Summary: For Reformation Sunday, October 1987: Job in the Old Testament and Luther in the Reformation Era were chronically unhappy people, but used that as a form of spiritual energy to drive them toward creative achievement and an honest personal faith.
It looks as though some people are just born to be unhappy. There are some people who are going to approach nearly everything with a complaint or a gripe, who are going to make a personal issue out of everything. Nothing is quite good enough, nothing quite satisfies.
There are folks whose unhappiness leads them never to be satisfied, even with the good things that happen to them. These good things are not good enough. Let them receive a birthday gift and well wishes from their friends, and they are unhappy because they are another year older and deeper in debt – unhappy. Let them win first prize in some contest or competition, and they are unhappy because there was no standing ovation to go along with it -- most unhappy. Let them get Ed McMahon's proverbial letter, only this time it says, "You have won one million dollars in the publishers contest," and they are most unhappy because Uncle Sam wants his share -- unhappy, always unhappy. Let them die and go to heaven and they are unhappy because someone else has a better view of the ivory palaces and because the golden streets are bumpy. There are, I say, the chronically unhappy, because nothing sever quite good enough, no good thing is quite what it ought to be, life treats them raw – happy, always unhappy, chronically unhappy.
But what fascinates me about this business of chronic unhappiness is that what looks like a pathology, what looks like a sickness of the soul, can also become the fuel for spiritual creativity. It is possible that those who are chronically unhappy, those for whom nothing is quite satisfactory and never quite good enough -- it is possible that the chronically unhappy can also become those who achieve new spiritual breakthroughs and discover new insights and new truths about God. Chronic unhappiness can be a sickness, yes, and it can certainly irritate the living daylights out of the folks who have to live with the chronic, but it can also be the source of enormous spiritual creativity.
I'd like you this morning to consider the stories of at least two chronically unhappy persons, this special kind of creative chronic unhappiness. I'd like you to hear their stories and perceive how they managed their chronic unhappiness so that it became the engine for spiritual creativity. And maybe in so doing you can tap a source which would help you to take that nagging dissatisfaction, that touch of melancholy, that little grain of irritation that's in you and let it become the beginning of a blessing. After all, the oyster, they tell me, takes a little grain of sand, just the tiniest source of irritation, and around it secretes the substance which eventually becomes a lovely pearl. Maybe that can happen for you too.
First I introduce you to Job. I see Job as one of the chronically unhappy of this earth. You say, well, he had good reason to be unhappy: stricken with the tragic deaths of his family members, slapped with the loss of his wealth, deprived of his health and perched on top of a garbage dump, scraping at his sores with broken scraps of pottery – who wouldn't be unhappy? Not exactly the kind of person you would expect to hear warbling, "Life is just a bowl of cherries!!" But there is another dimension, a depth to Job ‘s unhappiness. Job is unhappy because of the tragedies that have come into his life. He is on his way to becoming the chronically unhappy person; nothing any of his friends can say or do seems to help him. They speak, they advise, they console, but Job will have none of it. He won’t listen, he won't be consoled, and he won' t even pretend to be grateful they have come by to offer counsel. You know how it is, when you go to somebody to console them; you expect to be overwhelmed with gratitude! Not Job; he just seems to want to rot away in his unhappiness.
Listen; I could have selected many passages, but this one will give you the flavor of a profoundly, incurably, chronically unhappy man:
"Cut me off, Lord, let me die .. That would be my consolation, I would even exult in pain unsparing." See? That confirms our worst suspicions, doesn't it? That the chronically unhappy are happy only when they are unhappy! I hope you can make sense out of that. And if Job were here and saying that to you or me this morning, we would schedule him for ten years of analysis with the nearest psychiatrist. Chronically unhappy.
The second person I want you to meet is Martin Luther. Luther the church reformer, Luther the Bible scholar, Martin Luther the spiritual giant. Before he was any of these was an unhappy person, a chronically unhappy man. On this last Sunday in October, when we traditionally celebrate the Protestant Reformation that began in the 16th Century, it's always valuable to remember that the man whose spiritual energies burst forth in such a remarkable way 470 years ago this week started as a dissatisfied, spiritually hungry, emotionally upset, chronically unhappy man. At the age of twenty-one he had been struck by lightning and almost died, and he caught a vision of a terrible, angry God; he decided to become a monk in the church of his day. A few years later, just after his ordination to the priesthood, the young Luther prepared to officiate at the Lord's Table for the first time, was again struck with terror, and in his words, remembers what he felt, "I was utterly stupefied and terror-stricken … Who am I, that I should lift up mine eyes to the divine majesty? Shall I, a miserable pygmy, say, 'I want this, I ask for that'? For I am dust and ashes and full of sin and I am speaking to the living eternal God." And the record says that he left the altar that day barely able even to stand on his own feet, an unhappy man, a spiritually wrung out soul, full of sickness. Chronically unhappy.