I can’t imagine this will come as a surprise to you, but the Bible is one very, very flexible tool. You can use it to help you with just about any sort of project. If you dig diligently enough, for example, you can even find instructions for selling your daughter into slavery. In fact, there are loads of ‘sites hosted by atheists and non-believers that are dedicated to the project of spotlighting all the ‘hard verses’ in the sacred texts.
The lesson I’ve learned from the scoffers and the cynics is that the scriptures are not only a useful aid to the folks who want to learn to be good — they’re an excellent tool for the folks who want to be as bad as they can possibly be. Does this trouble you? I hope it doesn’t. Like everything else in life, you only find in the Bible what you’re looking for. In this regard it serves as a sort of spiritual Rorschach Test. Non-believers don’t make me devalue my opinion of scripture when they start quoting it back to me, but they do make me question what, exactly, they’re looking for.
When I’m reading the Bible or, frankly, when I’m doing practically anything, my primary aim is to find happiness. I’m looking for joy, and contentment, and satisfaction, and delight, and pleasure, and ecstasy, and meaning, and purpose. Happiness. Happy, happy happiness! In other words, I’m looking to know God, to see God’s face. I agree with Philip who said, “Show us the Father and that will be sufficient.” (Jn. 14, 8) Yeah, that’s it, sufficiency. I want to get my fill.
Fortunately, the Bible gives directions to people like me who are looking to become happy. “How happy,” Jesus told us, “How fortunate, how blessed are you who mourn — for you shall be comforted.” (Mt. 5, 4) Well, that’s pretty clear. You’ve got to pay your dues to sing the blues, and you’ve got to sing the blues before you can sing in the sunshine. How come nobody else points that out? When you ask around, the advice you get about finding happiness centers around finding an appealing mate, and salting away funds for financial security. The happiness gurus tell you to live a long, stress-free life, and to remain healthy. Work is key. The happy people are the ones with really good jobs that ‘actualize’ thier potential. You’ll want family, too — a functional family. It’s a good idea to have regular vacations and maybe you should have a hobby; wouldn’t be a bad idea to finish your vegetables, either.
People are eager to put happiness advice into practice — but most aren’t too eager to try out the “mourning” strategy. I suppose I’m not a lot different than most, and I’ve always been wary about this particular suggestion, but I was also intrigued. I mean, Jesus had to have had something in mind. Well, there’s a saying about curiosity and cats and I suppose the saying applies because a few months ago I started praying about the blessedness of mourning and since that time I’ve had to endure the distress of watching first my mother and then my wife enter into a life-and-death battle with a major illness.
I suppose it’s time for me to pray the “Why, Lord, why?” prayer.
Let me share with you an insight I’ve been kicking around in my mind recently: “The less you care, the less you cry.” My mother’s long stay in the hospital saddens me only because I care about her. I’m on edge about my wife’s recovery because I love her. In her current vulnerability, I come to love her more each day; but that only serves to make me edgier. So, when does it get ‘happy’?
Eastern philosophers have long known that desire is the root of suffering. Each of us suffers. Desire, no doubt, is in the mix. More emphatically, Jesus himself suffers. In fact we know him to be “The Suffering Servant”. Great suffering results from great desire. Our God is a god of desire. God desires us! God desires us greatly. God himself is “in the mix”.
Love teaches me to suffer when those I love are suffering. God loves even more, so God suffers even more. Some claim that God looks at things ‘from a distance’. That hasn’t been my experience. From what I’ve seen, God is forever hurrying to get close up — to get right into the action. God is in the mix and I’m coming to see that He’s calling me into the mix as well.
We live in an ever-changing, chronically imperfect, ultimately mortal universe. It’s the universe God created and I’m kind of thinking He knew what He was doing when he established the design specs. In this world, to care is to know heartbreak. Mourning is inevitable for those who love. My only defense against mourning is the rejection of God’s world, the rejection of the life I’ve been given, the rejection of the moment I find myself in.
As hard as it is to believe, the very source of joy embraces the world He’s created, knowing that grief is part of the deal. If there is a mourning that is ‘blessed’ it’s the mourning God Himself takes on to love the ones he desires, to love each one of us — to love you, to love my mother, to love my wife and even to love me.
Even in the midst of difficulty I have God’s promise of consolation, God’s promise of comfort.
And that, I suppose, will be “sufficient”.