Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"The Beautiful and Damned"

Gloria and Anthony are sad characters from a sad story written by a sad man: "The Beautiful and Damned" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The story, no doubt, is intensely, autobiographical regarding Fitzgerald’s own marriage and decent into debauchery. The two main characters, Gloria and Anthony, have everything in the world going for them – humanly speaking. Yet, their tale is one of drunkenness, emotional torture and unhappiness. It is a tale told in a thousand different ways in a thousand different lives around us every day.
There is in this story is a brief dialogue between Gloria and Anthony. Gloria is discovered by Anthony to be following a trendy new religion based upon reincarnation. He is flabbergasted and thinks that she is being silly and foolish.
Anthony: “….if you must have faith to soften things, take up one that appeals to the reason of someone beside a lot of hysterical women. A person like you oughtn’t to accept anything unless it’s decently demonstrable.”
Gloria: “I don’t care about truth. I want some happiness.”
When I read that statement I felt as if I was reading into the soul of the writer, into the soul of a million lives, into the soul of a neighbor. As sad as it may seem the character Gloria was honest – happiness was the goal not truth.
In reading this there was several thoughts that came to mind.
One – This is the heart of all those that are without Christ. Too often we speak of the lost as if they are searching for God and only need to be shown the way. Sentimental this may be it, but it is incorrect when viewed next to the bible’s description of the sinner: “there is none that seeketh after God.” The reality is that what the world is seeking is happiness not truth. Yes, the sinner may find out by experience that the pleasures of life do not lead to true happiness. But this does not mean that when they come to Church they are “seeking God.” They are seeking God only in relation to how much happiness God can bring to their lives. The sinner sees himself at the center of the universe: a god. He sees only his need of happiness as the end of all. This desire is often covered over with religious verbiage, moral platitudes and emotional upheaval – but in the end the search is not for reconciliation to God but happiness for self. I believe this, in part, explains why there is so much need for the “extras” to attract people into Church. There has been plenty of blame for low Church attendance lain at the foot of the Church herself. The may be true in part, but it must be balanced with the fact that the sinner is not interested in anything except “self” happiness. Because of this the Church unfortunately many times caters and cowers to the desires of sinners: happiness. Don’t tell me about God’s glory; fix my marriage so I can be happy. Don’t bother me about Heaven and Hell; teach me how to get out of debt. Don’t waste my time in listening to strong doctrinal preaching; wash me away in melody so that I can forget my problems. Happiness is what the sinner wants. It is wise for us to be aware of this reality. Interest in Church, bible studies, Church activities and other such things does not necessarily mean that one is interested in God. It is not until they are touched by the truth that their desire changes. Church often can merely be another in a long line of attempts to be happy.
Second – The Church does not peddle happiness it proclaims truth. I do not say that there is no happiness in the Christian life; I say that happiness is a secondary benefit to seeing, knowing and experiencing the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. The sinner is looking for happiness; the Church offers Christ. The sinner is consumed with a desire for immediate and earthly comfort; the Church declares eternal and spiritual blessings. The sinner wants freedom from guilt as a consequence; the Church preaches forgiveness and regeneration through the blood of Christ. Everything the Church has to offer is diametrically opposed to what the sinner wants – but is desperately what the sinner needs. As a Church we must never forget that though the truth we offer may be distasteful to some it is nevertheless what is needed for all. The Church is not called to be another means of happiness; we are called to be the pillar and ground of the truth. Christ is the way, the truth and the life. The danger for many of our Churches is that we are so desirous to reach the sinners with the gospel that we are emphasizing happiness over truth. We Christ in terms that emphasize how He can make their marriage better, finances better, parenting better, work experiences better, emotional baggage better – and yet – we fail to emphasize that all these things are secondary to the truth. The truth: mankind’s sin, God’s wrath, Christ’s death as the only way of forgiveness and a life lived in following Christ – this is what must be emphasized. Does it not appear to be bait and switch in some cases? We tell the sinner that Christ will make your life happy; yet, upon trying this new form of happiness the sinner is faced with anything but happiness. Instead of happiness there is discipline, self-denial, trials, sacrifice, testing, mortification and suffering. “This is the happiness I was promised,” the sinner thinks. When we appeal to the sinner to come to Christ for happiness have we not in essence lowered Christ down to every other means of happiness they have tried?
Christ Jesus is not offered for happiness first. Christ Jesus is offered for eternal life, for redemption for deliverance from the judgment of God.
Third – Real happiness necessitates truth. The line between delusion and happiness is truth. I recently had to visit someone in a mental ward. In walking down the hall to their room I passed many who were clinically insane. I was surprised to see how many of these people appeared to be genuinely happy. Their faces were aglow, their lives seemed worry free and they were enjoying the world in which they lived. The problem was that the world in which they lived was not real. I see, as a Pastor, so many people in counseling or in one on one conversation that are, simply put, delusional. They have so craved happiness that they have sacrificed truth. They are not interested in the truth of God’s word, rather, they are interested in what gives them happiness now. The way to real and lasting happiness is not in a pursuit of happiness as an end, but in a pursuit of God.
“…in the presence is fullness of joy’ at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.” Psalms 16.11