When my unhappiness does not commend the Gospel

Remember that Martyn Lloyd Jones quote I mentioned the other day?

Unhappy Christians are a poor recommendation of the Christian faith.”

I thought it might be worth digging a little deeper into it.  As I suggested in my previous article, it probably works best as one half of a proverbial provocation.  On the one hand, we should be happy Christians on the other hand we identify with the man of sorrows.  In fact, Jesus brings the two together in the beatitudes when he says “blessed … or happy … are those who mourn.”  Can you be a happy mourner? Jesus says that you can.

So, I think Lloyd Jones is onto something when he challenges our unhappiness. If he means that a Christian must always be cheerful with never a frown and if he is suggesting some kind of prosperity take then he is obviously deeply wrong. I doubt he is though.  I think he is suggesting that there is a type of unhappiness that does not commend the Gospel.  I think this is more to do with a settled disposition that tends towards discontent, complaining and finding fault.

So, whilst it is true that Christians will experience sadness, we would do well to examine ourselves and consider whether this sadness risks becoming that unhappiness which is a poor recommendation for the Gospel. 

For starters, if you are sad because you have lost a loved one, received bad news or suffering from pain, then those are good reasons to experience the emotion.  If you are sorrowful over sin, your own sinfulness or the sin of the world around you then that is a godly sadness.  Depression and some other mental illnesses will create a feeling that might be described as sadness too.[1] We all go through times of sadness, however there do seem to be some that appear to be unhappy as their default disposition.  It is highly likely that this is linked to depression and anxiety but not always so.  If we find that we are consistently unhappy then I think we have a responsibility to find out why. If in the end, we are not depressed and nor are there specific circumstances causing us to be gloomy then that should concern us.

One implication here is that Christians should seek medical advice and accept treatment when it is offered. This is one way that we can either commend or not commend the Gospel. If I refuse to seek help either out of pride or because I believe it is somehow unspiritual to admit to mental illness then I may not be commending the Gospel.

Another way in which we might fail to commend the Gospel is by how we live through our sadness.  How does it affect our relationship to others.  A lot of us will find that when we are low, we become irritable with others.  Also, we may be tempted to see life through the prism of our sadness. We may expect everyone else to join us in our grief and if they do not then we can resent them. There is also a tendency these days to find offence even where not intended in the sayings and actions of others. If I find myself turning over every little thing said by my friends and my church family in order to find that hidden meaning then my unhappiness may not be commending the Gospel.

There is another way, I think, that unhappiness fails to commend the Gospel.  There was a strong tendency in some circles to insist on separating out joy from happiness.  Some Christians have been told that the Bible doesn’t have to say anything about happiness but it does talk about joy.  There is of course a distinction between the two words but this overplays it.  The result has been that people have talked about being joyful whilst to all intents and purposes they’ve created miserable church cultures through oppressive legalism.  When that happens then we may well fail to commend the Gospel.

So, before we take offence and cancel Lloyd Jones, we may do well to consider whether there isn’t some truth in his challenge.

[1] I’m not personally sure that it is quite right to simply equate depression with sadness. The emotion does in my opinion feel subtly different.

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