The Happiness Dilemma – Part 2

Posted on August 26, 2010

By Justin Edwards

We continue in Chapter 3 of Ray Comfort’s God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life: The Myth of the Modern Message with the question “Who is the gospel for?” In Part 1, Ray introduced the tragedy of the modern message that seeks to bring the Gospel, an inadequate one at that, to the the broken and despaired alone. With a focus on these “problem” people, others that are otherwise happy with their “wonderful life” would have no use for the modern gospel. They might be perfectly content and have no need for this other jesus who only wants to “fix them” apart from addressing the sin problem.

So with that background, let’s continue in the chapter:

Who Is the Gospel For?

We limit our evangelistic outreaches when we bill them as “taking the Good News to the hurting and the needy.” Let me further illustrate this common misunderstanding by quoting from another modern publication:

You will desire to be where the Lord is. And He spends His time with those who hurt. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus quoted Isaiah to describe the work He was called to do: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18,19)…Thus the more you go after God, the deeper you will move into a world filled with hurting people.

 I am in no way questioning the sincerity of the author, but I believe he perpetuates a common misunderstanding of what Jesus intended to communicate when he quoted from Isaiah 61:1,2. We live in a “therapeutic” culture that places a high value on feeling good, self-esteem, and self-actualization. Consequently, when we see words like “poor,” “brokenhearted,” and “oppressed,” we think of people who are beset by life’s circumstances, whether it’s poverty, divorce, addiction, or disease. Jesus, however, is speaking primarily in spiritual terms.

From Luke 4:18,19, here is Jesus’ summation of who the gospel if for:

  • The poor
  • The brokenhearted
  • The captives
  • The blind
  • The oppressed

When Jesus speaks of the poor, He is not necessarily referring to those who lack financial resources. Instead, He is referring to the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) – those who are meek, humble, lowly. These are the blessed ones to whom the kingdom of God belongs: those who know that they are destitute of righteousness. In his commentary on Luke 4:14-30, Matthew Henry writes:

Observe…to whom He was to preach: to the poor, to those that were poor in the world; whom the Jewish doctors disdained to undertake the teaching of and spoke of with contempt; to those that were poor in spirit, to the meek and humble, and to those that were truly sorrowful for sin. (emphasis in the original)

When Jesus speaks of the brokenhearted, He doesn’t mean those unhappy people whose hearts are aching because they have been jilted by a sweetheart, but those who, like Peter and Isaiah, are contrite and sorrowing for their sin. In David’s great prayer of confession, he realized that the sacrifices God desires are “a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17). In the words of Matthew Henry, “[Christ] was sent to heal the brokenhearted,…to give peace to those that were troubled and humbled for sins,…and to bring them to rest who were weary and heavy-laden, under the burden of guilt and corruption.”

The  captives are those “taken captive by [the devil] to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26).

The blind are those whom “the god of this age has blinded…[to] the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

The oppressed are those who are “oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38).

In other words, Jesus came to preach the Good News of God’s forgiveness to those who recognize their spiritual poverty and are broken by the realization that they have sinned against a just and holy God. That isn’t to say that Jesus did not minister to those who were beset by life’s circumstances – but His message was not only for those people, and the freedom He offered was not freedom from the hardships of life. Again, the gospel is not confined to the hurting people with ruined lives and heartaches. Both hurting and happy people need to be shown their sinful state before God so they will seek after the righteousness that is in Christ.

One atheist, understandably confused by the life-enhancement message, observed: “At one church I visited, some people were asked to write down how they felt before and after becoming Christian. They said things like ‘dark and light,’ ‘lonely and befriended,’ which got me wondering: Was being down or lonely or desperate a prerequisite to finding God? Did these people think that others who had not yet found God were lost, scared or miserable? Do I have to go through some sort of trauma or crisis before finding some ultimate meaning?”

[to be continued]

Posted in: Evangelism