Personal Reflection about Christianity: Happiness, Sanctification, and Christ-likeness

Struggles and Pursuit
When I was about 16 years old, I started to ponder about my future: about what I really wanted in life. After some contemplation, I realized all I wanted was happiness: constant and endless happiness. And, I knew, at that moment, I was not there; all the things I thought and society told me would lead me to happiness have failed to achieve that promise. Instead, it just made me wanting more when, if it is indeed capable of satisfying me, it should have made me wanting less. Fortunately, by the grace of God, I realized Christianity is the most likely answer to sate my desire. However, I knew I needed to understand Christianity differently because the understanding I had had not provided me with the answer. Thus, I decided to figure out the answer my own way.

My pursuit began with a hypothetical idea: what if a hypothetical man that has no bias, and a relentless and undivided desire for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth was to exist. Then, we provide him with an incredible amount of intelligence, an endless supply of time, and an endless supply of God’s grace (given solely to not limit his field of exploration, and not to skew his judgment) to tackle my question of: how to obtain infinite and constant happiness? If Christianity is the answer then, theoretically, that man will have come to that conclusion.

To solve my problem, I realized that I need to structure it. A problem is commonly defined as finding the method to reach a desired state from a current state. By this definition, there can be two extreme types of problem: structured and unstructured. A problem is structured when the current state, the desired state (or, criteria to know when the desired state has been reached), and the method to reach the desired state are known. On the other hand, a problem is unstructured when those three variables are unknown. And, by this definition, my problem was closer to the latter: I did not know how happy or sad I accurately was, what a state of endless and infinite happiness is like, and the method to attain that infinite happiness.

Therefore, first, I needed to pinpoint the degree of happiness I was at: my then current state. To achieve this, I had to understand happiness more completely.

After some ponderation, I believe happiness can be explained by one simple model. Imagine a spectrum with a negative side on its left representing sadness, positive side on its right representing happiness, and a zero or a neutral point between the two sides. In this diagram, happiness would occur when there is a rightward shift along it, like: a shift from a greater degree of negative to a lesser one (i.e. less sad), from the negative side to the positive side (i.e. sad to happy), and from a lesser degree of positive to a greater one (i.e. happier). Unfortunately, even without this model, I was already very familiar with them; and that was the problem, my mind was so familiar with them that I knew I could not see any new insight from it.

Therefore, I tried observing it from a different perspective. Instead of rightward shifts, I tried observing leftward shifts. Unexpectedly, I noticed something quite intriguing. Theoretically, all leftward movements should incite the feeling of sadness, for example: a movement from a lesser degree of negative to a greater one. An analogy of that would be: if a doctor were to say you have stadium 1 cancer, then he later says you actually have stadium 4 cancer with only one week to live, you would surely feel more sadness. However, interestingly, a shift from a greater degree of positive to a lesser one does not follow that rule, meaning no feeling of sadness should arise because of it. For example, if a man were to say he wants to give you 1 billion rupiahs, but, a few moments later, he says he meant only to give you 100 million rupiahs, that change would not have made you sad. Although you “lost” 900 million rupiahs, the most you will feel is less happy as you are still better off than before he came.
With this insight, I designed a test for myself to determine my internal degree of happiness (i.e. current state), and that is: is there anything in my life (e.g. family, wealth, talents and more) that, if it were to disappear (leftward shift) would make me feel sad? If there is then it is very likely that internally I am at the negative side of the spectrum, for if I were in the positive side that shift would not have made me sad, just less happy. And, my answer to the test was a clear yes.

