First posted January 20, 2009:
Last year I had an interesting question posed to me by a good friend. It went something like this: Would you rather have your children do what is right or be happy? Without hesitation I responded that I would rather them do the right thing even if it meant them being miserable. Hands down. And my answer to that question has not changed. I would prefer them to do the what's right, honourable, honest, selfless, and God-fearing and be unhappy than to do what is wrong, or not know the difference between right and wrong, and be happy. But, there is a problem here isn't there? The problem is with the question. The question is a case of a false dichotomy. A false dichotomy is "a situation in which two alternative points of view are presented as the only options, whereas others are available".
The question makes it sound like you have two options:
- Do what is right and be miserable.
- Do whatever you want and be happy
But there is another option. There is the option of doing what is right AND being happy. Isn't that what the beatitudes are all about? The beatitudes begin with "Blessed are" and are followed by an action or a state of being which is "right". However, most of the actions or states of being would be considered unhappy situations by most in our society; poor in spirit, mourning, meek, desiring righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker, persecuted. Other than pure and peacemaker, most of that list would be undesirable in our culture. But the "blessed" in "blessed are" is defined in my ESV Study Bible as "more than a temporary or circumstantial feeling of happiness, this is a state of well-being in relationship to God". That sounds like REALLY happy to me. So, Jesus says that doing what is right can be a condition of being truly happy. And happiness and righteousness are not in conflict. And that is what I want for my children; to do what is right and be truly happy (blessed).
Let's take it one step further. I am currently re-reading Desiring God by John Piper. Piper accurately proposes that in the church there is a "widespread notion that high moral acts must be free from self-interest" (p99) and that "the virtue of an act diminishes to the degree you enjoy doing it and that doing something because it yields happiness is bad." (p100) Piper disagrees with these notions and contends that "it is not a bad thing to desire our own good. In fact, the great problem of human beings is that they are far too easily pleased. They don't seek pleasure with nearly the resolve and passion that they should." (p20) He makes it clear: "Our mistake lies not in the intensity of our desire for happiness, but in the weakness of it." (p20) Piper, if I'm reading him accurately, is suggesting that we should do what is right because it makes us happy in Him.
So, we went from doing what's right or be happy to doing what's right and being happy to doing what's right because it makes us happy in Him. I'm happy with that.