Yesterday, I heard a paper by Prof. Ellen Charry of Princeton on God and the Art of Happiness in which she engaged with Augustine and Aquinas to offer a voice into a much-neglected theme in the Christian tradition concerning the nature and source of happiness (which she distinguished from joy). Her basic thesis is that true happiness requires a certain level of material comfort in order to truly flow, citing Jesus’ concern for one’s physical needs before attending to their spiritual and emotional needs. I suspect she needs to do a lot more (theological) work if her argument is to stick, but it did raise a number of questions for me. Primarily, what is the relationship between happiness and security, whether physical, political, social, material or spiritual? Is a certain level of safety/security a pre-requisite for human happiness? Can one be both anxious and happy? Frightened and happy? Is it possible for an Arminian to be truly happy? What is the relationship between happiness and forgiveness? And happiness and service? And how does a doctrine of eschatological Christian hope relate to the now-and-not-yet of happiness? What is the relationship between communal and individual happiness?
Forsyth, of course, what not the first to link human happiness with service, worship and communion: ‘It is the greatest act of mercy’, he said, ‘that God should consent to take service from such people as we are. God did not save you in order to make you happy; He saved you in order to make you serve and worship and commune with Him. Then the happiness will come.’ (Revelation Old and New, 88)
And from his Marriage: Its Ethic and Religion: ‘Happiness may only be sought under moral conditions. No one has a right to happiness who knows nothing of obedience, and cares nothing. No happiness should be without responsibility—latent at least. And especially it is responsible to the society which makes happiness secure by its order and shelter.’ (p. 62)
If you want to hear more of what Prof. Charry is on about, click here to listen to a couple of her lectures.