We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. – Romans 5:3-5
A, ahem, *pastor* and his "congregation," rolled into town Monday, and they have stirred up students on campus, saying that they all are going to hell. I’m not really sure who fits into the “going to heaven” category – he never makes that clear. Everyone who attends our university is bound for eternal damnation. That’s what he says. At one point, he called one of my students a “whorish woman,” but he doesn’t know her. How can he serve as her judge?
There was no hope in their message. He and the others spoke of hellfire and brimstone and briefly mentioned that Jesus came…but not of how He came to save them. Not how He came to love them. Not how He came because we are sinners and needed grace.
Our student newspaper wrote a story about the visitors, and the most telling quote came at the very end of the story, from a student admitting she was not a Christian but how she recognized that these people were not Christians. They’re wolves in sheep’s clothing. While that was poignant enough in itself, her last quote rang in my ears: “I think God wants everyone to be happy.”
I’ve been working with the differences between happiness and joy for the past several days, something I feel God is revealing. Our culture has a desperate need to be happy. Heck, it’s even written in our Declaration of Independence – we have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We buy expensive cars to make us happy. We buy nice clothes to make us happy. I have “happy drinks” of the caffeinated kind to jump start my mornings.
We have an addiction to happiness.
But, truly, isn’t happiness fleeting? We don’t live in a happy world. The “preacher” got one thing right: we live in a sinful world. Filled with turmoil and anger. Filled with unhappiness. And our American culture, in particular, has done all it can to fill our unhappiness with this life with material possessions. Vacation here, and you’ll be happy for a brief time. Buy that house, and you’ll be happy. Pamper yourself with a day at the spa, and let all your troubles melt away.
Until something bad happens. Until you can’t afford the mortgage payment. Until you are diagnosed with an incurable disease. Until a friend, a co-worker, a family member betrays you. Until you lose everything.
Happiness is fleeting; joy is divine.
Joy is a gift from God. Joy comes even when sorrow erupts in our lives and we feel that no one understands. Joy is there because, throughout all the constant turmoil of changes that this world brings, God is unchanging. God is loving. God is righteous.
And to accept His gift of salvation is to have perseverance through the suffering. To have character built upon the trust that we have in God. To have hope that, even though we live in a sin-filled, unhappy world, the best is yet to come.
The “pastor” spoke only of sin, only of unhappiness. No offers of hope. His sentences didn’t make sense, his logic didn’t work. And, thankfully, people saw through his charade and realized…that’s not what Christianity is about.
Yes, everyone has sinned. And, yes, without Christ, everyone is doomed to suffer eternally. But there is hope in the One who came to rescue us.