The start of the book really had me wondering if I wanted to read through to the end. There were so many references to research on happiness from the world of psychologists and social researchers. If David Murray didn't come with such excellent credentials, I would have questioned whether he was on the same theological wavelength as me. Surely our motivations should come from God's Word, said I, and not from some dubious study done somewhere with two depressed uni students and a dog?
And, as if he'd read my mind, Murray said, "Maybe you are surprised at how many times I've quoted unbelievers and called us to learn from them and excel them. Prepare to be further shocked, because I'm about to devote a whole chapter to the subject!" Ah-ha. He was on to me.
In truth, it's an excellent book. Even as I was cynically working my way through the early chapters while holding the content at a mental arm's-length, I found myself beginning to reflect on circumstances and issues in life differently.
In the preface to Terry L. Johnson's book When grace comes home, he observes that there seem to be two kinds of Christians: those are glad about it and those who are mad about it. The glad type overflow with thankfulness and want to share their joy with others. Then there's the mad type:
'Their fundamental orientation is not the positive identity and benefits that they have in Christ, but anger at all those who don't share their outlook. They are Christian, but mad about it.'
This resonated with me at the time I read it because I recognise that kind of Christian: quick to put down others, fault-finding, unduly wary of the world, cynical and insular. I recognise it in myself all too often and I can trace back periods of time in my life when sadly it was my primary orientation.
Murray's book calls us to be different. To be joyful. To be happy. Now, a lot of Christians talk about the need to distinguish between "joy" and "happiness". They are suggesting that there is a difference between temporary feelings of pleasure, or happiness, and life-long contentment and joy-even-in-the-midst-of-suffering. True. It is a helpful distinction. However, this has for some of us morphed into a general cynicism about temporal happiness (no doubt partly in reaction to those brands of Christianity that suggest unless you are happy like a giddy idiot all day long you are not a real Christian).
'...we have drifted into such a default normality of negativity that anyone calling for a more biblical balance is often viewed with grave suspicion. "He wants us to be happy? Burn the heretic!" '
As Murray, starts to attack our 'reasons' for seeing the world in such a gloomy manner (and I am the first 'Eeyore' to put my hand up for that) he points out that we have overwhelmingly more reasons to be positive and glad than we do for despair. Really! I found this difficult to believe (because I'm such a gloomy old thing) but sure enough after 233 pages I found myself thinking it too.
So definitely worth a read. I think the killer punch for me was when he said,
'Many of us who wouldn't dream of viewing God's Word in a false or distorted way, think nothing of viewing God's world in a false or distorted way.'
Guilty as charged!