Friday, February 21, 2014

Happiness is the truth?

Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth Because I'm happy...

So run the lyrics to a song by Pharrell Williams my kids are singing at the mo. It's a catchy, fun song, and features in Despicable Me 2. What could be better?

Last night my wife said she'd had a philosophical chat with our 8-year-old son about the line quoted above.

Because actually happiness is not the truth. Feelings are not always – not often? – the best indicators of truth. Put technically, this lyric seriously confuses the subjective with the objective.

Chuckling about this with a friend later still, it occurred to me that this has a bearing on contemporary charismatic worship. All too often the message contained in its songs amounts to 'Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth – Because we're happy' (and, runs the implication, if we're not happy, we're somehow 'backslidden' or we needs to be 'filled again').

Caveat: I'm not advocating carefully nurtured misery. As a rule, I'm with Teresa of Avila, who is reported to have said, 'From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord deliver us!'

But there is a problem if we really sing, and really believe that 'happiness is the truth'.

Apart from anything else, we'd have to snip massive portions of our bible out and throw them away. What happens to Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? And what are we going to do with Lamentations: Is it nothing to you,all you who pass by? What happens to groanings too deep for words? What about the prayer of Jesus on the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

We live in a world of grief, pain, turmoil and anguish - our own and others'. As Tom Wright puts it, our vocation is to be 'in prayer at the place where the world is in pain'. There is a time to cry, to lament, as well as to celebrate.

I don't like to carp. After all, I have blogged about this before. But sometimes, standing in the congregation on a Sunday morning, I don't want to spend the whole time singing about joy joy joy joy down in my heart. I have friends who are suffering. Disappointments that perplex me. Besetting sins that plague me. Images from the news that haunt me. I need to bring these things to God in intercession, lament, confession, and, yes, Paul's odd expression, groanings. And intertwined with all that, yes, there is the joy of God and his salvation.

By all means 'Clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do' (another lyric from Pharrell Williams there). But leave room for other emotions in our life and worship, too.

Most of all leave room for truth – which is bigger, broader, deeper, and more mysterious than happiness alone.


Tschaka Roussel said...

Happiness is the truth perhaps, just as love points to truth; but sadness has a truth too, as the sorrow-scarred face of God will one day show us. And yet there will be no more weeping - a promise of something far more sublime, I imagine, than even happiness itself. Even now, the man of sorrows has caused us to know inexpressible joy. And still we face trials as we follow him, through him, into that which is greater than our hearts can possibly know.

Anonymous said...

Your dancing on Sunday made me happy.

Lionheart said...

It's a worldly influence, more specifically western and American, stated as it is in the Declaration of Independence as an innate and inalienable human right "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". Not the most complete or realistic assessment of the human condition being.

Anonymous said...

It is just a pop song with throwaway lyrics. Most pop songs contain some dumb lines and aren't meant to be taken seriously. For example Ed Sheeran once sung "I know you like Shrek, cause we watched it 12 times" That is the real truth right there.

n0rma1 said...

Sure, anon, you're right, I should just lighten up. I should be so lucky (lucky lucky lucky).