Our Goal in Life is Really, Truly to be Happy

Barna’s people find such a statement depressing:

While focusing on career data and a shifting workforce, Barna’s vocation project found something troubling in the church, Christians are pursuing happiness instead of Christ.

“It’s not a sustaining framework to just chase after happiness, that’s so circumstantial,” said Dr. Stephanie Shackelford, author of You on Purpose.

“I think what is interesting is practicing Christians are even more likely to chase after happiness [than non-Christians] as their primary aim.”

I find it disturbing that many Christians are offended by the idea that people want to be happy. These people make it an “either/or” proposition: you pursue Jesus Christ or you pursue happiness. But the great Bossuet, living in a century of war, disease and famine, knew that this is a false dichotomy:

Man’s chief aim in life is to be happy. Our Lord Jesus Christ came into this world in order to give us the means of attaining this happiness. To find happiness where it should be found is the source of all good, and the source of all evil is to find it where it should not be found. Let us say then, “I wish to be happy.” Let us also see the goal where happiness is found, and the means to attain it.

Bossuet, Meditations on the Gospel

Our true happiness is to be found in Jesus Christ. Churches and “traditions” that emphasise that we can be happy when we find Jesus Christ, and whose church life is organised to make that fulfilment tangible, will do better in meeting people’s needs. As I look around, the only churches really oriented to make that a reality are those in modern Pentecost. As long as that is the case, they will continue to grow.

Winning the Lost is Better Than Counting Them

Recently I commented on a post by Dr. Larry Chapp on his back and forth with Ralph Martin on the number of people who will end up in Hell. My response to this was as follows, from Bossuet’s Elevations:

As far as the number of people who are going to Hell, probably the best response comes from the great Bossuet, Elevations on the Mysteries, XVI ,5:

“It is commonly believed that there were three, because of the three presents which they offered. The Church does not say and why does it matter to us to know? It is enough that we know that they were of a number known to God, of the few, of the little flock that God chooses. Look at the vast expanse of the Orient and that of the whole universe. God first calls only this small number; and, when the number of those who serve him is increased, this number, though great in itself, will be small in comparison with the infinite number of those who perish. Why? O man! Who are you, to question God and ask the reason for his advice? Take advantage of the grace offered to you, and leave to God the knowledge of his counsels and the causes of his judgments. You are tempted to disbelief at the sight of the few who have been saved, and you quickly reject the remedy presented to you. Like a foolish patient who, in a large hospital where a doctor would come to him with an infallible remedy, instead of abandoning himself to his direction, he would look to the right and left what he would do with others. Unhappy man, think of your salvation, without showing off your crazy and prideful curiosity over the rest of the sick. Did the Magi say in their hearts: let us not go, because why also does not God call all men? They went, they saw, they worshipped, they offered their presents: they were saved.”

To which Dr. Chapp replied:

If I believed that to be a true expression of Christian Revelation, I would cease being a Christian.

My reaction to that: “Huh?”

You learn very early online that people not understanding something doesn’t stop them from responding to it, and vehemently in many cases. I try to avoid that but sometimes my responders/trolls get the best of me. Let’s see if we can make this best of this mystery.

First, if Dr. Chapp were more familiar with Ralph Martin and the whole Catholic Charismatic Renewal, he would have more ammo to make his own response. Martin’s idea that most people go to Hell is a piece with the remnant theology that dominated the Renewal. It led to the covenant communities and ultimately to the Sword of the Spirit, which Martin himself, realizing that they were over the top, fell out with. I’ve come back at Martin myself and won’t go further with that.

Second, the whole debate over the number who will end up in Hell is one of the most distasteful parlor games in all Christianity, especially when it’s applied individually. God only knows this. It is impossible for limited, finite creatures to have this knowledge. That’s doubtless for the best, I don’t think that we could be trusted with this information. In that respect it’s on par with the Reformed concept of election and knowing the signs thereof.

At this point I’m tempted to say that we have a point-of-view issue. My experience tells me that, with seminary academics and those trained by same, that’s a sure way of getting them to go postal on you. Irrespective of their theological framework, be it rigidly traditional (no matter what tradition you’re talking about) or whether they have drunk from the dregs of modern or post-modern thought, they’re like the fundies: their way is God’s way, and woe to the person who challenges them on that.

