Life + Culture

Happiness Can Betray You: The Judas in “Christian” Joy

Happiness Can Betray You

“Grandma, what big eyes you have!” she said.

That big bad wolf, discouraged by a recent episode with the third little pig, developed a new tactic. He could no longer rely solely on brute force to win his prey. Huffing and puffing would have to be replaced with cunning.

And so it is with our enemy. He has plotted, and for the time being we live more in “Little Red Riding Hood” than “The Three Little Pigs.”

Against many in persecuted lands, he still huffs and puffs through wicked men to tear the church down and feast upon souls. He threatens death to those who would follow the Way in hopes of intimidating people away from eternal life.

Against many in the West, he takes a subtler approach, alluring us into the trap with comforts. Leisure, success, and ease lull us into the cottage, while our entertainment numbs our ability to discern that grandma has extremely large teeth.

Joy, What Big Teeth You Have!

Simply put, the devil often confuses us to think that our worldly contentment is spiritual satisfaction. We delightfully receive the new acquisition — a job, a relationship, a success — and we assume, often wrongly, that our joy automatically finds its source in God.

It often sounds like this: My time with God — though brief — has been sweet! I feel his presence in new ways and am wonderfully delighted in him during this season! In my experience — both by saying and hearing it — what we mean by this is that we were blessed with a new promotion or got back together with our ex.

The wolf is unmasked when asked: What about your communion with God has been sweet in this season? Have you been increasingly led to him in his word? Have you been much more consistent in kneeling before him in prayer? Have you seen lusts that displease him replaced with good works and love for neighbor? Are these marks of the delightful season? There is no doubting that your wallet is full, a lovely wife awaits you at home, and your anxieties over work have fled — but what of Jesus Christ?

Now surely God is the Giver of all good gifts (James 1:17), and they are given to be enjoyed. But if we learn anything from Israel’s history, it is that physical blessing is not the same as spiritual blessedness. Their abundance in the promised land often led to spiritual neglect, apostasy, and finally exile.

A False Joy Observed

Even C.S. Lewis was perplexed by this. In A Grief Observed, he writes of his own experience with God’s apparent nearness in prosperity and then his staggering absence in suffering.

Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. . . . Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble? (5–6; emphasis added)

In our most prosperous times, we often forget God for his gifts and join Lewis in a wolf-joy that, instead of leading to communion with him and deeper levels of obedience to him, leads to “a sense of not needing him.” Indeed, this sheep-skin happiness makes God and his claims upon us feel like an interruption: “Go away, Dad, can’t you see I’m playing!”

It’s no wonder he feels absent in suffering. When trials jolt us from our spiritual slumber, we realize that we have secluded ourselves from God, hidden in a cave to enjoy our precious little trinkets. We wrongly assumed that more presents meant more presence. In so doing, we have more prosperity gospel in us than we think.

Do We Want True Joy?

Beloved, should we receive blessing from the Lord and repay him with forgetfulness? Should we see the demonstration of his love in the sending of his Son and requite him neglect? Should we forget our God’s name while he engraved our name on his palms? Can there be greater injustice than for a people so loved to lock their heavenly spouse in the attic of their affections?

Ask yourself: Is the sun of my affections for Jesus rising or setting? Must I have more of Christ, or will other delights fill me?

Beloved, do not trade communion with God for his things. Enjoy God’s gifts, but don’t trade him for them. Christ himself is our life (Colossians 3:4). Lasting joy is not found in God’s stuff but in God (Psalm 16:11).

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