by 'God.'

Magdalene6127 said...

For crying out loud.

I mean it. Crying out loud.

I'm angry on your behalf. Yet I'm sure I have said equally dunderheaded things.

God forgive me. And her. You, on the other hand, don't have to.

karen gerstenberger said...

I love what you wrote here. I understand what you are saying, and agree with you. You make me want to write an entire piece about this. Bless your heart!

Cynthia said...

I've gotten to the point where I get really mad when someone tells me that happiness is choice. I think that happiness can be many things, including a talent, an acquired skill, a reaction, or someone's emotional default mode of operation, and sometimes, maybe, it might be a choice, but I think that's extremely rare. I think this entry puts you up in the league with C. S. Lewis on the issues of faith and loss.

Rev SS said...

What Magdalene said! And I agree with Cynthia .. you are so in C.S. Lewis' league.

Jennifer said...

Sweet Jesus.

I've been away from blogging for a bit with some of my own processing of stuff.

God bless you for having sane responses to what seems to be a very different perspective on life and death.