More Than a Feeling

A new movie starring Robin Williams, What Dreams May Come is all about going to heaven. But before Christians start flooding movie theaters, remember that Hollywood's idea about heaven may be very different from ours. Generally heaven is depicted as the culmination of our dreams of ultimate happiness. Understandable, I suppose, for Hollywood, since happiness is supposed to be everyone's goal. But not only does Hollywood have a wrong view of heaven; it's also got a distorted view of happiness. Williams plays a character who dies and goes to heaven—only to find that it looks exactly like a 3-D version of a painting done by his artist wife. The idea is that eternal bliss is being near our loved ones—or next best thing. In Williams's case, it means living in a landscape his wife has painted while he waits for her to come to heaven. But more importantly, Williams's heaven is a creation of his own will. When he notices a bird painted in the sky above his head, Williams asks his spiritual guide why it's not moving. The guide says it's completely up to him; if he wants it to, it will fly. So Williams wills the bird to life, and it begins to fly wherever he wants it to go. The underlying theme is that ultimate happiness is being able to control reality, to have all our wishes and desires fulfilled. Well, this may well reflect the contemporary view of happiness, but it falls woefully short of the historic view. Deal Hudson, editor of Crisis magazine, writes that the classical idea of happiness had to do with a state of character and virtue. The ancient Greek word for happiness meant the formation of character over a lifetime. It referred to how well we conformed ourselves to reality: that is, the structure of the universe around us, and our own nature. Only by learning to live in accord with our true nature can we be genuinely happy. This is the sense of happiness the Founding Fathers had in mind when they talked about the inalienable right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." They meant we have a right to practice the virtues that ultimately lead to true happiness. That was the ancient Greek understanding, and it was also the Christian understanding. Today, Hudson writes, "the word happiness [has been] stripped of its moral meaning." The modern understanding has more to do with feeling good and getting what we want. In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis says, "For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality. And the solution has been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue." But for the contemporary mindset "the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of man." Lewis had it right! The truth is that we are not the creators of reality, God is. And the more we try to create our own Reality, the unhappier we become. But the more we live in harmony with the objective reality God has created, the happier we will be. Williams's movies are usually hits and widely discussed. If your friends start talking about this film, use it as an apologetic opportunity. Heaven is not the happiness of having our own way. And anyone who has tried the self-indulgent, hedonistic lifestyle has discovered the only real happiness is finding peace through Him who conforms us to the moral order He has created.


Chuck Colson


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