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Do You Want Happiness, or Justice?

We all want justice. Practically everyone wants to live in a world where truth prevails and we’re all treated fairly, lovingly. Yet we live in a world that is profoundly unjust. A society in which black men are routinely murdered with impunity by law enforcement. A world in which the wealthiest 1% control roughly half of our planet’s wealth.

How can this be? What does it mean that the overwhelming majority of us long for peace, justice, a society in which fairness and love are the norm, and yet we are surrounded by injustice that is so foul that it tempts us to despair?

Here’s the sad truth: As much as we want justice, we want happiness more.

It often seems like we must choose one or the other. The society of truth and justice that we all long for simply isn’t compatible with a safe, comfortable life. The peaceable kingdom, the beloved community, the society that King and Gandhi and Jesus point us to is one birthed of struggle.

Justice – a truthful and kind-hearted community rooted in love – comes about only through discomfort. We take the first step towards justice when we recognize that we have a problem. We can’t get there until we wrestle with the pain of that problem – with our anger, shame, and fear. Justice doesn’t find us until we resolve to change our lives, facing our own darkness and exposing it to the light.

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a fun time to me. The path of justice is so full of challenge, struggle, and pain; it’s no wonder that our world looks the way it does. We’d rather be happy than do the bloody work of forging a just and loving society. Most of the time, we’d rather limp along with our bandaged wounds than face the cleansing, healing fire.

Everybody wants peace, but who wants to face up to our own violent behavior and attitudes? We all want truth, but who among us really wants to face the lies we’ve told? Practically everyone wants to live in a world that is kind, loving, and fair, but how many people do you know who are eager to give up their hard-earned advantages to benefit those who have less? Not many.

We’d rather not go down that road of risk and pain and struggle. We want justice, but not at that price. So we live in this broken world, full of injustice and hatred, despite our deep desire to see truth and love prevail.

It’s tragic, but not surprising. Most of the time, we’ll pick happiness over justice. Even if that unjust happiness is just a pale shadow of the fulfillment we might find in truth. But that kind of happiness lies on the other side of the fire, through the struggle and the pain. If the way out of hell is covered in thorns, flames, and the agony of the cross – well, most of us prefer the devil we know.

But we do have a choice. What if we had the courage to take the journey out of the inferno, even if it means walking through the flames? What kind of life, what kind of community would be possible if we committed ourselves to embracing the struggle for Christ-like love, justice, and mercy – even if it threatens our short-term happiness? You and I are not victims; we are powerful people with choices, ones that make the difference between heaven and hell. 

The easy path leads to destruction. The narrow, hard path leads to life.

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