Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Breakfast Conversation (II)

I've been mulling over another part of the breakfast conversation.

My friend said, more than once, "All you can really do in this life is choose whether to be happy."
Or something to that effect.

I don't believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. Happiness is a nice side effect, and one that probably a majority of Americans experience much of the time.

Of course, a lot depends upon how you define happiness. But I think it's safe to say that in a world filled with wars, violence, starvation, deprivation, and disease, an awful lot of people do not find happiness in any conventional sense of the word.

The Presbyterian Church teaches that our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. The Catholic Church, that it is to know and love God. My friend St. Ignatius, that it is to praise, reverence, and serve God, or (in more contemporary language), to live with God forever.

Thus those of you who are not religious and from time to time dismiss faith as a crutch or a false source of comfort might see that the purpose of our lives, as stated in major Christian creeds and confessions, is often at odds with comfort.

I can assure you that is not much of an opiate to be told, in the face of the loss of a child, that glorifying God is the chief end of your life.

But as I see it, to say that the point of life is "to be happy" renders our existence virtually pointless, while the alternative, "to know God," offers us dignity and significance.
If all that is available to me in the face of the death of my child is "to choose happiness" ~ well, that seems to me to represent the epitome of triviality. However, if knowledge of God ~ which would also mean knowledge of love, knowledge of ways to remain present to those I care for, knowledge of my life having some purpose ~ remains a possibility, then there is a point to life.

I'm not saying it's easy. And I'm not saying we should seek out misery for ourselves, or view life as a grim narrative of pointless toil or senseless suffering.

But the hard reality is that to know God in the context of Christianity is to know sorrow.

It might seem, then, that it would only make sense to choose the pursuit of happiness over the pursuit of knowledge of God.

But really ~ if the choice were placed in the stark relief drawn by the worst kind of scenario, would you choose trivia over dignity and value? And perhaps it is in choosing the latter that genuine happiness lies.


(Cross-posted at Desert Year.)


Quotidian Grace said...

What a profound post, GG. Thank you.

Stratoz said...

I see choosing God has brought me into a life filled with Joy, Hope... and Sadness, Despair...

a full life I had not truly experienced.

not to say there are not other paths to a full life, I just happened to find it when I chose to walk with God.

Waking Heart (WH) said...

Interesting the statment "The Presbyterian Church teaches that our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. The Catholic Church, that it is to know and love God" contrasted to what my understanding of the "purpose" to the practice Buddhism - to relieve the suffering of all living beings. At least that's how I understand Buddhism, but I am neither a Buddhist nor a religion expert.

I am much more comfortable with a horizontal view than a vertical one - one reason organized religion hasn't offered me much. What I find beautiful in Buddhism is the extension of compassion to all living beings, not just the two-leggeds. This resonates well with me, as one who finds a connection with nature as essential to my life as oxygen. I can find more purpose in this than what the churched I was raised in taught me.


RevDrKate said...

I had a client tell me yesterday that he knew at age ten that life was going to be "hard and painful and never make sense" and that nothing that has happened since has changed his mind. I was silent. I have you to thank for that.

Jim said...

You could preach this in "my" church any day. In fact, you may have just inspired my next visit to the Youth Detention Center...

Melissa said...

I was raised with the message that I wasn't put on this earth to be happy. Finally at about age 40 I rejected that. I'm now 51 and the past 11 years have been spent searching for the purpose of life. I am far from figuring it out, but I do know that love was the purpose. I know that God is love and no one on earth has the the answers to the questions that we all seek. The answers are inside of us, where God lives and we will all find different answers. And I really beieve that God is okay with that. That's what grace is all about. At least for me.