Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Suffering and Happiness

'For the Lord disciplines those he loves and scourges every son he receives' Hebrews 12:6.

 'Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline' Revelation 3:19

There is the idea that once you adopt a spiritual perspective your life will improve and you will be happier and more fulfilled, maybe even eventually reaching some kind of enlightened state in this world. This is a dangerous illusion that can lead to individuals abandoning the path or taking to it for the wrong reasons and therefore making no progress.

For the fact is that the spiritual path has to do with purging the sinner of his sins or stripping the ego of its egotism, and this is not a pleasant process. You might consider that if you are happier in your outer self as a result of adopting a spiritual mode of being or 'lifestyle' you could very well be on the wrong track completely. For spirituality is not a therapy designed to make you feel better. It is a way of transformation that requires, as any transformation from one state to another must, sacrifice and renunciation, and sacrifice and renunciation are not made without suffering.

Beliefs adopted from New Age or Eastern sources tend to obscure the fact that this world is a training ground for the next. Consequently happiness in this world is not the goal of the spiritual life. That remains, as it is in traditional Christianity, to make one fit for the true life in a higher world. The rewards of the spiritual life are in the next life not this one which is an arena for purification and testing which goes on until death, particularly in the more advanced cases as one can plainly see in the lives of the saints.

Certainly saints are often marked out by their attitude of joy and cheerfulness. No one likes a miserable saint.  But this is because of their acceptance of God's will. It is not because they are happy on a personal level. Indeed, one often finds that the live of saints are full of personal hardship and suffering. Their love of God and spiritual dedication does not lead to rewards so much as trials and tribulations.

This might seem a rather inappropriate post for the Christmas period but forgive me if I seek to strip away the fake joy that goes with a modern irreligious Christmas. Christmas is about truth, and the greater truth that exists beyond the transient joys of this world. We can only be fit for that truth when the falsehood within ourselves is stripped away, and that does require the discipline mentioned in the opening quotations from scripture.

So I hope you had a happy Christmas. But if you didn't particularly enjoy yourself you might comfort yourself with the thought that God chastises those whom he loves. But the only reason he does so is that they may turn more and more to him since it is only in him that our true and lasting happiness lies.

Real happiness lies not in pleasure and enjoyment but listening to the word of God and doing his will.


Anonymous said...

"Real happiness lies not in pleasure and enjoyment but listening to the word of God and doing his will."

It seems as if you are saying that "pleasure and enjoyment" are something apart from God's will. I would say that true, or valid, "pleasure and enjoyment" are to be found in doing God's will.

I found this short piece useful, on whether God wants me to be "happy or holy",


William Wildblood said...

There's nothing wrong with pleasure and enjoyment when they come just as suffering is not good in itself. But if you seek worldly happiness above following the path of spiritual truth then you are on the wrong track. It's a question of where your priorities lie, in self or God.

Kirk Forlatt said...

Excellent post, William. As always happens when I read your work, I had to pause several times and chew over the points you made.

One thing I have become very aware of lately is that for most of my life, I have been unconsciously seeking to either avoid suffering or to convince myself that a particular situation really isn't suffering after all. But a liberating perspective I have recently begun to acquire is to actively, deliberately embrace suffering, both out of love for my Father and out of a desire to learn all I can in this life.

My lifelong mistake was to expend countless emotional and spiritual calories in dodging, sidestepping, and avoiding suffering...and on the occasions when I couldn't avoid it, to call suffering something other than what it was.

Suffering WILL come, especially to those who fervently desire to know God and to walk the path He would have us walk. To embrace is it liberating. The act of embracing does not lessen the pain of the suffering, but the perspective transforms it from an onerous burden into a holy act.

Thank you again, so very much, for thinking so deeply and writing so generously.

William Wildblood said...

Thanks for your comment, Kirk. It might interest you to know that I too have sometimes tried to dodge the bullet. It takes a certain detachment to understand that sometimes the bullet is there to do you good. Not that that is a reason to seek suffering of itself because that would be the ego. Happiness is certainly better than suffering but it may not be so educational.

Anonymous said...

Some quotes to aid reflection.

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”
2 Corinthians 4:8–9

“through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God”
Acts 14:22

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”.
Galatians 6:2

“This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:17–18

“comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
2 Corinthians 1:4

William Wildblood said...

Good quotes. Thanks for adding them.