Who has the Good Life? Willard and the Beatitudes (The Divine Conspiracy Chapter 4)

Willard begins his look at the Sermon on the Mount by asking the right question: Who has a good life? This is where Jesus begins in Matthew 5:3-12. For all the issues Christ could have started with, He chooses to address the simple question: Who has it good?
Willard starts by telling a story about a woman who came up to him and told him her son had left the faith because of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). Her son had been told the Christian ideal was the Beatitudes. He said he couldn’t be like that. Willard uses this story to say that many Christians believe this is how we are supposed to live. And then he says that we are not supposed to strive after the conditions listed in the Beatitudes because they are not ideals for us to live up to. Willard quotes Edersheim who says, “The Beatitudes must not be regarded as the reward of the spiritual states with which they are respectively connected…It is not because a man is poor in spirit that his is the Kingdom of Heaven, in the sense that the one state will grow into the other, or be its result.” In other words, Willard is arguing that the Beatitudes are not conditions that result the rewards. “Blessed (happy, those who live the good life) are the _____________ (condition) for they ____________________ (reward)” is not the way we should approach the Beatitudes.
This interpretation of Matthew 5:3-12 is problematic for me. While this might sound good when we talk of the first Beatitude “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven,” I do not think it stands up to others on the list:
5:4 says, “Those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted.” Isn’t Jesus saying that those who are devastated with great sorrow will find comfort? The condition is rewarded with the blessing of comfort.
5:6 “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, for they will be filled.” Isn’t Jesus saying the hungry and thirsty for righteous life find satisfaction? The condition is rewarded with the blessing of satisfaction.
5:8 “The pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God.” Isn’t Jesus saying those who are pure are rewarded by seeing God?
And then to say that these are things we should not strive for seems to be a strange way of interpreting the opening to the Sermon on the Mount. To say we should not strive for a pure heart, passion for righteousness, mercy, or making peace seems to be a really strange way to approach these verses.
Because Willard does not like think we should pursue “spiritual poverty” or “persecution,” should we then reinterpret the entire opening section about who has the good life?
What if Christ was really saying, ‘You had better rethink the whole idea of happiness’? What if Christ was really trying to show us that our concepts of happiness and the good life are mistaken and we need a fresh perspective? After all, Willard points out that the whole message of Jesus is the message of repentance (change of mind that leads to a change of life). What if Jesus is saying, ‘Rethink the good life. Repent (change your mind) concerning the good life’?
That is a word we desperately need in our world today. When De Tocqueville wrote about America, he said, “In America I saw the freest, most enlightened men living in the happiest circumstances to be found anywhere in the world, yet it seemed to me that their features were habitually veiled by a sort of cloud. They struck me as grave and almost sad even in their pleasures.”


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