On Happiness, Marriage, and Drinking Wine

>> Friday, March 29, 2013

Recently, I have come to recognize a glaring fault in the first sentence of America's Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

The glaring fault being "the pursuit of Happiness". "Happiness", at the time it was written, probably refers to something quite different than nowadays. I'm sure the founding fathers meant well when they made such sweeping and lofty sentiments, but I don't think they bargained on the cushy American Dream we'd be so voraciously pursuing, even at the cost of other peoples' "happiness." I am a Christian. There is a rumor going around that America was founded on Judeo-Christian values, but I've never seen happiness promised in the Bible. I've seen the promise that we will suffer hardship as a result of our faith, as well as the promise of joy and peace as a result of trusting Christ in the midst of that hardship. And such joy is quite different than the visions of happiness most Americans cling to as an unalienable right. But with all this yimmer yammer about marriage rights, I wanted to share with you a quote by C. S. Lewis worth considering:

"Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question-how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mahommedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not."

I believe that homosexuality is wrong and should not be condoned by the Church through marriage. But the State is not a Christian entity. Should I expect the State to enforce my morality, yet balk if they enforce someone else's on me? It is a slippery question because while, at first glance, I would say "no, they should not enforce morality, because they are not a moral entity." Yet, I would also say "yes, they should, as far as they protect society from man's passions like murder, stealing, etc., and the State, by necessity, must take on a moral standard of some sort in order to ensure my bodily safety."

I would love to rail on the State. I mean, just look at how they tax me. They are so easy to pick on because they are so secular. But, my concern is not the State--not in the long run, anyway. Where my concern lies is with my family--the Church. And because they're my family, I feel I can rightfully blow the whistle on them and still be loved by them at the end of the day. And I think I can humbly say that we have dropped the ball in many ways, and so things that should be championed by the Church (marriage, family, education; the care of the poor, the helpless, the environment, the arts, science, etc.) have been ever so slightly...dumped on the State. And, as C. S. Lewis is implying, it's not as though the State shouldn't provide marriage for its people. I believe marriage was instituted by God to be enjoyed by all people, not just those who believe in Him. But I also believe He called His Church to exemplify marriage (see above statement about dropping the ball).
With that said, the State not only has to manage its primary role of keeping peace, but has to do double duty by providing some semblance of ethics on those issues its own people should be working out for themselves. So now, instead of doing a few things somewhat well, the State does many things somewhat poorly. Is it any wonder that people are so passionate about its rulings when we have attributed to it God-sized authority?

Advocates for the Church's morality in the public sector will always be at odds with some aspect of the State's rulings on morality, especially when that State declares "happiness"(whatever that means) as a right. But the Church can take C. S. Lewis' words as a personal challenge: to make the distinction of State marriage and Church marriage "quite sharp". And to do that, the Church must hunker down and do what it was called to do in the first place.  We are quite the distractable bunch, which is why I think Jesus gave us a simple to-do list: 

1. Make disciples of all nations.
2. Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
(Note: You can even bunch it into one line item if you have trouble remembering two)
And consider it a bonus when the government under which we live promotes a peaceful environment in which to do that.

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:14-21


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