But that’s what we’re dealing with here. Chapp and Martin debate the number of people going to Hell; Bossuet deflects our attention from that question towards “What are you going to do about your eternal destiny?” Bossuet is not an original thinker, but he’s capable of distilling some very complex theology into a simple format, as he does in the earlier Elevations. In this case, however, he’s more in a pastoral and soul winning frame of reference. This may be alien to Chapp’s view of things, but it is what it is.

In some ways, it’s like the difference between engineers and scientists. Scientists seek to understand how things work as they are; engineers seek to use that knowledge to fix things and solve problems. Chapp is trying to take the former course, but as you might expect I prefer the latter.

And by the way, what are you doing to do about your eternal destiny?

“I did not take pen in hand to teach you the thoughts of men…”

It’s one of Bossuet’s most famous quotations, and in my opinion his best. It comes from his discussion of the nature of the Magi, some of which is here:

The Magi, are they absolute kings or dependent on a greater empire? or are they only great lords, which gave them the name of kings, according to the custom of their country? Or are they only sages, philosophers, the arbiters of religion in the empire of the Persians or, as it was called then, in that of the Parthians, or in some part of this empire which extended by all the East? Do you think I am going to resolve these doubts and satisfy your curious desires? You are wrong; I did not take pen in hand to teach you the thoughts of men; I will only tell you that they were the scholars of their country, observers of the stars, whom God takes by their attraction, rich and powerful, as their presents make it appear; if they were among those who presided over religion, God had made himself known to them, and they had renounced the worship of their country.

Bossuet, Elevations on the Mysteries, XVI, 3

Elevations on the Birth of Jesus Christ

This is a “well worn” path for the Christmas season. In addition to that, there are two distinctly Catholic (well, at least one) themes that Bossuet explores: the perpetual virginity of Mary and the poverty of Jesus as an example to his followers. The elevations here are as follows: Elevations on the Birth of Jesus […]

Elevations on the Birth of Jesus Christ

Elevations on the effects which the Incarnate Word produces on men immediately after his Incarnation

These elevations concern Mary’s visitation to her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. It includes an exposition of Mary’s canticle the Magnificat, shown below. The elevations are as follows: Elevations on the effects which the Incarnate Word produces on men immediately after his Incarnation: 1, Mary goes to visit Saint Elizabeth. Elevations on […]

Elevations on the effects which the Incarnate Word produces on men immediately after his Incarnation

Elevations on the Conception of the Word

These elevations are primarily about the conception of Jesus Christ in Mary, and as such is an exposition of Bossuet’s idea of Mary’s role. But it’s also a theological tour de force: Bossuet turns his elevations on Our Lord’s human beginning into an emotional panegyric of his divine, eternal origin. One of the best examples […]

Elevations on the Conception of the Word

A Good Place for Lent

Over the years, I’ve noticed that some people take a break for Lent on social media.  Some of that is to avoid the dumpster fire that social media is and has been for a long time, and that’s understandable.  On the flip side, some want to take a break from putting out content and concentrating on what they’re supposed to be concentrating on.

I’ve always had trouble doing that, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that stuff happens during Lent and some of it needs to be commented upon.  (Some doesn’t.)  But I think the best thing to do is to put out stuff that is edifying, uplifting and makes for introspection.  The one site that I can guarantee does that all year around is the Bossuet Project.  The heart of the project is translating Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries and, in addition to the elevations already there, during Lent this year I’ll be putting up “Elevations on Prophecies,” which deal with the subject in the Old Testament and how it relates to the new.

You can subscribe to the Bossuet Project by clicking the link on the right hand side of any page.  Blessings!

Getting Past Bread: A Holy Week Reflection — The Bossuet Project

I have an Iranian office mate. My contact with the Iranians has been educational in my understanding of the Scriptures. One thing he’s really big on is bread. One time we went to a bakery where he brought a loaf of sourdough bread, which he consumed in its entirety–in one sitting. I bring bread from […]

via Getting Past Bread: A Holy Week Reflection — The Bossuet Project