Does God want us to be happy?
Does God want us to be happy? How could anyone answer ‘no’? How could anyone suppose God is loving if it is not true that he wants us to be happy?
And yet look at Christ’s line in the Gospel Reading. Deny yourself, Jesus tells his faithful followers; take up your cross and follow me.
Denying yourself seems the opposite of going for happiness, doesn’t it? And the cross is an instrument of torture. Why would God want these things for his people? Does God want us to be unhappy?
A man divorcing his dowdy wife to marry a much younger, prettier woman explained his decision to his devastated wife this way: “God wants me to be happy,” he told her, “and I can’t be happy with you. I will be happy with her.”
It seems never to have crossed the mind of this man that God might have any care for the happiness of his wife. As far as his wife was concerned, the husband’s full view of the matter could be put this way: “God wants me to be happy, but God doesn’t give a damn about you.”
This little story is common in its selfishness. But we should not let our familiarity with its callous disregard for the suffering of others blind us. Whether it is these familiar evils or the terrible shocking evils we see in the news, these evils show us the sickness of the post-fall human condition. We are willing to privilege our own power or pleasure over any greater goods, even at the cost of cruelty to others.
We can’t be happy in this condition. No one can be happy whose heart has deep within it a willingness to crush others to get what he wants.
Well, then, what is to be done with us? What will make us happy? What will save us from the evil that infects us and leaves us so willing to afflict others?
This is where Christ’s cross comes into the story. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (Jn 14:6) The cross of Christ is our only route to the happiness God does want for us.
Taking up our cross with Christ is healing for our sinful condition. It is the way to life, and to true joy.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University