Life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. That, according to a certain man, is part of what every human being is entitled to. I’ve spent enough time thinking about the first two and so I would like to address the third. The pursuit of happiness. If I can be frank I think we westerners at least are for the most part taken sick with our pursuit of happiness, and like children with bags full of Halloween candy, we have pursued it to its inevitable end. Sickness.
Why I say we are sick of/with happiness is that the thing never lasts, and though every generation struggles its whole life through it can never arrive at a perpetual state of happiness, as it needs to be maintained, fed and ends up being a sort of all consuming monster that we eventually give all ourselves in the pursuit of.
It is elusive, it is fleeting, and completely unsustainable.
But there is a better example. I have found that by “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.(Hebrews 12:2 ESV)” there is a hope that transcends happiness. The terms of happiness and joy have often been used interchangeably and some have assumed they were synonymous, but according to the author of Hebrews, there is a dramatic difference, and it almost seems that joy has almost nothing to do with happiness at all.
While joy often has happiness as a side-effect, focusing on happiness almost always the the thief of our Joy
What Jesus endured on the cross was unimaginable and not fully explainable; on every level of the senses, emotional, physical, spiritual, it was absolute horror. Rejection from friends, family, and God, the worst death the Romans could concoct, and a disconnection from the Creator of the universe. Yet the writer of Hebrews says there was Joy that was set before Jesus in the face of all that he knew was to come. In his allegorical book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis says (paraphrase) that to everyone who leaves the grey city (which is allegorical for hell or purgatory) and comes to walk the difficult path of becoming whole and more solid in heaven, the joy he/she comes into will be so great it is retroactive. The joy that is set before those who grab hold of it will turn all trial, all obstacles, all of the darkest possible horror in a person’s life into joy, as it can be seen so clearly as something that was simply an obstacle or trial on the way to true joy. And there is then joy in the conquering. But to those who do not leave the grey city, even life will be seen as a sort of hell, as it has only served the purpose of bringing them into further hell.
So what is set before us? Is it True Heaven or True Hell? It seems that identical lives could be led and one considered heaven and one considered hell based solely on the end of the journey. My Christian brothers and sisters, we have no choice, in view of what our God has set before us, to see life through the joy of the promise. We cannot dwell in the temporary as if it were an end in itself, but consider all things in view of what is promised. To those who may not believe, there is a sort of retroactive proof of heaven in the joy of redemption. That the joy the Christian can rest in foreshadows the heaven itself is a great mystery, but it is also wondrous and terrible, that both heaven and hell are having their effect on every single person, every single day, for their joy, or their torment.