Hundreds of Yale students cram into prof’s class on happiness — Here’s what they are looking for
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HUMONGOUS YALE STUDENT ENROLLMENT FOR “CLASS ON HAPPINESS”
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, I want to take you to two stories: one out of The Stream, the other out of The New York Times. The New York Times headline, on January 12th, a few days after registration opened at Yale for Psych Class 157: Psychology and the Good Life, roughly 3,000 people had signed up for the class; within three days, that figure more than doubled; after three more days, about 1,200 students or nearly one-fourth of Yale undergraduates were enrolled. The course, taught by Laurie Santos, a psychology professor and head of one of Yale’s residential colleges, tries to teach students how to be happy.
DR. REEDER: Here is the third oldest university in the United States, Ivy League. It is there for classical learning and highly competitive to get into it and you’ve got, basically, 25 percent of the student body sign up for this one class. I thought it’s pretty interesting: She said to all of them, “I’d prefer that you sign up on a pass/fail.” She didn’t want the grading process to produce unhappiness, I guess.
I’ve read a little bit of what she’s teaching and it’s going to be pretty much positive mental attitude, tips for living, be more courteous, etc. There’s nothing going to the foundational issues of life.
HAPPINESS IS IN THE BIBLE — JUST A LITTLE DIFFERENT FROM CULTURAL DEFINITION
People do want to be happy. I know that may be a shocker, but it is the fact. One of the key texts in the Bible is Psalm 1. It’s called the “Beatitude of the Old Testament” by many. “How blest, truly happy, is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly. Now, the wicked, they are not so. They are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. The Lord knows the way of the righteous but the way of the wicked shall surely perish.”
It’s a passage that acknowledges that people are seeking true happiness. Now, the Bible says that true happiness is really a subset – a fruit of – what the Bible calls joy – the joy of the Lord, the joy of our salvation, the joy of knowing God.
START WITH GOD’S DEFINITION OF MAN’S PURPOSE, NOT SOCIETY’S
And, in our catechism of the reformed church, what is the chief purpose of man? The chief purpose of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. In other words, the fountain of joy is in the glory of God and the glory of God leads to the fountain of joy. The two are inseparable: The more you glorify Him, the more you enjoy Him; the more you enjoy Him, the more you glorify Him.
Now, in the world, we are searching for happiness outside of that. The Yale student body is growing up in a culture that says, “Happiness is in unrestrained drug use, unrestrained sexual activity. Happiness is found in success, in celebrity status, in power, in influence.”
Look at the people who have most attained what our culture tells us is the source of happiness. Just take a look at Hollywood: Would you like to see the budget in Hollywood for a therapist? Would you like to see the suicide rate among the celebrity status?
And there’s a sense that, “Wait, wait, wait. This isn’t delivering. I want true happiness,” so they’re going to go to a class and that class is basically going to say, “Hey, let’s act better and do better because it’ll be better for your life and here’s a few tips for living.”
GIFTS OF GOD CAN EASILY BECOME IDOLATRY AND ALIENATING
What the Bible says is, “No, no.” There’s something called the Gospel. It’s called the message and ministry of reconciliation. The reason that true happiness constantly escapes us is because, one, the very things we’re looking to to bring happiness actually bring emptiness. That’s why the book of Ecclesiastes is written.
The good gifts of God, when they become idolatry, become black holes of vanity and emptiness but, with a right relationship with God, all of that is addressed and now you can enjoy the things of God to the glory of God and, thereby, enjoy Him. But you’ve got to have that relationship with Him and that’s why we’ve got a “Good News” message and that is God has initiated, achieved, accomplished, and offers to you a relationship with Him.
Our real issue is alienation – not from happiness and not from others – our real issue is alienation from God. That’s why the alienation is all around us and God says, “In place of alienation, I’ve got reconciliation.”
