Two Lies: Happiness is Always Good and Suffering is Always Bad

By Joel A. Hess

At the bottom of most of the destruction we see in the new American morality are two lies that even the good ole Church of God has perpetuated: happiness is always good and suffering is always bad.

Many accuse pro-choice people as being bloodthirsty, especially with the latest admission by a couple of prominent politicians that killing a baby after birth is up to a mom and her doctor. However, their accusers are wrong. Most pro-choice Americans, including the Michael Jackson lookalike governor of Virginia, are not bloodthirsty. They actually believe they are doing good for both the baby and the mom. They are helping the mom to be happy and the baby to avoid suffering. They believe they are being compassionate.

The same line of reasoning supports most moral issues we struggle with today. Few people really want to hurt others. They just want to avoid suffering and promote happiness. Because in the end only happiness matters in life, which implies no suffering. Whether it’s promiscuity, same-sex relations, multi-gender theory, or euthanasia, the base motivation promoting these activities is the pursuit of happiness and the avoidance of suffering. It’s not callous disregard for historic morality or desire to hurt people. It’s almost a misplaced compassion. It looks so close to compassion that it draws Christians in who confuse compassion with the Gospel. It’s not hard to do. Don’t think you are above it. It’s the first sin. It’s in your gene pool. 

Eve wanted to be happy. Well, she wanted to be happier. She wanted to be like God. That’s the problem with happiness. It’s so relative and ambiguous. Happiness is always something else and somewhere else even when we think we caught it. And the devil lies by dangling the carrot, then moving it again and again and again.

Today we have the ability to change so many things in our lives to make us happy. We change language. We change things. We change jobs. We change our spouses. We change our bodies. We all change our bodies, by the way, not just transgender people who suffer a particular unhappiness. We change our gods. We go to psychologists to change our minds. We try hard to change the laws of nature themselves to be happy.

For sure, if all we had was this life and a bucket list, this all makes a lot more sense. Paul says to Christians in 1 Corinthians 15 after demonstrating that Jesus in fact rose from the dead and we will too: 

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” How foolish Christians look to people who don’t believe there is anything more than this world. So Jesus pronounces woe to those who pursue riches, fullness and laughing in this world now (Luke 6). 

It’s not that God doesn’t want you to be happy in this world at all. He doesn’t want you to pursue happiness at all costs as if there is no future! First of all, it’s futile to pursue happiness and avoid suffering. Secondly and most importantly, it turns our eyes from the future, from the promises of Christ and onto our broken instincts that lead us to do things unnatural, unreasonable, even harmful to ourselves and others. Following the allure of happiness for the sake of happiness and avoiding suffering at all costs leads us away from God and one another! Most terrible events of our world are the result of someone who had a plan for happiness and the avoidance of suffering.

Sadly, Christian churches have bought into the American dream as being the same as God’s dream. We market happy pastors and happy congregations swaying to happy singers. I get it. I would love to tell people that being a Christian means everything will go right in your life. I would love to tell people that God wants them to be happy no matter what. If you come to my church, your marriage will be fixed, your kids won’t do drugs, and your career will be a success. We offer 7, 10, 40 step programs to finding happiness. When something bad happens, we talk as if it’s an obstacle. We decry persecution as if it shouldn’t happen. We even establish offices in D.C. to make sure no Christian should ever have to suffer for the faith. Meanwhile, we avoid the poor, the hungry and the mourning as if they are an exception to the rule. Surely God doesn’t want you to feel bad. 

If the goal of the Church is to make people happy here and now, what’s the point of going to church? Paul’s words, not mine. People have discovered they can be that kind of happy without having to listen to cheesy music or wake up at 6 a.m. on Sunday!

Notice Jesus never hangs out with people who are happy here and now. He hangs out with people who were very unhappy. He only hung out with people who knew suffering, who had run out of hopes for green grass, who couldn’t pretend any longer that they weren’t a sinner, who were poor, hungry, and mourning. They were empty. They were suffering.

Only sufferers experienced heard Jesus say, “Pick up your mat!” Only the dead heard him say, “Lazarus, come out.” Only sinners heard Him say, “You are forgiven.” Oh, God does want you to be happy! That’s why suffering can be the best thing to happen to us. When everything else is robbed of us, we cling all the more to His promise that a new day is coming when there will be no more suffering. Caught in sin and feeling ashamed can be the best thing to happen to us, because only then do we hear Jesus release us of our guilt and bring us back into Him.

Christ is risen. A new day is dawning and is coming. Jesus has taken away our guilt and given us the promise of resurrection. Therefore, we don’t need to always be happy in this world. We don’t need to avoid suffering as if this our only chance to live. We can put up with persecution. We can be OK when things don’t work out quite right. Because we know that one day, one day soon, everything will be OK. Christ promises to give us a true happiness and joy that no outward circumstance can take away.