True happiness

All people long to find true and lasting happiness. The American Declaration of Independence says all people have been endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights including the “pursuit of happiness.” However, many people around the world are unhappy. The UN World Happiness Report 2018 asked people in every country in the world how happy they were. People living in Finland, Norway and Denmark were the happiest. People in these countries live in stable society with a high standard of living. People living in Yemen, South Sudan and Burundi were the unhappiest. People living in these countries are experiencing terrible conflicts and are very poor with no immediate prospect of improvement.

However, people living in affluent countries also experience profound and tragic unhappiness. In South Korea many elderly people commit suicide. The tradition of children caring for their aging parents has declined in the 21st century. Elderly parents are ending their lives because they don’t want to be a financial burden on their families. There is also a higher-than-average suicide rate amongst students. One reason is the pressure put on them by their parents to succeed academically. When students fail to achieve the goals set for them by their parents, they feel they have dishonoured their families and commit suicide.

True happiness is not found in economic prosperity or academic success but in knowing God and in experiencing his grace when we fail, as we all do. King David sinned very greatly when he committed adultery with another man’s wife and then arranged for her husband to be killed in battle. After he had committed these sins David tried to hide them and to carry on as normal. But God sent a prophet to confront him and then David confessed his sin to God and experienced God’s gracious forgiveness.

David wrote about his experience of forgiveness in Psalm 32, “O, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, ‘I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.’ And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.”

Change is possible

We live in a violent world. Terrorists use bombs and vehicles to kill and injure innocent people. Drug gangs employ and intimidate young people to carry out their evil trade. Those who “fail” are killed or seriously wounded to teach them a lesson. The streets of our great cities are not safe places because of the increase in violent crimes. Prison staff struggle to control violent inmates. There are an increasing number of violent assaults on prison staff and on hospital staff in A&E departments. Is it possible for violent people to change?

Michael Franzese grew up as the son of the notorious Underboss of New York’s violent and feared Colombo crime family. Michael became a mafia boss and, in 1986, was named by Vanity Fair as one of the biggest money earners the mob had seen since Al Capone. At his most affluent he generated between $5 and $8 million per week from legal and illegal businesses. Rudy Guiliani, the Manhattan federal prosecutor, tried several times to put Michael in prison for his crimes, but failed. Life in the mob was dangerous and several of Michael’s fellow leaders died violent deaths on the orders of mob leaders. At times he himself was in danger.

However, Michael is now a changed man. It happened when he met Camille Garcia, who is a Christian. Michael fell in love with Camille and married her. Michael saw in Camille’s life what it means to be a real Christian. She was different from anyone he had ever met before. She told him that Jesus, God’s Son, came into the world to save people by dying on the cross to pay the price of their sins. Michael repented of his many sins and asked God to forgive him for the sake of Jesus and began a new life.

He went to the authorities and pleaded guilty to racketeering crimes. He received a 10-year prison sentence and vowed to walk away from the mob. Michael is the only high-ranking official of a major crime family to ever walk away, without protective custodies, and survive. As a Christian, Michael now seeks to help business people, student athletes and at-risk young people to overcome the odds and make positive changes in their lives. From his personal experience, he knows that with God’s help anyone, however bad they may be, can change and start a new life. Like the Apostle Paul, who had also been a violent man, Michael knows that “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

The realities of living in a Global Village

The death toll following the collapse of the Rana Plaza clothing factory complex in Bangladesh has risen to more than 600 people. Rescue workers are exhausted and the relatives of the victims are grief stricken as each day bodies are brought out of the ruins of the eight-storey building. This is Bangladesh’s worst industrial disaster. A preliminary government investigation thinks that vibrations from four generators on the upper floor caused the collapse. The generators were started following a power cut sending powerful vibrations throughout the building which, together with the vibrations from thousands of sewing machines, may have triggered the collapse.

The building was designed to be used for offices and shops and was poorly constructed. It housed an intensive clothing industry making cheap clothes for the Western world. The Bangladeshi Finance Minister said that steps are being taken to prevent similar accidents but he does not think the collapse will seriously impact the country’s garment industry. Bangladesh has one of the largest garment industries in the world.

This tragedy brings home to us the realities of living in a Global Village. Factory workers in places like Bangladesh work very long hours and earn very low wages. A factory worker in Bangladesh works up to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, and earns £40 a month. The designer clothes they make are sold in affluent countries for very low prices. Large companies make big profits and shoppers in affluent countries find bargains. Should the tragedy in Bangladesh make us think?

God is deeply concerned for social justice and for the oppression of poor people. In the New Testament James challenges the rich who have much more than they need yet do not care for the poor. He writes, “Look here, you rich people, weep and groan because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver have become worthless. This treasure you have accumulated will stand as evidence against you on the day of judgement. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” We pray that God will comfort the bereaved in Bangladesh and that we will be concerned that workers there should work in safe buildings and be paid a fair rate for their labour.