Tuesday, October 14, 2008


"Happiness is neither in us nor outside of us; it is in God, both outside and in us."

- Blaise Pascal, Pensée, 465.

We are not the source of our own happiness, yet nor are our surroundings. Our happiness is a sharing of the joy of God. Yet rejoicing in God leads us not away from the world or ourselves, but deeper into both.

According to Spaemann (Happiness and Benevolence, 52), to deny that happiness is found in God leaves three alternatives: despair, the search for a utopia of human construction, or compromise (lowering our standards).



the don said...

very good!

the only thing i would be tempted to bring into the 'discussion' would be that our happiness is not found in the abstract 'God'.

rather, happiness comes through the concrete disorientation with the empty tomb and risen Jesus.

i summon the very reverend williams:

"The dialectic of the resurrection stories is the dialectic of all our worship and contemplation, so that to see in the risen Jesus both an endlessly receding horizon and a call to journey more and more deeply towards our centre and our home is to see him as God-like: more simply, to see him as God, because he is the concrete form in which we encounter this infinity of challenge and infinity of acceptance most clearly and comprehensively. The project of a limitless expansion of the heart which we understand as the call addressed to us from beyond the limits of everyday understanding, from outside 'the world', the hope of a transformed future in which human relations will be fully what they can and should be, all this is manifest to us in and as the crucified and raised Jesus."
- Resurrection, p. 84

byron smith said...

I concede the Very Rev's beef, though in his defence, Spaeman is making a negative rather than a constructive point at this stage of his argument.

Matthew Moffitt said...

Isn't he The Most Reveverend?

Drew said...

I'm interested in the three alternatives. Despair is interesting I think, because it denies the other two: refuses to compromise, and refuses to be satisfied by human attempts, (and perhaps the key ingredient), is not satisfied that human wisdom on this matter is capable of encompassing the issue. Perhaps we are not at despair yet, only disillusionment.

But perhaps we must travel part way along the road to despair before we can share in the joy of God?

Drew said...

(Love the photo, by the way)

Matthew Moffitt said...

Is it happiness that we should be aiming for, or joy?

byron smith said...

Drew - yes, this is actually part of Spaemann's discussion later in the chapter (or maybe it's in the next chapter, I can't remember), that Christianity brings a Copernican revolution in ethics through the denial of the possibility of human happiness under present conditions. Yet he also points out (and this is equally important) that it refuses to simply give in to despair due to the momentary presentiments of joy (think Lewis and The Weight of Glory or Surprised by Joy) that promise so much more than they are able to deliver.

Matt - how would you distinguish them? (NB I'm with you and think this may actually be a weakness in Spaemann, who is perhaps a little too Aristotelian. However, there's still much of the book to go and he is certainly developing a thesis that he has not yet revealed in full, so my misgivings might be premature).

Matthew Moffitt said...

Well, I've heard (mainly from APK) that the word happy has something to do with chance or luck. And I guess that happiness is something that is bound to move and change with your mood and what is happening around you minute by minute.

Joy on the other hand, is different. Paul can write about being joyful to the Philippians when he is gaol, potentially facing executing. He doesn't talk about being happy, but instead tells the church to be joyful, always.

So happiness is a response to a situation/event whilst joy is a state - it's emotional, but is more than basic emotion.

Does that make sense?

byron smith said...

Yep - I think I'd give a similar account. I think Lewis might discuss the distinction between joy and happiness in Surprised by Joy. Happiness and happenstance derive from the same root (which does indeed have to do with luck). However, etymology can be overplayed; what is crucial is contemporary contextual use.

jessica smith said...

I love that photo too. It makes me happy.

Matthew Moffitt said...

Wow, I learnt a new word - happenstance.

bigdog said...

What then is joy? This is a question that has been on my mind for some time.

Paul says that it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.22), and the thrust of his command in Phil 4.4 is "rejoice IN THE LORD." I am reading the book, 'Paul, the Spirit and the People of God' by Gordon Fee and he says that in Galatians Paul is primarily speaking about the church, not individuals as exhibiting this fruit, and then further that being a fruit of the Spirit it is a foretaste of the future, thus eschatological, which perhaps gets at something of how Lewis describes joy in Surprised by Joy.

Having said all of that I don't feel any closer to a definition and feel seems to be what joy is meant to be...