The Ultimate Good
By Anthony Casperson
Some may wonder why every year I take the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas to write about sadness, depression, sorrow, and other emotional experiences like them. “It’s supposed to be a time of cheer and happiness,” some might say. They often even wrangle in joy, equating it entirely with happiness.
Part of the reason why I take these weeks to think intently about these “negative” emotions is because there’s an increase of depression and suicide during this holiday season. (It seems strange that during a season where there’s an increased emphasis on happiness, that there’s also an increase of people experiencing unhappiness.)
I desire to alleviate the downward spiral of depressive thoughts and actions that such a glorification of happiness creates in many of us. Don’t get me wrong. Happiness can be good, but it isn’t humanity’s greatest good.
And herein lies the point. In western culture (including many followers of Jesus), we’ve bought into a perspective of happiness as the ultimate good. Nothing’s considered to be better for someone than to be happy, as long as it doesn’t harm someone else’s happiness. (Said harm being somewhat malleable depending on the person talking.)
Think about how many times we’ve heard someone say, “I just want them to be happy,” or, “What’s the harm as long as they’re happy?” Many of the hot-button issues of the day revolve around people saying that keeping others from doing the things that make them happy is wrong.
In such a happiness-based morality, anything that makes us unhappy, or keeps us from happiness, becomes “evil.” Such “negative” feelings become something to run from. Sadness becomes this morality’s enemy. Depression its greatest sin. To think or feel anything along these anti-happiness lines then means that there’s something wrong with us.
It’s no wonder then, when confronted with this foisting of happiness on everybody, that those who find themselves unable to get out of this morality’s “sinful” mire seek the only manner to escape their wrongness. The near-deification of happiness as humanity’s ultimate good destroys the hope of we who experience sorrowful emotions on a daily basis.
And when true hope dies, life quickly follows.
There is a greatest good for humanity, one that gives life even in the midst of our depression and sadness. One that we can experience without relying on us getting out of these “negative” emotional places. An ultimate good that can be found no matter where we are emotionally.
This is the good of the gospel. The coming of God, enfleshed in humanity, to die as sacrifice on the cross and be raised on the third day. The gospel calls us to give glory to God and grow in his likeness.
When we do these things, we’ll experience the best that our Creator has in store for us. We’ll discover the truest hope of life. Real joy that comes whether happy or sad.
So the question comes my fellow followers of Jesus, during this holiday season, will we foist western culture’s happiness-based morality on others? Or will we call upon the holiness of the gospel to bring life, even in the midst of sadness, depression, and sorrow?
Our answer will be what we truly believe the ultimate good is for humanity.