The Price of Moving Away from God

Aren’t we all weary of the onslaught of politicians, religious leaders, and commercials promising more than they can deliver? We have our expectations raised only to be crushed time and time again. Yet we continue to hope for better things than life’s track record suggests possible.

A. A. Milne (1882–1956), creator of Winnie the Pooh, conveyed the joy of anticipation: “Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best—” and then he had to stop and think.

Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.

C. S. Lewis called this anticipation Sehnsucht, a German word for “yearning.” Sehnsucht is used to describe a longing for a far-off country that’s, for now at least, unreachable. Lewis connected the yearning itself and the foretastes of it with the joy that is longed for.

Before the Fall, Adam and Eve undoubtedly anticipated good food, but instead of falling short of expectations, the food in Eden likely tasted better than imagined. After the Fall, however, the opposite is true. We expect something more of food, entertainment, and relationships, and we are inevitably disappointed. Though we live in a fallen world, we still retain the expectations and hopes of a better one.

Without an understanding of the Fall, we can’t appreciate the gospel’s reinstatement of our lost happiness. A.W. Tozer writes, “Essentially salvation is the restoration of a right relation between man and his Creator, a bringing back to normal of the Creator-creature relation.”

When I was young, fantasy stories appealed to my desire for something great and wondrous outside my experience. I longed for Eden before I understood there had been an Eden. I ached for God before I believed in God.

I embraced the gospel because it so perfectly corresponded with what I longed for. I’ve studied many worldviews, but none comes close to the biblical worldview in accounting for all the facts of our existence—including our longing for happiness.

Human history is largely the story of our search for happiness. 

Writer Thomas Wolfe (1900–1938), after years of seeking happiness, articulated his gloomy assessment of life:

The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence . . . and that morning—bright, shining morning with its promise of new beginnings—will never come upon the earth again as it did once.

From a biblical perspective, the loneliness Wolfe described is the result of being separated from God. His assessment is penetrating, but it fails to acknowledge the open arms of Christ. Like all of us, Wolfe desperately needed Jesus, but coming to Him requires confession and submission. Without the miraculous intervention of God, our default is to choose our imaginary self-sufficiency over dependence on God . . . which requires humility.

Many people from every demographic have quietly given up hope of ever finding joy.

Psychiatrist Paul D. Meier writes,

I have had millionaire businessmen come to my office and tell me they have big houses, yachts, condominiums . . . , nice children, a beautiful mistress, an unsuspecting wife, secure corporate positions—and suicidal tendencies. They have everything this world has to offer except one thing—inner peace and joy. They come to my office as a last resort, begging me to help them conquer the urge to kill themselves.

In the midst of such hopelessness, God offers the good news of His transforming grace, mercy, love, and eternal happiness: “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wants it take the water of life free of charge” (Revelation 22:17, NET).

There’s no true happiness without God.

Charles Darwin, near the end of his life, spoke in his autobiography of what he called his “loss of happiness”:

Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds . . . gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare. . . . Formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music. . . . I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did. . . . My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts. . . . The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.

Darwin may not have traced his diminished happiness to his gradual change in worldview, but it’s likely that the naturalistic perspective he embraced gradually undermined his early delight in studying God’s creation, resulting in a joyless, machinelike indifference.

Since God Himself is the happiness that overflows into His creation, every attempt to separate Him from happiness is futile.

In an 1847 letter to his father, Scottish author George Macdonald (1824–1905) wrote of the barriers he faced in turning to Christ:

One of my greatest difficulties in consenting to think of religion was that I thought I should have to give up my beautiful thoughts & my love for the things God has made. But I find that the happiness springing from all things not in themselves sinful is much increased by religion. God is the God of the Beautiful, Religion the Love of the Beautiful, & Heaven the House of the Beautiful— nature is tenfold brighter in the sun of righteousness, and my love of nature is more intense since I became a Christian. . . . God has not given me such thoughts, & forbidden me to enjoy them. Will he not in them enable me to raise the voice of praise?

Loving nature and beauty should indeed be enhanced by loving the God who made them and reveals Himself in them—how could it be otherwise?

Only a God-sized gospel can enable us to find true happiness.

Satan is aware of a truth we often fail to see: sin sabotages happiness. According to Spurgeon, “Man was not originally made to mourn; he was made to rejoice. The Garden of Eden was his place of happy abode, and as long as he continued in obedience to God, nothing grew in that Garden that could cause him sorrow.”

The apostle John, aided by an angel, time-traveled to the New Earth. There he saw “the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life.” He went on to explain what life will be like for those who live in the New Earth: “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face” (Revelation 22:1-4, NIV).

That’s how much God wants us to be happy—He’ll re-create the universe, raise us from the dead, and give back the wonders of Eden multiplied a thousand times over. There we’ll live in joyful, never-ending communion with Him . . . all bought and paid for with His own blood.

Living in Oregon, surrounded by stunning natural beauty and people who love and sometimes worship it, I often ponder the irony that my state and our neighbor, Washington, have among the lowest percentages of Christ-followers anywhere in the United States. For the present, by God’s grace and kindness, people can reject God but still receive the benefits of His common grace, including the enjoyment of loving relationships, natural and artistic beauty, and pleasure. However—and we need to be so warned—we live on borrowed time. This temporary situation will come to an abrupt end (see Hebrews 9:27-28; Revelation 20:11-15).

After the termination of this life, we can have one of two combinations:

both God and happiness

neither God nor happiness

What we won’t be able to have is God without happiness or happiness without God.

Randy Alcorn

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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