Jesus as the Only Way to True Happiness?*

It’s a classic scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail, one man trying to convince another man he is dead. When this fails, he finally gets the job done himself. Surprisingly, this is an interesting commentary on the system that underlies how many of us “do evangelism” or “tell people about Jesus” today. What underlies our motivation for “telling people about Jesus” is this story: only Jesus can make you truly happy/fulfilled. This is an incredibly meaningful story for people who are not happy/fulfilled and it is incredibly motivating for those who are doing the telling.

But what about people who do think they are happy without being a Christian? This is where the cracks of this system come to the surface.

To say that only Jesus can make you truly happy/fulfilled implies that everyone who is not a Christian must necessarily be unhappy or unfulfilled, even if they deny it. And it’s in this awkward encounter of Christians trying to convince non-Christians that they aren’t happy, even if they think they are, that something significant is revealed.

Underneath the seemingly innocent statement: “only Jesus can make you truly happy” is an entire economic system wherein Jesus is a product and we are his advertisement. If we believe that Jesus’ primary purpose is to make us “fulfilled,” satisfied,” or happy,” then our paradigm for the Gospel cannot tolerate someone being truly happy without Jesus. It would render the work of Jesus impotent, the product dysfunctional, and more importantly—if we want to psychologize a bit—our very reason for being Christian is compromised, since we too bought the product from someone else.

So in order to maintain the belief that true happiness/fulfillment only comes from Jesus, we often do two very harmful things. First, we pretend we are happy when we aren’t. After all, if Jesus is the product that gives me happiness and I’m not happy, I have only three choices (1) say the Jesus product is broken (2) user error or (3) pretend I am happy so I can avoid numbers (1) and (2). Secondly, we have to create a need in those who do not feel they have one. We have to either (1) tell everyone how sinful they are or (2) tell everyone how unhappy they are. Only then will be people “discover” that they “need” to “buy” our product. That is, we are arguing with people about whether they are dead yet. . .

But for many this discussion begs the question, “If Jesus doesn’t do something for you, why would anyone want to become a Christian?” And to ask that question is to still be participating in that same economy, to be trapped into posturing Jesus as a product.

But the economy of Jesus is not one that creates need to sell product but that encourages generosity out of abundance, it is not one where Jesus makes you happy/fulfilled but where he makes you faithful. God is not the product, he will not be sold and bought. He will not be named and he will not be tamed. The story is his and we are invited to participate.

________

Note: I must admit that perhaps there is a sense in which this is an appropriate way of speaking of Jesus. After all, doesn’t the Bible itself participate in this economy? What’s the difference between talking about a savior who saves us from our sins and a product who makes us happy/fulfilled? I have no idea but it seems to be a fine line indeed. . .

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3 responses to “Jesus as the Only Way to True Happiness?*

  1. I think there is a big difference between the westernized idolic pursuit of Jesus, the one who saves us, and the theosis we can experience by becoming one with Christ in his moment of death to himself on the cross. As we die to our identities and are reborn into a new being, one that is no longer imprisoned by the system of idolatry and pursuit of happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment, we can finally know Jesus.

    Just got through Peter Rollins, “The Idolatry of God”, so I am borrowing the main premise that really impacted me.

  2. Interesting post here, Jared. I have been grappling with similar issues. I personally find that inclusivism/natural law tend to solve a lot of those issues. If we suppose that Jesus’ teachings are more fundamental and not so bound up in Christian culture, then we start to see that people *can* legitimately be happy outside Christian culture, but they might still be following Christ.

    That Christianity uses Jewish concepts is mostly accidental, a result of historical/cultural circumstance. Christ came and taught a people as they were. The most significant thing we overlook in John chapter 3 is this: “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?”

    Christ spoke to what they knew, but he is greater than what they knew.

    I have an increasingly large number of posts on inclusivism, but check out this particular article: http://wp.me/p31dyu-bK. It is what most closely mirrors your sentiments.

  3. I would say that not all happiness is good happiness. Some people live happily in the squalor of immorality.

    Though all real fulfillment comes from Jesus, I would be more concerned to point out how someone’s joy or fulfillment is from Jesus already before I spoke about how they needed Jesus.

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