Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Nature of Happiness

As sojourners in this oft dreary world, our deepest desires are for some rest, something to rejoice in, something to make us happy. The desire for happiness seems to be the most compelling. If we dissected each human choice and analyzed it under an omnipotent microscope, it's likely that the vast majority were made because the chooser believed it would make him happy. Yet so many choices result in sorrow. Thus, there seems to pervade a strong misconception about the nature of happiness. And we are poor judges of what actually will make us happy.
But the purpose of our existence is to have joy. (2 Nephi 2:25). When I say joy, I'm not talking about the proximate pleasures of the flesh. Rather, I'm talking about the abiding happiness that comes only through the power of God. (See John 15:11; Helaman 5:44).
God is happy. In fact, the nature of God is the nature of happiness. (Alma 41:11). And because He is happy, He knows how to make His children happy. After all, He's already given Jesus the "fulness of joy." (3 Nephi 28:10). The only true way to be happy, therefore, is to partake of the nature of God. But how can we though? The answer is simple: obey.
Jesus was perfectly obedient. And Jesus commands us to be like Him, (3 Nephi 27:27) even to be perfect. (Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 12:48). Jesus wasn't taunting us. You see, He wants us to be happy, and the only true way for us to be happy is to be like Him. True, perfection doesn't come easily. But God's perfect Plan of Happiness lays the strait and narrow course out in front of us in breathtaking simplicity. And the stepping stones of the Plan of Happiness are the commandments.
There are two kinds of commandments: preparatory commandments and what I'll call complete commandments. Complete commandments are harder to keep. Compare the the Mosaic injunction against adultery, (Exodus 20:14), to Jesus' prohibition against lusting. (Matthew 5:27-28). And to me, it would be much easier to provide the occasional sacrificial lamb instead of offering up my "whole soul" (Omni 1:26) with "a broken heart and a contrite spirit" to God. (See 3 Nephi 9:20). So because of the difficulty of living the complete commandments, we insist on living the preparatory commandments.
But obedience to preparatory commandments can only bring us preparatory joy. And lest we be ever preparing and never coming to the fulness of joy, we must accept and live all of God's complete commandments. Still, living the preparatory commandments is better than not living the commandments at all. For disobedience brings only misery and captivity.
It will take time, however, to live all the complete commandments. Jesus knew we couldn't do it right away. That's why He suffered for us and provided the gift of the Atonement, thus making repentance and forgiveness possible, which, by the way, also bring great joy. (Luke 15:10; D&C 18:10-16). He knows we need help. And He helps in so many ways.
As I said, Jesus performed the matchless Atonement and made it possible to receive forgiveness of our sins. But through His Grace, He also gives us strength to keep the commandments. Moroni, that last Book of Mormon prophet, invited us:
[C]ome unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. (Moroni 10:32-33).
Jesus is both the way and the means to eternal joy!
And Jesus often uses others to help become happy. For example, He used Alma the younger to help Corianton, Alma's youngest son. While serving as a missionary with his father and older brother, Corianton visited a prostitute named Isabel. (Alma 39:1-3). His actions were not only self-destructive but became the excuse for many to disbelieve the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Alma 39:11). Alma sat Corianton down and unequivocally denounced Corianton's sexual promiscuity as an abomination. (Alma 39:5). And for four chapters Alma reproves and counsels his son about eternal justice and the mercy that comes only through Christ. (See Alma 39-42). Finally, Alma said,
O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility.

And now, O my son, ye are called of God to preach the word unto this people. And now, my son, go thy way, declare the word with truth and soberness, that thou mayest bring souls unto repentance, that the great plan of mercy may have claim upon them. And may God grant unto you even according to my words. (Alma 42:30-31).
Alma's talk with Corianton worked. Corianton repented and, for the rest of his life, taught repentance and the Plan of Happiness through Jesus Christ.
There are times when we will be like Corianton, in need of loving correction. And there are times when we will be like Alma, in need of giving loving correction. Both present dangers. So often, the truth is hard to bear, and when a loved one confronts us and calls us to come to Jesus, we may lash out against them. On the other hand, we must be careful that our attempt to correct doesn't become a stoning. Also, if you know the story of Alma the younger, you'll know that he once sought to destroy the Church of Jesus Christ. (Alma 36:6). He was a vile man. And it took the visitation of an angel to get him to repent. (Alma 36:6-24). The danger of being called a hypocrite was there and very real.
Thankfully for Corianton, Alma loved him too much to look away and ignore his bad behavior. Thus, Corianton started walking again along the stepping stones of the Plan of Happiness with the help of his Savior and his father.
So if we want to be happy, we must keep the commandments. All of them. We mustn't lash out against those who deliver them to us. And we shouldn't lash out against those who call our sins to our attention, even if they are hypocrites.
For it is through obedience to the commandments that we learn the nature of happiness. And by learning the nature of happiness we partake of the Nature of God until God gives us eternal joy, even the fulness of joy. And only He can give it.


Chedner said...

I do not believe it is obedience [alone] that brings true joy, but the love-based service brought to pass through obedience.

Of course, if we obey, then we will [most often] be charitable.

But, in my opinion, to say, "obey" instead of "be charitable" seems to present some problems in certain situations. Take, for example, the first scripture you referenced (2 Nephi 2:25). In order to bring to pass the greatest joy for all mankind, Adam and Eve had to disobey and fall.

That's not to justify disobeying. I'm just saying that, in my opinion, more important than obedience (acting in loyalty/responsibility) is charity (acting in emulation of Christ's love).

Though, yes, I do imply that, at times, I feel one must choose to disobey -- when obeying infringes upon accomplishing the greatest charity (and, therefore, the greatest happiness and truest joy).

Just a couple days ago, for example, I had lunch with a gay couple and their two boys (twins, 5 years old). They all absolutely exuded joy and happiness in the most pure, true, and meaningful of senses. Yet they obviously aren't obeying the counsel of God's Church.

However, I believe very strongly that they are fulfilling the purpose of our existence, to have joy -- not the proximate pleasures of the flesh, but the abiding happiness that comes only through emulating the core characteristics of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, which characteristics are namely love, compassion, long suffering, service... charity.

Craig said...

Interesting perspective. I'll have to think about that.

I'm actually speaking about the Atonement this Sunday at Church. I'll address the Fall, too.

Craig said...

p.s. Have you read "The Creation and the Fall" on my blog? The link is on the right hand column. I talk about the nature of Adam and Eve's decision to eat the forbidden fruit.