After realising that my current state was at the negative side of the spectrum, I began to question why? As, theoretically, if nothing had happened to me, then I should have been at the neutral point not the negative side. Therefore, if I could understand why I was in the negative side, then I could understand the method to reach the neutral point. Intuitively, I believed there must have been some event in the past that had caused this phenomenon. So, to find it, I listed some criteria it should possess, they are: it needs to be of a magnitude capable of affecting everyone in the world as I believe it affects everyone not only me, it needs to happen or begin significantly long ago as I believe it affected people in the past too, and it needs to possess an ever-lasting quality as I believe it will continue to affect future generations. These criteria puzzled me, for it was clear the event must be of incredible magnitude and significance. Therefore, it should still have been eminent and considerably well-documented. Thankfully, by the grace of God, I was given the answer: indeed, it was documented, it was documented in the Bible, and that event was when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.

The Fruit
But, how does it affect us today? First, we need to understand the significance of their eating the forbidden fruit. Perusing this, I did find it odd that a simple act of eating a fruit destroyed a relationship that God intently wanted to exist. Upon further contemplation, I realized it was not simply about eating the fruit, but it was more about the act of defiance behind it. And, the defiance was not simply the disobeying of God’s rule, rather it was more about the reason behind it. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, it was because at that moment they trusted their own minds more than God’s.

The act of placing trust on ourselves not on God (the definition of “pride” in this writing) is disastrous because it is tantamount to proclaiming we do not need God. This proclamation equals to us rejecting God from our hearts, causing Him to leave us and us to fall from our neutral state. In addition, because of His leaving, there will be a void inside our hearts, the place where He once stayed. And, the existence of this void that only He can fill is the reason behind the sadness of humanity today. Tragically, even if God, the only individual capable of filling that void, is knocking on the door to enter our hearts, we will not let Him in because we are too prideful.

Visualizing it into the aforementioned spectrum, the space between where we are at the negative side and the neutral point is made up only of our pride. It would also entail that as we shift our trusts from ourselves to God (i.e. less pride) that distance will directly and proportionately shrink, making us closer to the neutral state.

Then, the question is how do we reduce our pride? To answer that, we need to accurately understand how that pride manifests in our lives, so we can have a more concrete point to start repairing on. And, this understanding will come after we have understood the reason behind our actions. In short, the reason behind our actions is our desire for happiness. Therefore, I realized the most pervasive manifestation of our pride is in the act of forming our own definition of happiness.

And, to be clear, the problem does not lie in the definition of happiness, but in the act of forming it. Even if the definition is Christianity, it is still an act of defiance. Thus, we would still be too prideful to let God in.

A person who forms Christianity as his or her definition of happiness may call him or herself or be called by society a Christian, and may even understand the theology of Christianity very well. However, he or she is not a true Christian as he or she is too prideful to let God be inside his or her heart. Therefore, he or she can never practice the commands in the Bible with earnest joy and love for the act itself (not the status or result he or she gets from doing it), and be constantly overflowing with happiness and grace to those around him or her. As it is his or her own definition of happiness that led him or her to believing in Christianity. Perhaps, his or her definition of happiness is the absence of pain, and Christianity provides that as it promises to prevent people from going to hell; thus, for that reason, he or she chooses to believe in it.

A simple test to determine whether you are forming or pursuing your own definition of happiness is whether you are actively seeking to make yourself happy. For example, you may set targets for yourself to achieve a certain achievement at a certain point in your life, or you may simply like to dream of what your future should be like. If you have been acting this way, it is very likely you have been following your own definition of happiness, notwithstanding you or society calls you a Christian.

The right attitude, which is that of a true Christian, is to passively and patiently wait for God’s instruction to act, and only act when He gives it.

Sadly, I believe many people (including those proclaiming to be Christians) are not true Christians who passively wait for God’s instructions. If you are one of them (if you are unsure, then you are most probably one of them), do not be in denial about it. But, do not be ashamed of, or be sad about it because it is simply something you need to – or more accurately want to – fix. And, to fix it, you need to start letting your own definition of happiness go, and start asking and waiting for God for His. And, remember, the only reason you cannot hear His answer is because you are too prideful as you still (most likely unconsciously) believe your mind is capable and, therefore, you do not see the need to listen to Him. Hence, you do not want to listen to Him, and ‘cannot’ hear Him.

