There is a moving scene in To The Moon where Johnny, in the midst of building the cabin overlooking the lighthouse, talks to Isabell about his wife, River. He reveals to Isabell that River is dying of a terminal disease, and they don’t have enough money to both treat her illness as well as build that cabin. Johnny knows that River would insist on building the cabin rather than treating her illness, and he breaks down and cries, upset that his feelings has no say in the matter. It would later be revealed that Johnny had forgotten his initial encounter with River (when he gave her the platypus) and the cabin was part of River’s attempts to help him remember. It appears that River would rather not live if Johnny cannot remember this important precious memory.
At the end of the narrative, where Neil and Eva successfully altered Johnny’s memories such that he goes with River to the moon, Johnny finally dies. The feel of success at this point seems to indicate that successfully altering Johnny’s memories is a big deal, i.e. it is a big deal for Johnny to achieve his aspiration before he dies. For both River as well as Johnny, the game seems to imply that happiness is a big deal, so the point where life is not worth living if you cannot achieve that happiness.
To some extent, this sentiment feels somewhat obvious. If we don’t exist to pursue happiness, for what purpose should we exist for? This attitude may persist in the church even: “surely God wants me to be happy and blessed, Rom 8:28 says so!”. And for some churches (i.e. those who preach prosperity), it is the foundation of their faith. “Come believe Jesus, and you will get wealth, health and prosperity – and won’t you be happy?”
As a teacher in a high school, I find a common sentiment being preached to the students: “Do you want to obtain happiness? If so, then you must work hard to obtain the results you want”. By saying this, we tie our happiness is tied to our achievements, our careers and our possessions. Indeed, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 10:35-39 ESV
Jesus says extremely harsh words here, to the point where a non-Christian might think Jesus to be a lunatic or some kind of terrorist. But this really cuts down to what the Christian faith really is about – is Jesus your most precious treasure? Is Jesus more precious to you than your possessions? More precious than your relationships (even family)? Your achievements? (Your videogames?) More precious than all of these things on earth which can make you happy?
It feels hard to be critical of River because it feels wrong to criticize someone who suffers from Asperger’s, but River was wrong. Her life is not meaningless if Johnny cannot remember how they met. Even if their marriage was never what she thought it to be, Johnny still genuinely loved her and they still had years of memories of married life together. Was that suddenly worthless because of her present unhappiness? Honestly, I thought River behaved in a self-centered and unloving manner to Johnny, causing him to be in much distress and guilt for many years even after she died.
We have many aspirations in life. We want many things, tangible or intangible. We believe that if we obtain these things we would be happy. Failure to obtain these things would rob our lives of happiness, and hence, of meaning. But the cosmic irony is that only if you choose to say “Jesus is more precious to me than all my aspirations” will you truly obtain true happiness. This is the true secret to happiness: you will only be truly happy when you live your life not for yourself, but for the sake of Christ, his kingdom and his glory.
Than to be the king of a vast domain
And be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.