If you had told me last summer who I would be one year later, I would have laughed and called you a liar. Obviously, people change after going away to college. Most, however, do not go from being the “most militant atheist in high school” (a friend’s description, not my own) to becoming a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. My closest friends were surprised, but not shocked, by my decision to get baptized. My not-as-close friends were politely informed by a status update on Facebook.
Now that I am back at home for the summer, I have to go through the obligatory process of rebuilding all the friendships that I neglected when I moved 3,000 miles across the country. This, of course, involves discussing my conversion story with many of my Christian friends from high school. I can only discuss my coming to Christianity with glowing terms and a wide smile. There is no doubt that the decision to become a Christian has made me happy. Yet my friends’ reactions have surprised me.
Often, instead of saying something along the lines of, “I’m glad you’ve seen the light” or “Thank God that you’ve finally found the truth,” they tell me, “It’s good that you’ve found something that makes you happy.”
This struck me as a very odd thing for an older Christian to say to new Christian. Their response made it seem as though the goal of Christianity is not seeking the truth or growing closer to God, but obtaining happiness. Lots of different things make people happy. Even as an atheist, in many ways, I was happy. What if I had gone away to college and discovered that sacrificing animals made me happy? Would their response really be “It’s good that you’ve found something that makes you happy”?
It seems to me that new believers should be greeted with the joy of meeting someone who has found the truth that you’ve known all along. There should be the excitement that comes from another soul finding salvation. Yet when the response is mere happiness because a friend is happy, it smacks more of hedonism than of Christianity.
I’ve talked to numerous Christians who cannot justify their faith, but explain that their religion brings them joy and happiness. Yet the prospect of happiness alone cannot persuade an unbeliever to believe in Christianity. I’m certain that there are happy Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and humanists.
Christ himself did not say, “I am the path to happiness.” He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” He prefaces so many of his statements not with, “if you learn from this parable, it will make you happy,” but with “I tell you the truth.” Paul stresses the importance of the truth of the crucifixion in 1 Corinthians 15, when he writes, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
If we base our faith on something so fickle as feelings of happiness, what will happen to us when God throws obstacles in our paths? Many people lose faith when they are faced with troubling times because the happiness that Christianity once brought them is gone. Yet if we believe in the truth of Jesus and not simply the happiness that results from our beliefs, then our faith stands strong through the most difficult challenges and we stay happy through the struggle.
Obviously, Christianity brings joy. The promise of salvation and the opportunity to be close to God brings the purest ecstasy. But God is only comforting when we trust that his word is true. If we do not believe that there truly exists the promise of redemption, Christianity brings no joy to us. Happiness only comes with truth. It is the truth, and not joy alone, which sets us free.