NASSAR SEXUAL ASSAULT VICTIM PROVIDES INSPIRING GOSPEL MESSAGE
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, that story of reconciliation was seen so, so clearly on a piece written by Esther O’Reilly in the online publication The Stream. It is the testimony of Rachael Denhollander. She was one of the many young ladies that was sexually abused by the doctor, Larry Nassar. Through her tears, obviously what was a heart wrenching situation when she was giving her testimony – but at the same time, through her Christian testimony – she said that her message that Christ alone can redeem damaged bodies and spirits also speaks to a confused culture that only has half-truth of sexual brokenness. She clearly said that “Christ can reach even through prison bars.”
DR. REEDER: It was really interesting how she laid out before this doctor, who was now carrying a Bible in with him to the courtroom, that, “If that Bible does its work, you will own your sin, you will repent of your sin and you will do deeds that acknowledge your sin and deeds appropriate to repentance.” And then she laid before him this powerful statement of accountability and forgiveness and that is the great work of redemption in Jesus Christ: that Jesus Christ did not wink at our sin – He paid for it and then He brings us to Himself that we may know the joy of salvation and the joy of growing in His grace and killing sin instead of sin killing us and, through us, killing the lives and hearts and hopes of others.
Tom, that was a powerful statement but, in it, she acknowledged, “I will not let what you have done to me to control my life. I know the Lord has loved me, He has given Himself for me and that is now my life. My life will not be defined by what you do so I have forgiven you.” She also recognizes, “I can forgive you, but you still have to answer to the Lord. The only way you receive forgiveness from the Lord is to turn from your sins and put your trust in Christ and that will show up by how you own your sins and how you respond to them.”
And then she acknowledges, “And you have a responsibility and accountability to the state. You have an accountability to those to whom you’ve sinned against to do deeds appropriate to repentance as well as seeking their forgiveness.” All of that is wonderfully laid out and you see the power of forgiveness.
HAPPINESS ALSO COMES IN FORGIVENESS AND SEEING OTHERS RECONCILE WITH GOD
Therefore, brothers and sisters, I think that is something directly tied to this matter of happiness. Happiness is not sitting in a corner wishing for God to bring judgment upon others. God does judge sin – and “the soul that sinneth shall surely die” – but what we want to do is rejoice in the forgiveness we have, we extend that forgiveness in our heart and, when people repent, we verbalize that forgiveness, yet we recognize, “I can forgive you, but you still have an issue with the state because the civil magistrate is another issue of its job to maintain order in society.”
And you have to deal with the Lord, Himself, and the only way that you can gain His forgiveness that way is His son, Jesus. No man can come to the Father but through Him, but those who come to Him, they are assured: “He who believes in me has eternal life. Your sins are forgiven, His righteousness is yours.”
And it assures us one more thing: those who truly come to Christ, there will be an evidence: confession and ownership of sin, the sorrow of sin, deeds appropriate – not penance to get salvation, but deeds appropriate to repentance. The tax collector, when he was converted and he said to Jesus, “All that I’ve stolen, I am going to give back.” He didn’t do that for his salvation, but he did that because of his salvation.
And, for those of you who are searching for happiness, here is a woman who we would look at and understand if she was in abject depression but, instead, you saw a confident woman in the Lord, able to forgive, able to acknowledge accountability, calling for confession and deeds of repentance, yet also calling for him to come to Christ and then showing the power of the grace of God that true joy can be yours even in the midst of horrific acts in a fallen world done against us. That’s what the Bible calls “walking in the triumph of Christ.”
STUDENTS NEED MESSAGE OF SALVATION FROM THE DIVINE TEACHER
To the Yale students who are signing up for this class, I know what you’re looking for. It’s the same thing we’re all looking for: How do I get free from my sin and the emptiness of the false promises of idolatry in rebellion against God and how can I know the joy of the Lord?
The way you can know it is Jesus, who is the savior of sinners; Jesus, the enemy of sin and the friend to sinners. “Happy am I, Jesus loves me. He took my sins and He set me free. Now I can sing all day long for happy am I.”
Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.
This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin, editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News. Jessica has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and her work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.