Once there was a man who lived as a worshipper of Lord Smiley-Face. He grew up singing the smiley songs to Lord Smiley-Face, and faithfully attended his weekly worship services. Lord Smiley-Face was, as you might imagine, a grinning deity, who was most pleased if during worship his followers grinned, giggled and displayed cheerful, chipper attitudes. In fact, if his followers were upbeat, positive and humorous more often than not, they were regarded as holy.
As the man lived in the world, he began to notice that the worship Lord Smiley-Face required did not seem to match the pain and difficulty of life. He wondered within if Lord Smiley-Face had any place for sorrow, distress, confusion, longing, or even hatred. Lord Smiley-Face’s simple yellow countenance seemed so inadequate to match the darkly-textured contours of life.
In desperation, he picked up the Word of Smiley-Face, and purposed to read it sincerely and wholeheartedly. What he found therein shocked him. He found that the deity spoken of within the Word of Smiley-Face was nothing like the pictures, songs and sermons he had heard. In fact, the deity of the Word was not Lord Smiley-Face at all, even though Lord Smiley’s face was on the cover. This deity was large-hearted and compassionate. He was mysterious and hard to understand, and yet willing to be known. He was immensely powerful, and not to be trifled with. He was fully acquainted with human pain, and had even shared in it Himself.
The man read of this deity with trembling. As he read further, his fear turned into a deep desire, and his desire into glad trust. He found himself bowing and kneeling before One whom He now loved like a Father, and bowed before as before a Sovereign.
His new experience unnerved him, and he wondered if he hadn’t become deluded. How could all those weekly worshippers of the Big Yellow Face be wrong? He decided to read the songs, prayers and sermons of long-dead believers in Lord Smiley-Face, to see if their experience was similar to his. To his delight and amazement, he found that they too had known that the deity of the Word was the Consuming Fire, and not the Big Yellow Face. He was amazed that people were using the same words to talk about different objects of worship.
As he studied, he grew in desire for the worship of the True Deity, and in compassion for his fellow humans. He felt grieved that the name of the True Deity was being confused by the grinning worship of Lord Smiley-Face. He found it harder and harder to enjoy the gleeful superficialities, the cheeriness and the happy-talk of the grin-and-care meetings.
He began to voice his views and speak to others about their songs, prayers, and messages. He found that their pasted grins remained fixed in place. They thanked him for his views and assured him that they stood in a good tradition of Smiley-Face believers, and all those people could not have been wrong. They pointed out that they were amongst the most biblical of Smilers. They pointed to all the good being done in the name of Lord Smiley-Face, and to all the formerly sad people who had joined their ranks and had become cheerful.
The man persisted in pointing out the differences between the True Deity and Lord Smiley-Face. Few understood him. They were quite happy with life under Lord Smiley-Face. When the Smilers were not amused by his questions and comments, they became confused, and even irritated.
“Do you hate us?”, asked an older man, his grin taking strain at its edges.
“No, I don’t. If I hated you, I would be indifferent to your condition, and I’d say nothing at all.”
“But you’re being critical,” he said, as if he had not heard him at all.
“Sometimes we must be critical of things that shouldn’t be.”
“What about the simplicity of just smiling at happy things?”, the older man asked.
“It exactly because I want the deepest kinds of joys for you that I point out what is a poor substitute for joy.”
“But just look at you. You’re not smiling. I am. How can you be right about these things if you aren’t smiling?”
“Perhaps a permanent smile is not the sign of true worship,” he said quietly.
“I think you’re becoming so critical that you’re losing the joy of Lord Smiley-Face.”
The man chose to hold his tongue and withdraw. As he walked away, he wondered what it would take for people to break free of the grip of worshipping their own happiness.
(This post originally appeared at Towards Conservative Christianity.)