When I pause for a minute to ask my self what I really want in life, my unedited first response is . . . well, embarrassing. I want to be happy, and my shallow definition of a “happy” life looks something like this: a vehicle that never breaks down, children who behave well and experience a measure of success, a maintenance-free house, and a healthy body. Now, truly, there is nothing wrong with any of these lovely things — or even with my desire for them. However, life on a fallen planet makes their simultaneous fulfillment unlikely, at best. This is why those of us who believingly follow Jesus Christ must find our way to A Different Kind of Happiness — one that does not depend upon a problem-free life.
Larry Crabb offers helpful clarification for my happiness-seeking heart by tying my understanding of happiness to the notion that happiness comes from loving others sacrificially. Because this flies in the face of our instinct for self-protection and desire for instant well-being, Larry’s argument unfolds over the course of over two hundred well-constructed and earnestly compelling pages.
We’ve long distinguished between happiness and joy, but Larry uses the words interchangeably, instead creating two helpful categories of happiness:
- “Second Thing Happiness” — which requires at least some of the things on my list in order to feel good;
- “First Thing Happiness” — which is entirely different and “develops when we struggle to love others with a costly love that is possible only if we have a life-giving relationship with Jesus that is grounded entirely in His love for us.”
Does this sound unrealistic? Does it sound as if it contradicts what we know and experience on this “narrow road that leads to life?” No one would argue with the truth that the happiness and joy that Jesus experienced in His time on this planet came from giving Himself. And only the gloomiest of theologians would argue against the notion that God is supremely happy, and that He wants to draw us into that happiness. Yet, at the same time both Old and New Testaments describe Jesus as a Man of Sorrows “and acquainted with grief.” He was a free agent, entering into suffering — and doing it on behalf of unworthy people, (Romans 5:7,8).
The good news that God draws us into involves life on a narrow road. For Larry Crabb, this has included a cancer diagnosis, ongoing treatment over a period of years, several recurrences, and now a new episode of treatment being ushered in just as he was grappling with the concepts in this book. Misery like this is just one of the symptoms of this life under the sun. However, Scripture, prayer, and a life centered around spiritual discipline offer us a glimpse of life from above the sun in which we pray for grace to relate to others in a loving way that puts Him on display no matter what our outward circumstances. Larry calls this the prayer “that God always answers.”
The jarring truth that we look for our happiness in all the wrong places is supported by two facts that sound distinctly heretical: (1)Sinful urges come from a place within us that is experienced on a deeper level than our redemption; (2)Sin delivers a pleasure that Jesus never provides.
If that’s the case, then, how is it possible to find happiness along with a life of holiness?
“In order to compete with sin’s appeal, holy desire, the longing to live a Christlike life that displays the relational beauty of Christ to others, must be rooted in faith. And that faith exists only when it is lodged in the certainty that soon it will give way to an incomparable experience of joy that will forever destroy the appeal for sin.”
The goal of Christlikeness is always a long way off, but life on the narrow road is designed to “squeeze” the unholiness out of His followers, leaving them free to follow hard after the prize of knowing God at any cost and to hate anything that obscures the reality of God’s loving presence.
The antidote to our persistent “Broad Road Thinking” is a heavy dose of the Gospel which Larry examines in the context of seven probing questions:
- Who is God? God is relational, a three-Person community of love, fully committed to the happiness of others. Even His glory is relational.
- What is God up to? He is devoting His unlimited resources to forming those who receive the gospel into disciples who relate like Jesus.
- Who are we? We are relational persons with a potential waiting to be realized, created to know joy in knowing God, with potential to put Jesus on display.
- What’s gone wrong? As a race, we’ve rejected God’s identity as “the source of all that is good.” We look elsewhere for goodness and happiness.
- What has God done about our problem? He killed His Son. Of course, this will seem of little consequence if we persist in settling for “Second Thing Happiness.”
- How is the Spirit working to implement the divine solution to our human problem? This side of heaven, “we experience the Holy Spirit’s presence most richly in our darkness and distress” and “His power most potently in our weakness and failure.”
- How can we cooperate with the Spirit’s working? By never giving up on ourselves and others; by battling for a better love and seeking to truly know one another; by giving in both word and deed.
What would happen if we threw ourselves into this battle for a better love? The happiness that Jesus experienced on this Earth coexisted beside the worst kind of anguish and suffering. It was fueled by deep and significant relationships. Truly His narrow way is the way that leads to life.
This book was provided by BakerBooks, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.
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