Monday, March 6, 2017

Unhappy with Happiness

I think I've become a grinch.  How could anyone dislike a book called Happiness, particularly when the author is Randy Alcorn?  What makes my discomfort even weirder is that I agree with almost everything in the book.  No matter how hard I try to pin down my objections, they remain just out of sight, like tiny splinters in your finger that you sense only when you brush your hand a certain way on your pants.

Happiness is long, and massively researched.  Much the same as he did with Heaven, Alcorn has written a definitive work on the subject.  In some ways I found the length exhausting; I did not require as much proof and nuance as Alcorn provides.  But for people more critical of his main points, perhaps the additional documentation would be helpful.  And I know that for people in the midst of depression, long books with short chapters (like this one) can be a wonderful source of warmth and encouragement.

Much of the length is due to quotes from other authors' writings about happiness.  Many of these are from Puritans, my favorite genre!

I like Alcorn's main message, which is that "God wants you to be holy, not happy" creates a false and dangerous dichotomy.  When we attempt to obey God out of duty, and think that affections for God are unnecessary, we are on the track for moral collapse.  We must and we can find supreme happiness in Jesus. 

But in his attempt to encourage Christians to become a people known for happiness, I fear that Alcorn spends too much energy encouraging them to pursue happiness through what I regard as side-eddies, rather than heading straight for the Fountain.  Why spend so much ink trying to find Biblical evidence that Jesus laughed, that God is playful, that we might ride bicycles in heaven, when God's grander joys are clearly laid out for us in Scripture?

He quotes with approval from Robert Hotchkins:

"[Christians] ought to be preoccupied with parties, banquets, feasts, and merriment.  We ought to give ourselves over to celebrations of joy because we have been liberated from the fear of life and the fear of death."  (102)  It is the word preoccupied in that paragraph which I particularly take issue with.  It seems to leave no room for fasting, for sobriety, for warfare, which will also all be a part of the Christian's life until Christ's return.

On the same page, Alcorn himself suggests:

"A feast of Saint Francis, in which churches invite the community to celebrate animals in a way that's God honoring, not pantheistic, could be a joyful and powerful outreach to people who otherwise would never connect with a church."  (102)

The attempts to find reason to believe pets will be restored to us in heaven comes up again:

"We needn't be embarrassed either to grieve the loss of our pets or to want to see them again.  If we believe God created them, that he loves us and them, and that he intends to restores his creatures from the bondage they experienced because of our sin, then we have biblical grounds for not only wanting but expecting we may be happy with them again on the New Earth."  (404-405)

I could cite more examples, but it would be tedious for both you and me.

In summary, Alcorn's book combined some beautiful truths in an imbalanced package, which made it impossible for me to truly enjoy.  The reader must keep his tweezers ever present.  If you want to read a book that will truly stoke your happiness with massive, grand truths, I recommend John Piper's The Pleasures of God.