The Ideal Life

Gary Henry

“. . . strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy” (Colossians 1:11).

WHEN WE ENVISION THE KIND OF LIFE WE WOULD MOST LIKE TO HAVE IN THIS WORLD, WHAT KIND OF LIFE IS IT THAT WE IMAGINE? In a culture where “feeling good” is the unquestioned criterion by which all things are judged, we usually assume that the “good life” would be one free of any significant pain or unpleasantness. But in terms of biblical values, wouldn’t the ideal life be one in which we were drawn every day toward a richer taste of God? And far from being INCONSISTENT with the good life, wouldn’t some degree of pain and unpleasantness be a PART of the good life, if these things helped draw us toward God?

In medical practice, an “analgesic” is a medication that relieves pain, and “analgesia” is the state of being free from the feeling of pain. Figuratively speaking, most of us spend a good portion of our lives seeking what might be called “analgesia” in our lifestyles. As modern people, we simply take it for granted that pain is to be avoided at all costs, and we’re willing to sacrifice much higher values, sometimes even our highest ones, to eliminate its presence. But however “natural” it may be to move away from pain, it is often foolish for us to do so. When we sacrifice everything else to avoid pain, we lose touch with the very thing that could teach us a deeper appreciation of God’s grace.

What we desperately need to understand is that having a broken heart is not inconsistent with real joy. If that were true, God Himself would have little joy, for He certainly experiences far more things that are heartbreaking than we do. “If our joy is honest joy, it must somehow be congruous with human tragedy. This is the test of joy’s integrity: is it compatible with pain?” (Lewis B. Smedes). Joy is the thing that we were created for, and that is what God wishes to restore to us in His Son. For the Christian, the ideal life is the joyous life, whether it is attended with what the world calls “happiness” or not. Indeed, it may only be through unhappiness that a person’s joy in Jesus Christ can be found and fulfilled. “Joy,”” as Paul Tillich wrote, “has something within itself that is beyond joy and sorrow. This something is called blessedness.”