A false dichotomy involves a situation where only two options–often extremes–seem available when, in fact, at least one other option exists. Sometimes false dichotomies are used as a tactic to win an argument. And sometimes we adopt false dichotomies accidentally, not realizing we have painted ourself into a corner that isn’t really a corner. An example of a false dichotomy might be: “People either love Aerosmith, or they hate Aerosmith. Actually, there are more than the two options of love and hate: some people may find the band mildly enjoyable while others might find them slightly annoying.
One issue that we Christians often apply a false dichotomy to is our own happiness. We tell ourselves something like this: “I have two options in life. I can either choose to glorify God or I can choose to be happy.” There we have a big ol’ false dichotomy. We erroneously believe that there are only two options there. What’s it gonna be? God’s glory? Or my happiness?
Fortunately, the church has been blessed with brilliant-minded men and women who can see through our foggy thinking and shine some light on our dullness. One such man seems to be Puritan David Clarkson.
I have never read anything by David Clarkson. I’m only able to reference him because of a quotation in a book I read this week. On a side note, the book is called The Joy Project and it is written by Desiring God staff-writer Tony Reinke. It is a wonderful book, available for free at desiringgod.org, and is highly recommended by many people including me. Check it out. But back to David Clarkson.
The quotation by Clarkson reveals the glaringly credulous mistake made by those of us who think our happiness and God’s glory are at odds. Clarkson declares,
The Lord aims at his own glory and our happiness, and we aim at his glory and our happiness. And though he may seem more to seek his glory than our happiness, and we may fear we seek our happiness more than his glory, yet indeed these two are inseparable and almost coincident. That which advances his glory promotes our happiness, and that which makes us most happy makes him most glorious. Wisdom and mercy have made a sweet connection between his honor and our happiness, so that they cannot be disjoined. We need no more fear to come short of happiness than we need to fear that the Lord will come short of his glory, for these two are embarked together.
That is some puritan-esque de-false-dichotomizing of the fallacy we sometimes arrive at when contemplating our happiness and God’s glory.
God’s glory and our joy, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us, is of primary importance when we consider man’s chief end: “Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” And rightly so. My upcoming sermon, on Malachi 1:6-2:9, is one of a myriad of Scripture passages one could point to in order to prove that God’s glory is the point of everything created. But it is wonderful to think that God, who loves us and delights in us, has not protected and promoted his glory at the expense of our happiness. Rather, in his loving and faithful way he has ensured our happiness as we pursue his glory. Take that false dichotomy!
This whole God’s-glory-our-happiness issue will come to a consummating crescendo when Christ returns and in seeing him, we behold his glory, are glorified, and are enraptured in total and utter happiness. Then, free from sin (and feeble thinking that results in false dichotomies), we will rejoice in the glory of God. Until then, let’s glorify God and be happy.