Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount, which we started looking at in last week’s sermon, with the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in heart… Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the peacemakers,” etc. Another word for “blessed” is happy—specifically, to be made deeply happy by God. Indeed, a few modern translations substitute the word “happy” for “blessed”—no doubt because translators perceive that “blessed” has an old-fashioned ring to it.
But I still like “blessed.” In fact, I like the recent phenomenon of being wished a “blessed day” rather than a “nice day”—because it reminds me where true happiness comes from.
My point is, God wants us to be truly and deeply happy. He wants us to be blessed.
Yet, as we turn our attention to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, it can often seem as if God were trying to thwart happiness at every turn. Jesus makes a series of seemingly impossible (or literally impossible) demands on every aspect of our lives. (We’ll look at one of those demands this week.) If we buy into our culture’s idea that being happy is a matter of “getting in touch with ourselves,” of “being who we truly are,” Jesus’ sermon will feel like a splash of cold water.
Why is God so demanding, so uncompromising, when it comes to telling us how to live?
In a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves, C.S. Lewis shares the following parable (h/t Trevin Wax), which can shed light on the answer:
Supposing you are taking a dog on a lead through a turnstile or past a post. You know what happens (apart from his usual ceremonies in passing a post!). He tries to go to the wrong side and gets his head looped round the post. You see that he can’t do it, and therefore pull him back. You pull him back because you want to enable him to go forward. He wants exactly the same thing—namely to go forward: for that very reason he resists your pull back, or, if he is an obedient dog, yields to it reluctantly as a matter of duty which seems to him to be quite in opposition to his own will: though in fact it is only by yielding to you that he will ever succeed in getting where he wants.
In this parable, the dog and its owner both want the same thing: to move forward. Likewise, we want the same thing that God wants for us: to be happy. Like the dog in the parable, we don’t know how to make that happen. And in our misguided efforts to do so, we get ourselves tangled up. This is what the Bible describes as sin. God, however, knows how to untangle us and get us moving in the right direction. But even this is an understatement, considering that the intellectual distance between us and God is infinitely greater than the intellectual distance between a dog and its owner.
Do we believe that God knows what’s best for us? If we say we do, are we living in a way that’s consistent with this belief? If not, what changes do we need to make?
Ask the Holy Spirit to identify and give you power to make those changes.