When I Smile, the Devil Grins: The Danger and Delight of Happiness
“Dear God, make me right with you, then kill me.” That prayer, for many years, was almost a mantra to me. I was certain that should I die in my sorry spiritual condition, I’d awake in hell. But life no longer held hope for me, so I envied the corpse buried six feet under this world of hurt. Thus, blending together this cocktail petition of doubt, despair, and fear, I prayed a wish for death, with one precondition.
Thankfully, God never gave me what I demanded—the death part, anyway. What he did give me was Jesus, crucified and risen, who made me right with the Father. He gave me a wife who is a better woman than I could have ever deserved. He gave me a church, and a pastor, who welcomed me as a fellow sinner washed in the blood of the Lamb. In short, the Lord made me one happy man. But in this delightful condition, I find myself in danger once again.
The Christian never walks off the battlefield; the scene of warfare just morphs into a new sphere. When I was in the throes of depression, the temptation to despair was acute. When I was lonely, lust, donning its myriad of masks, danced before my soul. When I felt divorced from the loving presence of the true God, a pantheon of idols fought for my allegiance. Now, when my life seems to be on track again, when I have a good job, a devoted wife, a caring congregation, I realize that I am no safer from the devil’s attacks than I was in those dark years of struggle. Rather, evil simply rummages through its closet to find new disguises, whereby it might beguile my heart once again.
In my happiness, I dare never forget that it is Christ, and Christ alone, who has restored my joy. For the happy man, as he looks about him at all these gifts, easily forgets that they are, indeed, presents from the hand of the benevolent Giver. Each of them is like a sacrament, the grace of God in Christ made tangible for me, the sinner. Not only did I do nothing to deserve them; I did plenty to deserve their opposite. But already I hear the voices that pat me on the back, saying, “You did very well in finding for yourself such a beautiful wife. You worked hard to have this job. You deserve a break after all you’ve been through. Indeed, you deserve more, and more, and more.” Whispered in my head are such self-congratulatory, self-deserving affirmations, all of which are but the footstool for that king of vices: pride. And pride does not only go before a fall; pride is the fall. A prideful man has already bitten the dust, even while all he tastes is the sweetness of achievement.
Are you happy? Is your life going well? Give thanks to God with me for these gifts. But let our joy be tempered by the reality that we are still smack dab in the middle of a firefight. We may be at a party, but that’s no time to slip off our armor. It’s time, rather, to do what a Christian always does: trust in the Jesus who has done, and will continue to do, everything for us, including protecting us from the evil one. The devil may find new guises to try and lure us away, but Jesus never changes his appearance. He’s still the God, bloody, dead, risen, and baptized onto us. His body is our armor, covering us head to toe in divine skin. Clothed in Jesus, let us rejoice in the gift that he is, and the gifts that he gives.
As I live out this new, happy season of my life, I know that, life being what it is, more sorrows will surely come. So it is on this earthly pilgrimage. But in this I rest secure: that Christ crucified is the same in yesterday’s tears, today’s smiles, and tomorrow’s unknowns.