A couple weeks ago we reflected briefly upon the importance of being joyful in all things and of giving thanks to God for even the mundane aspects of life. Today we will continue the same theme and take a moment to think about the question of happiness and satisfaction in this life. This is, after all, the question that motivates men and women at the most basic level: How can I find satisfaction, how can I achieve happiness in life? American culture is obsessed with happiness. The right to “pursuit of happiness” is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence as an “inalienable right.” Regardless of the intentions of the document’s authors, there is no question as to how it is understood and applied in our present day. Just look at the recent court decisions made in this country.
Every person has the unalienable right to actualize his desires. Nothing our politicians and judges declare ought to interfere with every person’s right to liberty and pursuit of happiness and fulfillment. But what is personal fulfillment? Well, that depends on the person seeking it. Perhaps fulfillment for one person is indulgence in licentious sexual behavior. Perhaps for another it is imbibing alcohol every Friday night that constitutes happiness. Perhaps another individual insists he cannot be happy until the local church is compelled to bless his “marriage” to another man. Everyone has the right to pursue happiness, and no one has the right to define what the proper source of fulfillment is or even what happiness itself is. To each his own it is said, every person is a law unto himself.
This is the happiness quest that the world fanatically pursues, and the kind of happiness that the world seeks is earthly happiness. Personal fulfillment and pleasure is the goal of life, the end to which the worldly man applies all his talents and resources. In an affluent society such as our own, the quest for happiness often takes a hedonistic and materialistic turn. “Let us eat and drink;” says the man of the world, “for tomorrow we shall die.” (Isaiah 22:13.) Moreover the abundance of material goods and comforts, which our society enjoys, produces spiritual laziness and lethargy. The modern American is not forced by hardship to turn to the spiritual things. This is reflected most poignantly in the abysmal ecclesiastical landscape. As a nation the United States has become spiritually fat and insensate. It is no coincidence that atheism and agnosticism are most prevalent in affluent societies. Comfort addles the mind and dulls the “sense of the divine” that all men possess. With all their immediate needs met and more besides, it is very easy for man to think he does not need God. Even for us this is a danger, that we allow our own desires and our pursuit of them to consume us. The happiness quest is idolatry.
A pastor once told me about a book he read in which the author encouraged church leaders to recognize that people are on a happiness quest and to tailor their ministry accordingly. People are seeking happiness and that is just the way it is. This minister responded to such compromised advice by emphasizing the truth that Christians are not on a happiness quest but a holiness quest. God’s purpose for us in this life is not to make us happy (in the way the world understands the term) rather God’s purpose is to make us holy by conforming us to the image of His Son. And God’s purpose for us ought to be our purpose for ourselves. Sadly today’s nominal church all too often rejects the holiness quest and joins our society in the veneration of self-gratification. “God wants you to be happy,” it is proclaimed in seeker churches across our land, “God wants to grant you the desires of your heart.” Smiling prosperity gospel preachers, having gained throngs of consumer Christians, declare the pernicious lie that God wants to make you rich and prosperous. Just pray the prayer of Jabez and do this or that good work and God will bless you. God is happy when you are happy. This too is idolatry.
The kingdom of God is not a democracy, and those who are citizens of the Kingdom ought to behave accordingly. It is God who determines what we may do and what we may desire to do. Personal autonomy is a myth, and the sacred maxim of our nation that everyone has the right to unrestrained pursuit of happiness is a man-glorifying fiction. As the previously mentioned minister said, our goal in this life is submission to Christ and pursuit of holiness. The beautiful truth of the gospel is that in this process of becoming holy through God’s work of sanctification, we find the fulfillment that the world, although seeking it, never finds. We are not on the happiness quest, yet true happiness inevitably comes to us in the way of living in conformity with the will of God and in the knowledge of the salvation we have in Christ. This holiness quest, which is the Christian life of faithful obedience to Christ, furnishes us with the only immutable ground for joy and happiness in this life. It is only by partaking of the living water and the bread of life that we are satisfied with that which is imperishable. As redeemed Christian people we are the happiest people on earth. We ought to exude this cheerfulness, for consider what our Lord has done for us! The Lord Jesus Christ is our good shepherd; He has laid down His life for us His sheep. What more shall we want? He makes us to lie down in green pastures and refreshes us by streams of still water, in this way He satisfies us with every good thing necessary for salvation. He has restored our souls and guides us along the path of righteousness for his own name’s sake and for His own glory. And although this path leads through the valley of the shadow of death we fear no evil, for his rod and staff guard and protect us from evil. We have the comfort of the sure promise that goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives and that we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Herein resides the source of true joy and satisfaction.