Simple but not Easy
Letting go of your definition of happiness is simple, but not easy. However, it is only as difficult as the amount of pride that you have. Because, the only method of leaving it is through humility. In essence, humility is the absence of pride (hence, reducing the distance to the neutral point). However, I do understand it is quite an abstract explanation. So, a more concrete one of it is: to first have an accurate self-esteem, which is high as we were created with His image and likeness, and has been given many other graces. However, we also honestly realize that we are sinners and can only abuse them. Therefore, we earnestly believe we need His complete guidance to use them in a manner that it will be of value as we whole-heartedly believe He is truly the greatest, the only One worthy of praise, and the only One capable of guiding us. This last point is quintessential and the most concrete step you can take to achieve humility, and I will explain the method to attain it soon.

Also, beware of fake humility. It may seem very appealing as it contains elements of our original state (e.g. caring, accurate self-esteem, respect and more), creating an illusory sense of nearing our neutral state (a state even non-Christians desire), yet without asking us to confront our pride. However, even if some people may truly feel the benefits of it, they will still feel a void inside as it is fake. To easily identify whether a teaching is fake or not, we should question whether it requires the singular reliance on God. If it does not, then it is fake. Often, instead of reliance on God, it will be based on ourselves or on relationships with other people or, more broadly, one’s own definition of happiness.

Finally, the final point yet to be clarified in our unstructured problem: the desired state. Intuitively, the structure of this writing should have begun with clarifying the current state, then the desired state and finally the method to reach that desired state. However, the reason I left the explanation of the desired state to the end is simply because it cannot be explained, or – more accurately – words are not a good enough medium of communication to explain it. The only way for you to truly understand the greatness and glory of the desired state is to arrive there and experience it yourself. For example, you wish to see the beauty of Bali. No amount of photos or testimonies from people who have been there will let you fully experience its beauty. You need to travel there and experience it first-hand. The same goes for the desired state, the greatness and beauty of it is ineffable, it is literally beyond your wildest dreams; you will feel a new and awesome form of happiness you never thought could have even existed, or your mind can even perceive. Therefore, attain it and experience it for yourself!

Nevertheless, I will try to tease you the best I can. That desired state is, quite obviously, Christ-likeness. But, what is it really? To fully understand it we first need to understand emotion. There are two stages of emotion: unsanctified and sanctified.
Firstly, unsanctified emotion, the stage most familiar to us. In essence, unsanctified emotion is characterized by its nature to shift the individual’s focus back to him or herself. For example, when somebody belittles you, you feel anger, and that anger (assuming its unsanctified) shifts your focus back to you, as it causes you to desire retaliation. Or, it may also occur on gentler feelings like infatuation. It may seem like it shifts the focus of the individual to the object of his or her infatuation. But in reality, the focus is shifted back to the individual as it makes him or her to care mostly about appeasing his or her own loneliness (which is actually caused by God’s leaving our hearts, more on this on the next paragraph). In addition, emotion is also active when no significant event is present; in fact, this manifestation is of greater significance than when there is as it directs the whole focus of our lives. Consequently, people expressing a greater degree of unsanctified emotion will tend to constantly be more self-centred.

So, why does unsanctified emotion possess this nature? In essence, emotion is simply an expression of our heart, where heart is defined as the part in us that tells us the purpose we should live our lives for. Hence, the problem lies within our heart, not the emotion. And, that problem is the aforementioned void present in our hearts, where God once stayed, caused by our aforementioned defiance. Whether our minds are conscious or unconscious of its presence, our hearts are, and it is great in pain because of it. Therefore, to pacify the pain, it will redirect our minds’ focus by expressing self-centred (unsanctified) emotion to ourselves with the hope of our minds taking successful steps to fill that void. However, as explained before, without the grace from God and our growth in humility, we are too prideful to let the only One capable of filling it in; instead, we will aimlessly try to rely on ourselves to find a replacement for Him that does not exist.

