Immanuel Lutheran Church
Lamplighter: The Pastor's Pen

God doesn’t want you to be happy. Wait. WHAT? GOD DOESN’T WANT ME TO BE HAPPY?!?! Okay, perhaps that was a bit of an overstatement. Allow me to explain.
242 years ago this month, the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence. With it came three ideas that remain prominent in our culture: Life. Liberty. The Pursuit of Happiness. These ideas are said to be “self-evident” rights “endowed by the Creator.” Not only are these ideas foundational to the American way of thinking, but they are also assumed in popular American Christianity.

This month, let’s focus on the final idea: the pursuit of happiness. Whatever the phrase meant then, today it looks like parents telling their children, “I don’t care what choices you make in your life. I just want you to be happy.” It looks like the ‘self-help’ sections of book stores. You can find it even in religious bookstores, oftentimes filled with books guaranteeing your “best life now” or “how to be happier 7 days a week.” After all, this idea, we believe, is self-evidently endowed by God.

Is this what God actually promises us? In America, happiness itself means freedom from oppression and hardship, the opportunity to live comfortably, and, most importantly, freedom to make my own choices. However, what God promises in the Scriptures is, like it or not, quite the opposite. In fact, if you read through the New Testament, you’ll quickly get a sense of what Christians can expect in this world: tribulation. Paul, for example, is clear that the devil is scheming, along with his spiritual allies, to do everything they can to pull you away from God.

But, doesn’t God want me to be happy? Well, not in the sense that the world would have it. God doesn’t offer ‘independence.’ Instead, he encourages us to be dependent on him, reminding us that he has chosen us to be his children. Not only that, but we have been called into the Body of Christ. You are not your own. God has, in fact, called you out of the world – with all its desires, false promises, and craftiness – away from the desires of your flesh into a new and lasting unity with him. “I urge you,” Paul writes, “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6). God calls us to live lives that look much different from those of the world. After all, if Jesus is Lord, then those in the world are not. The battle we face, then, is not against flesh and blood, but against the devil, the world, and our own sinful natures.

Beginning in the middle of July, our Epistle readings will take us through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. As we hear the words he dictated almost 2,000 years ago, we will be reminded who we really are. We are not independent entities out for our own pleasure, our own freedom, or our own lives. No, God doesn’t want you to be ‘happy.’ He wants something much better for you, something that will last for eternity. He wants you be full of true contentment and peace, peace which can be found only in his Son Jesus Christ, who was willing to give up everything for our sake. To him alone be all glory, honor, and praise, now and forever.

Pastor Squire