“Both happiness and God are supreme goodness, so that it follows that supreme happiness is identical with supreme divinity. There could scarcely be a conclusion more true to reality, or more sure in its reasoning, or more worthy of God.” -Boethius
A minister of joy.
An ambassador for blessedness.
A citizen in the kingdom of mirth.
This is the identity of the people of God. The God of Heaven is a God whose very nature subsists in blessedness, and a divine happiness ought to be a defining characteristic of those who are redeemed in His name. As I spend this summer living a life of full-time mission and evangelism, I am naturally called to reflect on the soul of the message that I preach. What is the essence of the gospel? How should the content of my good news affect the way that I carry it?
As I’ve travelled around Europe and Latvia as a minister of the gospel, I’ve also been reading Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. It’s fascinating to read philosophy and theology while actively walking out a life rooted in such concepts. As much as I love a good library, philosophy is better read in the thick of real life, where the wonderings of the human mind cannot be divorced from the pressing reality of human activity.
One of Boethius’ central assertions is that God Himself is the substance of true Goodness, and that goodness is equivalent to genuine happiness. By this token, then, God is the substance of happiness. It’s easy to reduce such logical claims to mere pointless mind games, but there’s a much deeper and more practical truth to be found in this idea. It’s not merely an interesting thought; it’s a pragmatically groundbreaking truth. If the God in whom we have our being, and for whom we proclaim the gospel, is the essense of that ever-elusive happiness for which human beings endlessly toil, then we carry the answer to a question that every man and woman is asking. We come with not only the hope of salvation from sin, but the path to that very Good which people spend their lives searching for.
Last Friday, I had the opportunity to deliver a message to the youth here in Ogre, Latvia. As I prepared my talk, I thought about the greatest problems facing youth in this small nation. All though there are all manner of trials– broken families, alcoholism, poverty, and more– the pain which stuck out to me the most was the pervading pessimism which is so tragically common here. Young people can so often be broken by their circumstances and the state of their small and oft-forgotten country, and lose the bright-eyed optimism of youth. I decided to build my message around this very issue, speaking on the powerful hope which ought to flow into and out of the Christian life.
If you know me, you likely know how important this concept is to me. I genuinely believe that visible Christian hope is one of the greatest testimonies of the grace of God. 1 Peter 3:15 has always stood out to me as a key verse for living an evangelistic life.
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”
There are three parts of this text which seem to describe a life of Christian witness. First, we are called to honor Christ the Lord as holy, living a life of worship which glorifies God. This is a good summary of the call to honor and love God, magnifying Him with our lives. In so doing, we also ought to be prepared to answer anyone who questions us about this very lifestyle. I love the way that this verse simply assumes that people will, in fact, be asking for a reason for your hope. Consequently, Peter assumes that your hope is truly that visible. Finally, we are to furnish such answers with gentleness and respect, delivering our testimony of grace with winsome words, seasoned with salt.
That is a simple but powerful process: we honor God with visible hope, share the source of our hope– the grace of Jesus– with those who ask, and engage in such conversations with an attitude that reflects this very grace. Hope, then, ought to be the beautiful and inexplicable aura of the Christian which beckons those around us to search out its source.
This hope, I think, is rooted in the truth of the great blessedness of those who are found in Christ. We, among all people, know truly divine happiness. This does not make us immune to pain or sorrow; indeed, we are called to weep with those who weep, and ought to live with hearts broken for the shattered world around us. Jesus himself wept for his friend, offended by the encroachment of pain and death in a world of His Father’s perfect design. Yet Christians need never weep because of hopelessness. We may be surrounded by darkness, but we hold fast to the light. The pain we encounter is real, but we never forget that the seasons of tribulation were written for us by the same author who blesses us with the purest mirth.
When Christians are faced with challenges, pain, and sorrow, we are presented with an incredible opportunity to display the work of God in our lives. The young Church grew so rapidly in large part because of the inexplicable courage of the Christians in the face of terrible persecution and death. I’ve long been inspired by the story of the martyrdom of Polycarp, an early Christian bishop, who courageously and joyfully faced down a horrible death rather than doubt the goodness of his God.
“For 86 years I have been His servant and He has never done me wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” -Polycarp
Even as he was about to be burned at the stake, Polycarp insisted that his King had never done him any wrong. Even after decades of service to God and the Church, it was perhaps the hopeful death of Polycarp which did the most to advance the truth of the Gospel. His story is filled with persecution and tragedy, and it was right for those around him to mourn his death. Still, it was never a mourning of hopeless sorrow. It was a mourning of personal loss, but pointed toward an eternal hope: we will be reunited with the ones we have lost, and here on earth even their suffering can further the Kingdom and purposes of God.
This fragile earth is filled with men and women who are desperately seeking happiness. In their every pursuit, they frantically search for that elusive feeling of fulfillment: that lightness of the soul and brightness of the mind which we call joy. They voraciously devour shadows of the real thing, and turn to the gifts rather than the giver for their high. They elevate lesser goods to the position of supreme good, and idolize even goodness itself by cutting it off from its true definition in the Father. It is a tragic rat-race as humankind eats itself to death, consuming empty substitutes and calling them happiness.
Yet in the midst of this heartbreaking picture, God has scattered his church. He has spread His leaven throughout the lump, and planted seeds of a Kingdom founded on true joy. We, too, sought happiness in empty places, but the Father found us in our desperate search and showed us where true goodness is found. We deserve no accolades for the hope we are blessed to carry; we didn’t find it for ourselves. But having been given a priceless gift of grace, how can do anything but share it? How can this wellspring of hope not overflow and proclaim the mercies of God to all who see us? This is the visible display of the inward work of the Gospel: we can be people of true, divine happiness.
Let us run, then! Let us dance! Let us throw aside every weight, as God Himself commands us in Hebrews 12, and race ahead with a supernatural spring in our step. The lightness of our hearts can attest to the grace of God, and the vibrant color of the Christian life can display the surpassing goodness of our King. We are ministers of joy as we are ministers of the Gospel, and the more we hold fast to the one, the more opportunities we will have to share the other with the downtrodden. If you want to reach the hopeless, then wear your hope on your sleeve, and let the source of that hope be ever on your lips. Let the world ask you what you have to be so happy about, always ready to answer with a smile: my King has saved me.