Thursday, January 31, 2008

Foundations

In chapter 3 of The Slumber of Christianity *author Ted Dekker takes a break from his autobiography to examine some the the patterns that could be seen in his quest for happiness. One of the issues that come to light is the fact that he used emotion to navigate through life.
“Thinking back to my search for happiness in the jungles of Indonesia, I now see that I was simply following the instincts placed in me by God. As a child and through my adolescent years, I navigated my way through life using my basic emotions as a compass. I wanted to belong, to be happy, to feel needed, to feel nurtured. Don’t we all?

“Unfortunately, happiness, as a raw emotion, has been disparaged in many religious circles today. Many well-meaning people no longer seek happiness at all, but I say it’s inhuman not to. We were created for happiness, and whether we admit it or not, we are governed by it.” (p. 32)

While I understand what Dekker is saying, I don’t know if I can agree with him. I agree that happiness is important and we should find pleasure in this life. Yet there comes a problem if we are governed by happiness. Being governed by happiness can take us just as far off course as being legalistic can. There is a big difference between finding pleasure in this life and making happiness the purpose of life.

Many people make happiness the goal in there lives to the determent of their lives.
“A simple examination of mankind reveals that we humans spend most of our time doing things that we believe will either immediately or ultimately give us happiness.

“This is why we go to school and brush our teeth and get married and look for better jobs. It’s why we have children and buy cars and spend large amounts of money on foods that please our palates instead of just shoving the necessary nutrients down our gullets.

“These pleasures, as I will call them, do give us a measure of happiness. They are God’s gift to enjoy now, for a very specific reason. We were created to search and find these pleasures suggested Solomon.” (p. 33)

Here is the problem I have with what Dekker seem to be saying: pursuing happiness can lead us far away from God. I agree that God has given us pleasures to enjoy and discover in this life, but we have to be careful not to let those pleasures to dull our desire for God.

It is this desire for happiness and satisfaction that drives us to ask some very important questions. If we take to time to ponder these questions and bring us to God. Questions such as:
“Why do so many of my relationships struggle?
“Why do I feel worse about my body with each passing year?
“Why is my job so empty?
“Why am I such a failure?” (p. 33)

The person who is following Christ has a real dilemma because we are told that being a Christian is supposed to give us joy and peace and fellowship. We look at our lives and wonder where the abundant life we were promised is.

What makes the difference in experiencing a life full of joy and a life full of disappointment? Hope. This one emotion has the power to take us to the mountain top, even in the midst of great disappointment all around us. On the other hand hopelessness can take us into the pit, even while experiencing great success.
“Hope and hopelessness impact our sense of well-being, even when we encounter them in tiny portions. Encouragement and discouragement, a sense of success or failure, our drive to get out of bed in the morning—all are guided by hope or hopelessness.” (p. 35)

With hope we can endure a great amount of disappointment and tragedy in our lives. It is what keeps the prisoner of war going during the dark hours. It is what keeps the cancer patient in treatment. Hope is crucial to life.
“Hope is the primary force that drives human beings from hour to hour. Hope for a simple pleasure, a hug, a kiss, a juicy rib eye cooked to perfection. A new red Corvette, a beautiful home, a long vacation in Europe. The renewed health of an ill child or aging mother. These are among the many hopes that motivate our daily lives. Everything we do is driven by hope or hopelessness in one from or another.” (p. 35)

I think it is easy to understand why hope plays such an important part in our enjoyment of life. Let’s face it if we didn’t have hope, if we were hopeless, then we would wonder if life was even worth living. Hope makes all the difference.
“And it is most critical that we begin to see our hope as the single most influential element in achieving happiness. There are other elements that affect our happiness—what is happening in the present moment, for example. But the present is fleeting in a way the future is not, and so it doesn’t hold the same power as hope for the future.” (p. 36)

According to Dekker it is hopelessness that prevents us from enjoying life the way God intended.
“If there is one universal symptom of hopelessness or depression it is sleep. A slumber could easily be defined as a separation from reality that provides sweet, sweet relief from hopelessness...Without exception, hopelessness will call its host to slumber. I might have called this book The Hopelessness of Christianity because, as we will see, hopelessness is the reason for the slumber of Christianity.” (pp. 36-7)

I think all Christians can understand how the promises of Christianity haven’t seemed to be real in our lives. We wonder if we can really ever experience the abundant life of following Jesus. The point Dekker is making is that too many Christians having given up of ever having the abundant life and have settled for something far less. I don’t know about you, but I have been there.
“If you no longer feel or have never felt that desperate desire to feast at your Creator’s table when you die, I would say it’s because you are in a slumber. Your life is bound to be frustrated. Great pleasure and happiness will always evade you.” (p. 40)

What Dekker is correctly pointing out is that there is a correlation between our hope for Heaven and our enjoyment of life. If our hope is just to find happiness now we will be disappointed. True happiness and satisfaction is the result of a hope for heaven.
“Yet in Christendom, we hardly know what hope mean any longer. In the end there is faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love. Yes, but both faith and love spring from a hope of heaven, according to Paul (Col. 1:5). Without hope, our faith is dashed and our love is empty.” (p. 42)
I want to leave you with this question: Where is your hope? The answer goes a along way in determining our joy and satisfaction with life.

* Dekker, Ted; The Slumber of Christianity: Awaking a Passion for Heaven on Earth; Nelson Books, Nashville, TN; 2005

Find the other chapters:
Chapter 1: The Death of our Dreams
Chapter 2: The Search for Pleasure
Chapter 4: Give Me Pleasure or Give Me Death
Chapter 5: The Slippery Slope to Slumber
Chapter 6: In Living We Die; In Dying We Live
Chapter 7: Created to Obsess
Chapter 8: The Eyes of the Heart part 1
Chapter 8: The Eyes of the Heart part 2

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