Monday, November 07, 2011

The Greatest Gift?

Those of us unfortunate enough to recall Ken Dodd's pop career will be able to humm a little ditty called Happiness. 'The greatest gift that I possess...' went the chorus which, annoyingly, I can still sing in full.

I've been pondering happiness recently. A survey, picked up by the Daily Mail but which started its life as the research from a drinks company, listed the top thirty things people said made them happy. These included eating cake, finding £10 in an old pair of jeans and having a quiet moment to yourself.

Since it is fairly clear that two cakes are better than one, £20 is preferable to £10 and two quiet moments are better than a singleton it is apparent that these results are to do with the transitory hit of well-being one can get from a specific event.

In other words, happiness is temporary and short-lived..

Last week Jeanette Winterson read from her biography Why be happy when you could be normal. The comedian Jon Richardson called his recent tour Don't happy be worry.

I was preaching yesterday on the passage in 2 Kings 4 where Elisha revives the dead son of a well-to-do Shunammite woman. In this passage the Hebrew word shalom appears a lot.

It is a fascinating passage, linguistically. Asked if there is anything that can be done to repay her hospitality the woman responds 'I have a home amongst my people.'

It seems to me that she is asked how she can be made happier and she responds that she is content. A home amongst her people is all she needs.

Probing further it turns out she is childless. Elisha prophesies that she will have a son within a year. She accuses him of being mean, 'Don't mislead your servant...'

But she does have a son, who dies after a few years. She heads off to the mountain where Elisha hangs out. Asked if everything is OK (shalom) she replies 'Everything is shalom.' Elisha sees through this and she gives him a right telling-off for taking her contentedness and making her happy only to make her unhappy again.

There is a happy ending. Great prophets don't become so by accident and Elisha does the resurrection thing on the lad.

But you see in a Hebrew sense everything was shalom even before that. The woman was back in exactly the same state she had been in when asked if she needed anything.

You wouldn't be able to imagine chocolate making you happy if you had never tasted chocolate. Once you have had some you need more.

Childlessness is hard to bear but having that ended and then returned to you so dramatically is appalling.

To finish where I began there was a ghastly song we used to sing on houseparties in the 1970s:

If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy
Let Jesus come into your heart

He won't make you happy but he may make you content. I still hate the song but I do understand it. Do not seek happiness; seek joy and contentedness. If you have a home amongst your people that is enough.


RuthJ said...

Am right in there with you on this one, St.

I have one quibble though. I spend six days in seven on the premises of a church where nothing can happen without puddings and/or cake. I am suffering from emotional diabetes. One piece of cake is definitely better than two. No cake is better still.

St said...

Good point. Let us start a campaign. 'Let there be fruit.'