Secondly, sanctified emotion. Sanctified emotion is the emotion that will increasingly be expressed as that void is gradually filled. Thus, it is the only type of emotion we will express when we have reached perfect Christ-likeness. Unlike unsanctified emotion that is based on self-centeredness, sanctified emotion is solely based on unconditional love. And, when God has filled our hearts, we will naturally begin to stop expressing unsanctified (self-centred) emotion as there is no longer need for it; instead, we will effortlessly begin to unconditionally love others.

For example, if someone belittled you, you would feel nothing but love to them and wished they would return back to God, and you could not even see yourself being belittled. Or, if someone betrayed your trust, you would effortlessly forgive them, and not ask for vengeance. Certainly, the aforementioned reactions are not the only right ones, and it may even be wrong depending on the circumstances at the time. But, no matter what emotion you express (even anger) it will be solely based on unconditional love, and expressed effortlessly. Moreover, your entire focus in life will shift to pleasing God and unconditionally loving others, making you to forget yourself.

In addition to transforming of our emotion, the filling of that void inside our hearts will also change the purpose we live our lives for (as aforementioned: the heart is responsible for directing our lives’ purpose). Because our purpose will no longer be to fill that void, instead it will be restored to our original purpose: to please God. And, it may seem unlikely now but, we will effortlessly perform it, earnestly love it, and whole-heartedly unable to imagine living for another purpose. Thus, we will no longer follow our own definition of happiness, instead we will always be asking God for His.

And, once we have reached this state, we will no longer view the Holy Bible as God’s command, we will see it as God’s answers to our desire for pleasing Him. Therefore, everything God has asked us to do in the Holy Bible or through our personal communication with Him, we will do it effortlessly because it is what we desire to do, it is what we were designed to do, and we will earnestly and whole-heartedly love doing it (repeated for emphasis). Hence, we will start to: love work, love our enemies, enjoy living, dislike earthly things and love heavenly things, find balance in different aspects of our lives (e.g. health, work, time and more), understand God’s will, care less about going to heaven (we will singularly focus on pleasing God, not ourselves) and many more. And, all of these are only a glimpse as to the state of Christ-likeness. In quintessence, reaching Christ- likeness – or getting closer to it – is literally and truly the only and the ultimate panacea for us all (thus, the title).

However, do keep in mind: as long as we are on earth we will never be able to achieve perfect Christ-likeness. And, the best we can achieve is to get closer to it. So, for now, our goal is to reach a state of continuously increasing desire to move closer to Christ-likeness.

Finally, I wish to talk about the positive side of the spectrum I introduced earlier. So far I have talked about the negative side of the spectrum and the neutral point (which is Christ-likeness), but I have yet to talk about the positive side. Intuitively, we can see that we can only reach this side after we have achieved perfect Christ-likeness, which will occur only when God has come for the second time, perfected us, his chosen people, and, naturally, brought us into heaven. Therefore, the happiness of the positive side is the one we will experience in heaven. But before understanding what it is like, we first need to understand the difference between earthly and heavenly happiness. In short, the difference between them is the nature of their source and the method to attain them: the source of earthly happiness is external and is achieved by believing in yourself (your definition of happiness), while the source of heavenly happiness is internal and is achieved only by true humility.

Hence, happiness in heaven (the positive side) will not be in the form of having an endless supply of food and wealth, absence of work (in fact, you will love work), God’s token of appreciation and more because they are external (refer to previous few paragraphs for its definition). Instead, it will be in the form of an internal happiness, and, as we were created to please God, it is the knowledge that the lives we have lived on earth have pleased Him. Therefore, the more pleasing to God our actions on earth were, the happier we will be in heaven (i.e. at a greater point on the positive side) eternally.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” (Ps. 1:1-3, ESV)

Danny Sutrisno
Pemuda GRII Singapura

Danny Sutrisno

Agustus 2016

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