Paul writes... I was singing along to that dull dirgey chorus...
"oh miserable day oh depressin day when Jesus washed my sins away..."
...when I realised that was not at all what the words said. It was a happy tune singing about a happy day. So where had I suffered such a misinterpretation that christianity was about misery and suffering?
I hold my hand up and say I am going through a miserable and unhappy time. I acknowledge that this is not going to be a sunny piece cos of where I'm coming from. It's going to be slanted and I own my biases.
One of the things that struck me about the AWAF conference was Dr Stephen Long (I think) saying that christianity is all about happiness. That was a bit of a shock to me so I confess I may well have passed out and missed the context/point of why he said that. But taking that on face value this is what I'm hearing:
Misery/suffering/unhappiness/despair etc are not meant to be the norm for christians.
I'm going to caveat that immediately and say of course we know that suffering, pain, hurt, despair etc will be part of the christian life. I get that we all have crap times and we will be unhappy. The light bulb that has gone off in my head is that this is not meant to be all the time.
Perhaps to frame it another way, another speaker at AWAF, Samuel Wells, made the point in regard to incarnational evangelism that Jesus spent 30 yrs in Galilee, 3 yrs on tour proclaiming/acting out the good news of God and only 1 week in Jerusalem being confrontational/judgemental. Which I use as a spring board to make the leap to, Jesus didn't spend 33 yrs on suffering on a cross!
I won't deny that I am sure Jesus suffered lots and the suffering that he diod go through was very intense. But it wasn't all the time. Jesus didn't model a humanity that was about a marathon of pain endurance.
Maybe there is one category of christian life to which unhappiness is a given and that would be persecution. I can see where there might be a joy in knowing that the faithfully following Christ is causing the pain. That still leaves me suspicious however of any descriptions of joy in the christian life that sound like an endorphin high!
Yes I hear that Jesus said that we should daily pick up our cross but I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean the same as we should get crucified every day (although Greek readers and bible scholars please do correct me if I'm in a muddle here). For me the significance of this statement is about chosing identity, should it be shaped by Christ or by the world?
Not that everything is wrong with the world either. There is a lot of good but also a lot of brokenness too. My own life is a microcosm of this. It is tempting to think that the world's prescription for curing unhappiness: holidays, working, spending, sleeping around, alcohol, living by the sea or whatever will make me permanently happy. In themselves there is a lot of good and happiness but left outside of Christ I do not think they will ultimately scratch the itch.
In fact I will attempt to mangle a 3rd speaker from AWAF, Dominic Erdozain, who quoted Charles Spurgeon as saying that he smoked his pipe for the glory of God. I like that, not going down some moralistic smoking, drinking, cavorting whatever bad and to be avoided. But redeeming these fun activities in God. Anywho, next time I light up a cigar I know whose glory I'll be claiming to do it in ;).
Well I'm feeling a lot happier for having got that off my chest. How about you?