Holy Not Happy
Fr. Theodore Paraskevopoulos · September 14, 2010
Fr Ted explains that God is interested in our pursuit of holiness rather than our pursuit of happiness.
I am going to say something controversial today.
God does not care whether we are happy, and this is something that most of us don’t want to hear. God does not care about our happiness—and this goes against the majority of the teachings that we hear in our modern society… and you say, “Father, why does not God care about our happiness?”
God care more about us being holy than happy, and there is a great difference between being happy and being holy. What is this difference?
Happiness can come at any time. We get something that we want, we’re happy; we eat a food that we really love, we’re happy; we happen to not have any kind difficulties in our life at any given time, things are going well at work, making lots of money, bought a new house, had a little baby—things are happy. But happiness, as we know because all of us hava gone through difficult times—happiness goes very quickly.
But holiness is a completely different thing. Holiness is something we are called to be as sons and daughters of God. Now modern society would like to teach us—and we hear this unfortunately in most Christian churches—we hear what is called the “prosperity gospel”—and it is one of the worst things that general Christianity could have created. And the “prosperity gospel” basically teaches us that if we do all the right things—if we give to the right charities, we go to church at the right times, we do our crosses, we light our candles—if we do all these things then God will reward us with many, many gifts and we will have happy lives, and we will not get sick, and we will not live in poverty, and we will have success in our jobs or in anything else that we try. But as we all know, this is couldn’t be further from the truth. Because no matter how hard we try sometimes, and how difficult, and how strong are efforts are to make something happen in our lives, we know that many times bad things just happen. And we know that all of us are going to go through these things. We know that all of us are going to deal with sickness. All of us are going to deal with death. All of us are going to deal with failure. And so if we believe in this “prosperity gospel,” then our only conclusion is that “if good things don’t happen to me, and if I am not happy all the time, then either God doesn’t love me or God doesn’t exist”—and these are two that we hear mostly in the media today and amongst our friends.
But the idea that God is interested in our happiness is very much like an owner who has a pet. Some of us has dogs or other kinds of animals in their homes. And so what we do with our pets? We have a pet the pet does not fully understand, has some some kind of emotion, but the pet depends on its master to make living comfortable. And so we take care of our dogs, we pamper them and make sure they are comfortable in their lives because we care for them. And yet we are not God’s pets. We are not animals but we are sons and daughters of God. And as sons and daughters, as children of God, we are called to have a relationship with him. We are called to be something more than what we start out to be. We are called to mature and became adults in faith, not to remain as children. We are not simply God’s pets. God is not responsible for keeping our cages clean, making sure we have food, and making sure that we are comfortable
We are called to have a relationship with him, and this relationship is extremely difficult to cultivate because it requires anguish, and asceticism, and working out our own salvation amongst each other: practicing charity, practicing love for one another, especially to people that we don’t like. And these are the difficult, difficult things. We notice that, in life, this truth is evident in everything we do. In order to get anything that is really worthwhile in life—such as an education, or to build a business, or to build something such as a church or a building—someone has to agonize and slave over it, work at it. It is difficult to build something up; very easy to tear it down. Nothing comes easily in life, and nothing comes for free. And so we understand this concept when it comes to our daily lives, and yet when it comes to our spirituality, we buy into this lie that it is supposed to be easy, that God wants to make it easy for us—that we are supposed to sit back and do nothing and we will become spiritual somehow. And obviously this is illogical if we really think about it.
Perhaps we buy into this because we are so tired from our lives, we are tired with the difficulties we face, we are tired with the problems we see, and so we come to church to let down that load, to be relieved and refreshed. And this is true as well—God does refresh us, he does give us a place to lay down our load, and to find a place to lean on someone else and to forget our problems for a while. But the problem is that we can not do that always. Sure, we can stop for a while and relax, but we have to keep on working—especially when it comes to the spiritual battle that exists within our lives. Because the true relief, the true refreshment, the true rest that we have, will only come in the eternal life, and this is the time for us to work.
It is not a popular message, and this is why we see Protestant churches filled with millions and millions of people, and Orthodox churches half empty. Why? Because the true message of the Gospel is one of work, it’s one of struggle, it’s one of anguish and agony. And yet the rewards are much greater than going somewhere, having someone tell us that we are saved, that we don’t need to do anything—put our money in the basket and everything is fine. Life is not like that and neither is our spirituality.
Now that the new ecclesiastical year has begun, perhaps we can look to dedicating ourselves to becoming holy, and perhaps by that struggle we can attain some sort of eternal happiness. But we have to have our priorities on the holiness, on becoming the Christians that we claim to be on paper. This year we should look at trying to take what we say we are on paper—which is an Orthodox Christian—and attempt to match it with our actions. And then perhaps the actions that we do will match what Christ did on the Cross for us, and that is what we will be celebrating in two days, the feast day of the Holy Cross.