The Pursuit of Happiness''YE call me Master and Lord: and ye say well: for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet: ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord: neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." John XIII:12-17
Volume X -- Number 2
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The Cincinnati Bible Seminary
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,-That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
Americans, from the very foundation of this nation, have pursued happiness. In fact, men in all ages have lived for, longed for, and have died for happiness. Is there a fixed method of pursuit which leads to happiness and away from happiness? There is a secret, a key, a formula for haappiness and fulfillment; if one ignores this formula, or is ignorant of it, he will suffer discouragement, discontent, and frustration in his life, and Hell in the life to come. The formula is this: true happiness can be found only in the will of God. By living a life that harmonizes with His will, one finds happiness. The Greek word makarios/maka/rioj which has been translated happy in John XIII: 17 is translated blessed in the beatitudes (Matthew V). "Blessed are the meek . . . Blessed are the merciful . . . Blessed are the pure in heart . . . It may also be translated "Happy are the meek . . . Happy are the merciful. . . Happy are the pure in heart." The translators' choices here suggest that one must be blessed of God to be happy and that, before one may be blessed of God, he must live in the center of His will.
Man's unhappiness is often cited as evidence for the denial of God's goodness and sovereignty. The old agnostic syllogism argues thus: "If God were good, He should desire to make us happy; if God were almighty, He would do as He wished; but men are not happy, and, therefore, God lacks goodness or power or both." Here God is held responsible for man's unhappiness. This concept fails to consider that there is a direction to happiness, that man may be happy in this way but not in that way. Man certainly cannot be happy in just anyway he desires!
There is the story about a little school boy, who upon being asked what he thought God was like, replied, "It seems to me that God is the sort of person who is always snooping around to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop him." In, perhaps, our worst moments we have known this attitude. Those to whom we preach know it, too.
This is, beyond doubt, the way many- feel about the high moral standards of the Christian faith. Yet these principles have not been given to interfere with man's happiness, but to insure it. C. S. Lewis reasons: "In reality, moral rules are directions for running the human machine. Every moral rule is there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain, or a friction, in the running of that machine. That is why these rules at first seem to be constantly interfering with our natural inclinations."1
Perhaps you had a course in driver training in high school; if so, you may have heard your instructor say, "No, don't do it that way. No, not like that. Don't do it that way-do it this way!" There were many ways of treating the automobile which, at first glance, seemed to be right, but would not work because of the design of the machine. If one wishes to go forward, he does not put his foot on the brake; and if he wishes to stop, he does not step on the gas. The automobile has a specific design; therefore, it must be treated in a certain way. The same thing is true with the "human machine." There may be some things that one may do with his machine which another cannot do. For instance, one may take his auto down into the heart of the city between 4:00 P.M. and 6:00 P.M. and zigzag through the congested traffic with the greatest of ease. Another, less-experienced, driver, attempting the same thing, may come from the experience with dented fenders and jangled nerves. Because of man's design and the singularly of the earthly purpose ascribed to him by God, there are no important differences in the behaviors of men. The idea that different cultures need different moral and ethical standards is not true. Man must cooperate with God's design and purpose for him. The differences, in reality, are very limited. Our present difficulties in the world, together with the existence of variations in standards of morality, are not evidence supporting the need for greater diversity, but are indicative of the fact that we have already gone too far. We have witnessed much friction, a tremendous strain, and most of us fear the breakdown. What all men need are a common creed, a common faith, the one God.
God has given us His revelation and in it are His directions for our life. Whenever men picture God as a giant blocker on the moral gridiron-running bullying interference and keeping men from reaching their coveted goals, they are desiring that which would not make them happy even if they had it.
Hedonism, the philosophical notion that pleasure is the guiding principle of man's life, has been embraced by many in their search for happiness. Aristippus (435-366 B.C.) has been called the first hedonistic philospoher. "The earliest statement of the hedonistic view of life," writes James Seth; "We owe . . . to Aristippus, the founder of the Cyrenaic school."2 He would, however, urge moderation. The Encylopedia Britannica describes him in this way: "Numerous anecdotes . . . such as gather round a striking personality, make a consistent picture of a hedonist, proud of the practical good sense which makes him kindly, witty, adaptable, always ready to turn circumstances to the best account, the master and not the slave of his pleasures." Though many men have contributed to this philosophy in one form or another, it was Jeremy Bentham (English jurist and philosopher, 1748-1843) who made it famous. He asserted: "Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of cause and effect, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think; every effort we make to throw off our subjection will serve but to demonstrate and confirm it."3
Far from being antiquated or irrelevent, this philosophy is as much or more alive today than ever before. Many of our current movies and novels propagate this way of life. The recent highly publicized LSD scandal at Harvard is an index to the depravity of our happiness-starved culture. One of the leaders of this utopian cult, Timothy Leary, has given us a reason for this cabalistic adventure. "If anybody can show us a better road to happiness, we'll drop our research. But we don't think they will."4 He is seeking happiness, and he will do almost anything to find it.
