April 28, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

I read on a blog recently that the "purpose of life is to be happy." I thought about that for a moment and then shook my head and said, "No, I don't think so." I have never been one to believe that our purpose in life revolves around ourselves, our being "something." This "Happiness Doctrine" doesn't jive with Scripture, and it is a purely worldly philosophy, one that seeks to place all focus upon the self, upon self-motivation, and and self-achievement.

The writers of the Puritan Catechism (and The Shorter Catechism) say that the "chief aim of man" (or purpose in modern words) is this:

Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever

1 Corinthians 10:31: Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

Romans 11:36. For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

Psalm 73:24-26: Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God isthe strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.

John 17:22, 24: And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one... Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.

The purpose of man's life is to glorify God, end of story. In doing so, man will receive joy or "the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires." (Merriam-Webster) Happiness, according to the dictionary is a state of mind or feeling that is "characterized by contentment, love, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy." (Wikipedia) The two emotions are similar, in fact, happiness stems from joy, which in the Greek means to be happy (Chara). So to be happy requires that you find joy. Joy comes from your relationship with God, and is part and parcel to fulfilling your purpose in life.

When you seek to find happiness within your self, then your entire focus shifts to what you want, what you need, and what will make you content. This is the beginning of narcissism, which simply means "the personality trait of egotism, often used as a pejorative, denoting vanity, conceit, egotism or simple selfishness." Furthermore, egotism is "the motivation to maintain and enhance favorable views of oneself. Egotism means placing oneself at the center of one's world with no direct concern for others, including those loved or considered as "close", in any other terms by the 'egoist'." (Wikipedia)

I know that most people who are self-centered would not say they are egotists, but in truth they are exactly that: self motivated, self interested, and self driven.

In our modern world, this behavior is highly sought after and desired. Many people seek their own fulfillment. They do this through business deals, through personal relationships, and through material possessions. People seek to be made happy, and they seek it through everything EXCEPT a relationship with the Lord.

If the writers of the Puritan Catechism (and the Shorter Catechism) were correct, then the pursuit or aim of one's life should be to glorify God. In doing so, they would find what they seek: joy, contentment, happiness (stemming from joy), satisfaction. They would be happy, not in things of wealth, or in personal relationships with others, or in a business or occupation; but rather in the fulfillment of their ultimate need: reconciliation with a loving and desirous God.

I think it is funny that so many people, even Christian people, buy into this worldly philosophy, and actually think that somehow it is OK with God to seek after happiness. They do not have to look very far into Scripture to see that this pursuit is not condoned. In fact, our Lord Jesus Christ tells us what to expect as His followers, and in truth, it is not happiness (John 15: 18-25):

"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’b If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’"

The word "hate" means "an intense feeling of dislike. It may occur in a wide variety of contexts, from hatred of inanimate objects or animals, to hatred of oneself or other people, entire groups of people, people in general, existence, or everything." (Wikipedia) I don't see any relationship to happiness here at all. The thought of being hated or strongly disliked, to me, would not make me happy, and would for sure, cause me great distress. But, this is the view our Savior told us to take, to know and to understand that if we followed Him, we would not find happiness in anything other THAN HIM. The world and the world's systems are the antithesis to Christian doctrine and belief. [Note: Antithesis (Greek for "setting opposite") is a counter-proposition and denotes a direct contrast to the original proposition.] We are not to be seeking happiness or joy or satisfaction in the world or in it's philosophy or systems. We are to find our source of joy in the One who died to save us, in God alone.

Yet, even with a basic understanding of Christian doctrine, many Christians continue to seek happiness in things outside of their relationship with the Lord. They believe that they can have both: they can have peace with God AND peace in the world. Yet, they shortchange themselves because as soon as the world discovers they are Christ followers, trouble and hatred follow swiftly. Then the Christian begins to doubt their relationship with God, seeking only to find satisfaction within themselves. They rationalize, "Well, God isn't saving me from this present trouble, and I would have a far easier time of it, IF I didn't follow God so closely." This is Satan's ploy to distance ourselves from God, to keep us from experiencing His Grace in such a way that we come to understand that He is our Source and Sufficiency. We don't need things, other people (out of proper context here), and material wealth to be happy. We need the knowledge of our Savior, His finished work on the cross, and the contentment of our place (our purpose) in God's system, God's universe, and in God's plan for His people.

I cannot stress it enough: seeking to be happy is a worldly pursuit, and it will not deliver true joy. It will bring only fleeting experiences that one might call "happiness." These, generally are, periods whereby there is little upset, little hatred, little difficultly. In short, there will be fleeting episodes of peace, but not the kind that will fill the soul and give the mind rest, to give that sense of satisfaction that says "I know my place, I know my purpose, I know exactly what I was created to do." Moreover, it will not give long term contentment whereby you can utter, "I am completely and solely happy within myself, my surroundings, and with the outcome of my life." No, the pursuit of happiness is an endless drive towards the objectification of the SELF, putting one's own self upon that throne, and then bowing down and worshipping the creature and not the Creator. It is emptiness, it is futile, and ultimately it serves no real value EXCEPT to distance and perhaps eternally separate the seeker from the very thing they truly seek: God, Himself.

Dear Lord,

There are so many people who are self-seekers. They believe they are entitled to happiness, especially here in America. Our founding fathers promised that we all would be entitled to the pursuit of happiness, not happiness in itself. They knew and understood that happiness was to be found in a relationship with God, and not in other things. In our modern world, however, sincere brothers and sisters are seeking happiness and trying to reconcile this need with what you tell us is to be. Your Word clearly tells us that we will not find happiness in this world. Our happiness is therefore bound up in You and in You alone. My prayer today is for my brothers and sisters to study your Word and accept this fact: contentment and joy will only come through a life bowed and humbled before a Holy God. Serving the Lord and others will bring them the joy they seek. May their hearts be turned back towards your truth and away from the doctrines of this world. In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.

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