Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Happiness, Holiness, Pointlessness

See what I mean? Image source.

"God doesn't want us to be happy, he wants us to be holy." I've heard that so many times within Christianity.

Basically, as Libby Anne explains in her post CTBHHM: Sweet Little Teresa’s Story, it means Christians aren't supposed to make decisions based on "will I be happy?" No, it has to be about "holiness" and "God's plan."

(Or rather, we overspiritualize our reasons for making some big life decision because our happiness is most definitely NOT a good enough reason.)

Like me when I wanted to move to China. You know, moving from the US to another country (especially a country not full of white people) is a huge thing, probably so huge and weird that no one would actually want to do it- God tells them to do it. And I prayed so much "God send me to China" until I figured out, you know, I can go because I want to go. So I did.

I'm such a rebel, right? Image source.

Let me clarify something about the "God doesn't want us to be happy, he wants us to be holy" philosophy. Back when I subscribed to that, it didn't mean that I didn't value happiness. It meant that I believe that focusing on obeying God rather than chasing short-term happiness would bring more happiness in the long run.

For example, you can't date a guy just because he makes you happy- you have to pray and get God's permission, and you can only date the guy if it's God's plan. Because, if you don't follow God's plan, you'll be happy at first but in the long run it will be way worse.

In God's plan, maybe it's hard now but you are working toward a greater good, and in the end there will be a reward that makes it all worth it.

So I thought.

Of course it's true sometimes. But what happens when you just wait and wait, continue to be strong for God, be pure and no one seems to notice, dress modest and no one seems to care... just wait and trust God... what then?

Image source.

And I'll conclude this post by telling a story. Back in college, I used to hang out at this fraternity house, because a lot of my friends were members. (Don't think stereotypical wild parties and drinking, think a bunch of nerdy guys staring at their computers or playing board games.)

Back then, I was really into purity culture, which meant doing my absolute best to not be attracted to guys- to squash all those feelings. But sometimes, late at night, hanging out with the brothers there, I'd start to feel a bit of attraction, like oh I want to go kiss that guy or sit on his lap. Basically lust.

And it was fun to play with those ideas in my mind a little- but hey, it's wrong, according to purity culture. And it's probably a slippery slope- you know, at one moment you're lusting, and next thing you know you're having sex and are therefore broken and impure and you HAVE NO IDEA how it happened, but see, that's because we all have a sinful nature and you can't toy around with lust for even a moment because it's so dangerous.

So whenever the lust happened, I would get myself out of that situation fast. I'd go to another room where I wouldn't feel any sexual tension. But man, that was hard. It was so hard to leave.

And you know what kept me going? The idea that God could see what I did, that God knew I had made the tough decision to do the right thing. I had placed obedience to God above temporary pleasure. And God cared. It mattered.

Image source.

And now I wonder, did it matter?

I don't believe in purity culture anymore. And all that stuff that happened back then- I don't really know how to understand it anymore. Did I do the right thing? Was that actually lust? Was it actually dangerous? What would have happened if I had stayed, all those times when I felt "lust"? I no longer think it's possible to accidentally have sex with someone...

Did God care? Does anyone care? Did it actually matter?


  1. I've been thinking about this too. I don't have any problem with the idea that holiness takes precedence over happiness when the two actually conflict. For example, looking past the suffering of others, creating a bubble around myself where I can minimize my exposure to the reality that people are struggling...well, it tends to make me happier. I can focus on the good things around me and avoid facing the brokenness of the world. While this might work as a temporary survival strategy in times of crisis, I don't think it's ultimately a good way of approaching the world. Holiness (in this case, loving those who struggle) is more important than feeling happy all the time.

    Where I get caught up is when I start feeling like feeling sad, on its own, is somehow more holy than feeling happy. Being in a happy relationship feels a little suspect, like I'm choosing pleasure/this person over God, whereas loneliness feels noble and tragic. I wasn't raised in a culture that was adamant about "purity", but some of the ideas seem to have rubbed off anyway. I also have the problem that dating a non-Christian also seems suspect, but I know very few progressive Christians my age and wouldn't be interested in the conservative ones. I bring this up because it's another idea pushing me in the direction of "maybe I should just be single indefinitely", which seems odd because I do want to be in a relationship and don't feel called to celibacy.

    I've really enjoyed reading your blog and hope for some good conversations in the future! Thanks!

  2. Well said. It makes sense that sometimes we have to give up temporary happiness because of a greater good- but somehow that gets twisted into this idea that unhappiness is more godly.

  3. I don't think sexual attraction is the same thing as lust. I think lust, as Christ used the term, definitely included the idea of intent. The preposition in "look at a woman to lust after her" actually should be translated "in order to lust after her." It's the same wording Jesus uses in the same teaching when he says "don't give/pray to [in order to] be seen by people."