Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
I read the back of a cereal box yesterday. It decreed in great bold letters, “CLAIM THE LIFE YOU DESERVE.” A picture of healthy, athletic-looking man posing a great big smile stood just under the heading. Good grief, I get all that for buying cereal? It didn’t sit well with me. I almost bought it. Not the cereal, but the message. Its appeal nearly won me over, probably because we have this belief thrown at us all the time. You deserve a great life. I think the power of the message pulls from two ideas: (1) Happiness is the goal of life, and (2) We deserve that goal.
Now the first of these John Piper would agree with, but not in the way that most people would think. Piper’s Christian Hedonism states that we are most filled with joy when God is most glorified, thus both being satisfied in the other. But even then, God being glorified is the goal, not our happiness. But I think we have the tendency to separate the two in responding to the cereal box. Try fasting for a day. I’m amazed at the words my body screams at me when it demands immediate relief. When things are hard with my wife, my mind floats off to something that can make me happier. A small piece of chocolate in the kitchen, a TV show to watch, or tasting beauty in some form. Study yourself. We operate as if gratification is the point.
Most world religions are built on contentment, answering our questions about our obvious brokenness. We think answers will satisfy. Personal contentment seems to be the answer for most people. If they have an answer, the disappointments of life can be numbed. Christianese might even say that we were made to be happy. We say we’re living for another home in heaven, but we act as if God exists to meet our needs and demands here on earth.
Paul clearly explains that we do not deserve to be happy (Romans 3:23, 6:23). Made for it, yes…deserve it, no. Maybe we should begin to see Christianity this side of heaven as not being about contentment, but rather about entering into brokenness. After all, that’s where we are in the Story. And we won’t find redemption and a longing for home until we’ve set aside our demands. Maybe if we did that, then glorifying God would become the goal. And then, maybe then, we would experience the Life we don’t deserve.
I’m going to eat some cereal.