That being said, humans tend to be creatures of weird extremes. We rarely do, think or believe anything in a halfhearted fashion. As a result, the current emphasis on grace has caused many Christians to view good works as an optional activity for Christians at best and as an affront to the grace of God at worst. Some Bible teachers and Pastors have inadvertently encouraged this flawed thinking by leading people to believe that salvation is an end rather than a beginning. Many Christians sincerely believe there is nothing left for us to do but glory in our salvation and wait for heaven once we have become Christians.
Happiness is a feeling or mood that tends to be short-lived and extremely centered on self. Finding happiness is complicated by the fact that even under the most ideal of circumstances happiness is something that is challenging to hang onto. As a result, once we begin down the path of “making ourselves happy” the pursuit of happiness becomes a never-ending quest that is nearly impossible to achieve or maintain. This is partly because the stuff that make us happy (or unhappy) tends to change frequently. On Tuesday donuts might make me supremely happy and on Friday the mere thought of them might make me queasy. Because happiness is such an unstable and selfish emotion when we do things solely for the sake of our personal happiness we tend to hurt a lot of people (including ourselves) in the process of “making ourselves happy”.
According to the Barna Research Group most pastors do not feel “safe” speaking out on thorny social issues. I am not sure if this fear is grounded in experience or if we have all just devolved into a bunch of timid simps. I do know that the church is called to be salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13-16). I also know that pastors are meant to be the mouthpieces of the church in this world. If sixty-four percent of pastors feel they cannot speak out about abortion, sin, sexuality and issues of fairness without suffering some sort of personal backlash then the world will quickly lose even more of its preserving (salty) influence.
However, that is an entirely different breed of cat from one person deciding that they should not be held to the same moral standards as every other believer on the planet because they have chosen to believe that God’s judgments on moral issues are wibbly-wobbly and open to interpretation (Judges 21:25). In most evangelical churches love has been held up as the highest value (and for good reason) but we have forgotten that love not built on a foundation of truth inevitably devolves into a puddle of messy, inarticulate sentimentality.
Okay, so, I am a little more familiar with the sin of bitterness than I or anyone else probably ought to be. I actually consider myself to be something of an expert on the topic.
Bitterness is not a subject that gets discussed much in church-y circles. It should be, because my experiences are not all that unique or special. Bitterness is one of those ugly little sins no one wants to own-up to but that we all struggle with at some point in our lives.
It would be intellectually reckless to attempt to argue that Western civilization is somehow faultless. Western civilization is not perfect. Like all civilizations Western civilization is inhabited by human beings who are by their very nature self-centered, ethically flawed and prone to self-deception (Romans 3:23, Galatians 5:18-20). Like produces like. Therefore, flawed beings are incapable of producing anything that is not also seriously flawed (Genesis 5:3, 1st Corinthians 15:22, Romans 5:12-15)
Adults are duty-bound to give kids an unpleasant dose of reality from time-to-time (Proverbs 29:15, 1st Corinthians 13:11). When adults abdicate that responsibility, children grow up to believe that anything is possible and some things simply are not possible no matter how badly we wish they were. We do want our kids to grow-up and dream big dreams. That said, we also want them firmly grounded in reality. Because, no one accomplishes anything in the real world when they’re living their life in the land of make-believe.
Shortly afterward, I had a weirdly painful moment of spiritual clarity. It occurred to me that as a 21st century American I probably (obviously) have some fairly twisted views on what exactly constitutes a trial and what I was put on earth for. Truth-be-told in my heart-of-hearts I tend to think (unconsciously, most of the time) that the point of life is for me to be happy, milk as many experiences out of life as possible and enjoy the fruits of my labor.