Recap of the series so far
The Gospel of Jesus Christ doesn't promise us a life free of pain, but rather, it promises us that we can experience pain with a pure heart. I take this to mean that we can experience pain in an other-centered way or a self-centered way, and that there is a qualitative difference between these two ways of experiencing suffering.
What does this mean? Does this mean that if we experience sorrow, we aren’t living up to our full potential? I don’t think so. I think that it is fully possible for someone to find purpose and meaning in his or her life, even in the midst of sorrow and pain. Viktor Frankl has taught us that living in a Nazi death camp does not render life meaningless, and that it is possible to find peace even in those moments of torture.
I think that we came to earth to experience pain. That is part of our purpose in being here. In addition, I think that it is difficult, if not impossible, to fully understand joy without also experiencing sorrow.
However, this does not mean that we came here to experience sin. Pain and sorrow can be experienced without sin (and often is). The consequences of sin certainly provide an occasion for the pure of heart to experience sorrow. But so do other kinds of pain, such as pain which results from illness, death, accidents, or acts of nature. It seems clear that the central lesson we need to learn does not require the existence of sin—only the possibility of sin. Now, because we all sin, God has provided us with a Savior who can rescue us from the impurities in our hearts. But sin is not why we are here.
Adam and Eve crossed over into a different world (the literal meaning of the word transgress) in order to experience the difference between joy and sorrow (the two ways of loving), but this does not mean that sorrow is the result of sin or evil. The consequences of sin are found in the bottom row of the chart, not the right column. The real lesson we’re sent here to learn is love. Of course, we can’t get into the top row of the chart (the row of love) without giving up sin, so repentance is still at the heart of our purpose here.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is all about pulling us out of the bottom row of the chart, and inviting us into the top row. We talk a great deal in the Church about happiness, but it’s important to remember that that word is sometimes used ambiguously. We don’t want to give people the impression that living the gospel will guarantee that they have no more negative experiences.
I actually believe that the happiness that we seek in the gospel is better described by the word peace. Whether we are experiencing love in the form of joy or sorrow, I believe we are also experiencing peace. God, even in the midst of His sorrow and weeping for our sins, still experienced peace. I believe that the way Christ makes our pain more endurable is by turning it into love, and by doing so we can experience peace, even in the midst of our pain. Christ said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”1
I think the peace that comes through love is what constitutes the “happiness” that God promises the righteous, and it can be experienced through joy or sorrow. That is, God doesn’t promise us that we’ll be in the left column of the chart, only that we’ll be on the top row. That we’ll be able to find peace as we have negative or positive experiences in an other-centered way (instead of a self-centered way).
In summary, whenever I say that the Gospel is designed to bring us happiness or joy, I really mean that the Gospel is designed to bring us peace and to teach us how to love in the midst of pain. I think that happiness and peace, in an ultimate eternal sense, is synonymous with love, and can thus encompass both joy and sorrow. That is, when God is weeping with sorrow for the sins and heartaches of His children, His heart is always and forever still at peace, and this is the tranquility and happiness that He wants to share with us.
I think this puts a new spin on the scripture, “Men are that they might have joy.” Again, words are not always used the same in every context. The word “joy” here may not mean “positive emotional experiences.” It may simply mean peace and love in the midst of pain. And that is something I think we need to include when teaching about Christ’s plan of happiness and redemption.