Pain Now, the Land of Happy Later

In his book of children’s poems Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein has this poem titled “The Land of Happy”: 

Have you been to The Land of Happy,
Where everyone’s happy all day,
Where they joke and they sing
Of the happiest things,
And everything’s jolly and gay?
There’s no one unhappy in Happy,
There’s laughter and smiles galore.
I have been to The Land of Happy—
What a bore!

Growing up, this poem was unsettling to me; to affirm it seemed somehow wrong, and yet I knew it to be true. I much preferred books, movies, and television shows that included bad guys (and more importantly, the people fighting them) over stories about people living happily and somewhat non-eventfully. I couldn’t reconcile my preference with the fact that heaven would have none of this excitement; what was wrong with me that I didn’t prefer the Land of Happy?

It took me years, but I finally saw that there’s no contradiction between 1) loving, honoring, and desiring good and 2) preferring stories with bad guys over the Land of Happy. I was drawn to stories with evil and suffering not because I was attracted to the evil, but because that evil brought out the glory and character of the good that struggled against it; it was the response of goodness that I was tuning in to see. The characters in those stories who rose up against the bad guys revealed the power and beauty of goodness in a way that an unprovoked—though perfectly good—character would not (see here for more on this).

The part of God’s story we find ourselves in now is not the Land of Happy. And for a time, this fallen world is instrumental in demonstrating to us the beauty of God’s character—the fullness of which we would never understand, appreciate, or glorify were we not to see Him interact with a sinful world. A few examples:

  • Because of the existence of our sin, we see that God is a righteous judge: “[O]ur unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God [when He judges our unrighteousness]” (Romans 3:5).
  • We see God’s holiness and righteousness in the price that was necessary to atone for sin. We see that He’s just and so cannot simply lower His standard and let sin pass: “God displayed [Christ Jesus] publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-26).
  • We see that God has a love that seeks out and sacrifices for us, His enemies: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
  • We see and experience the incredible depth of God’s grace: “[We] were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4–7).

The aspects of God’s character we learn about now as a result of living in a fallen world will make our time with Him in eternity even more glorious. But after sin has served its purpose here, we won’t need it to continue. We’ll have all of human history on which to reflect in order to truly know God’s character, and all of eternity to enjoy Him face to face in peace.

He will swallow up death for all time,
And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces,
And He will remove the reproach of
His people from all the earth;
For the Lord has spoken.
And it will be said in that day,
“Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation” (Isaiah 25:8–9).

And it won’t be boring at all.

blog post |
Amy K. Hall