E. Richard Crabtree strikes at the paradox in this idea: "Hedonism, for all of its appeal, is a most empty philosophy. It is selfish and parasitic. It takes but does not give; it asks but does not offer. In addition those who follow this way of life face what the philosophers of ethics call 'The Paradox of Hedonism.' It is this: pleasure is not gained by pursuit. The more one seeks it, the less one finds it. It is like the rainbow which retreats as one approaches it. The more one tries to seize it, the more elusive it becomes."5
I can remember myself as a boy running down the street and seeing my shadow cast before me on the ground; I would try to catch it and step on it. We amuse ourselves watching a little kitten going round-and-round trying to catch its tail. The hedonist is doing something like this; but it is not child's play. The stakes are infinitely higher and more serious. He is waging his immortal soul, all that he has, all that he is, all that he ever hopes to be upon the "pleasure principle." In the midst of his life, he is dead: dead to purity, dead to hope, dead to the purpose of life itself. He has ignored both the Designer and the design of life. He stores the chaff and discards the grain; he destroys the check and saves the stub. His destination is Hell.
THE BIBLICAL VIEW OF HAPPINESS
"Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord?" (Deuteronomy XXXIII: 29). "Happy is that people whose God is the Lord" (Psalm CXLIV: 15). "Whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he" (Proverbs XVI: 20). "Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint; but he that keepeth the law happy is he" (Proverbs XXIX: 18, American Standard Version). These verses characterize the utter folly of the Hedonist; for without spiritual vision, without the illuminating power of God's eternal values, he seeks his happiness in physical pleasure, and he pursues it as an end in itself. But God's view differs sharply from the Hedonist's: the Christian never seeks happiness as an end in itself, but as he does God's will, he inevitably is happy.
In John XIII, Jesus gave an example of humble service as the real key. He demonstrated in an act of unpretentious service, the unity of greatness and power on the one hand, with humility and self-sacrifice on the other. He told His disciples He was indeed their Lord as they had said, and that this act (which literally inverted the power structure of the world) was to be their example. They were to remember ever that God was above them and that their allegiance and obedience were due Him. Yet, as it was His nature to minister to their needs, so it was their nature to minister to the- needs of their brethren (theirs because it was first His). Jesus revealed this principle as a part of the very character of God, and thus a part of the character of man, for we are made in His image.
It was the dominating Peter sigmficantly who objected to this condescending act of Christ's Lordship. Listening too much to flesh and blood, Peter responded: "Never"; but Jesus, revealing the will of the Father, said: "You must." When Peter understood, when he was able to see, he surrendered. And so we have in this act one of the most humbling scenes in the entire Bible. Nineteen hundred years ago in the ancient city of Jerusalem, in that upper room, God washed the feet of men! And by that example He taught men the true design of life; this is rock-bottom reality, the road to happiness: "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." Service rendered in humility and in obedience to the will of God is the final purpose of a man's life. The closer we get to this goal the happier we will be.
This brings us 'to a very important question: why are so many Christians unhappy? C. S. Lewis blames this unhappiness upon a false approach to Christianity. As we come to Christ we find that many demands are made of us, both positively and negatively. Good must be done, bad must be left alone. Certain things that we do not wish to do are nonetheless good; we must do them. Other things that we had wished to do prove themselves evil; we must surrender them. But we are hoping that when all the demands are met, the poor natural self will still have some chance to live its own life, and to set about doing those things which it likes. Mr. Lewis continues:In fact, we are very like an honest man paying his taxes He pays them all right, but he does hope that there will be enough left over for him to live on. Because we are still taking our natural self as the starting point. As long as we are thinking that way, one or other of two results is likely to follow. Either we give up trying to be good, or else we become very unhappy indeed. For, make no mistake: if you are really going to try to meet all the demands made on the natural self, it wrn not have enough left over to live on. The more you obey your conscience, the more your conscience will demand of you. And your natural self, which is thus being starved and hampered and worried at every turn, will get angrier and angrier. In the end, you will either give up trying to be good, or else become one of those people who, as they say, "live for others" but always in a discontented, grumbling way-always wondering why the others do not notice it more and always making a martyr of yourself. And once you have become that you will be a far greater pest to anyone who has to live with you than you would have been if you had remained frankly selfish.6Christ's way is much different; He said: "He that loveth his life shall lose it" (John XII: 25). For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew XVI: 25). If I love my life so much that I try to keep it for my own selfish indulgences, I am sure to lose it. But if I love Christ enough and trust Him with my life, He will save it. We may keep only those things which we freely give to God; we lose all that we keep for ourselves. "If any man will come after me," said Christ again, "let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew XVI: 24). The Apostle Paul understood how literally Christ intended these words; he wrote: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 11:20). In order to follow Christ the old natural self must be put to death. I must deny my own life just as I would deny the contents of a false letter; my life is false; I repudiate it; Christ alone is true.
As we are clinging tenaciously to the old natural self, Christ confronts us and says, "Give me all." It is C. S. Lewis again who pictures Christ as saying:I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked-the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.7And elsewhere he writes: "God gives us what He has, not what He has not: He gives us the happiness 'that there is, not the happiness that is not . . . To be like God . . . to be miserable-these are the only alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows . . . then we must starve eternally."8
We may disagree with God's prescription for happiness. But there is a problem here. He is the source of all our reasoning power. He could not be wrong and we right any more than a stream can rise above its source. If we do not find happiness in His will we will not find it at all.Peter Eldersveld records the following incident: Some years ago, a panel of experts discussed a world problem on a network radio broadcast, bringing all the light of their wisdom to bear upon it. In the question period which gave the studio audience an opportunity to participate, a young man drose, and in a voice that was trembling with emotion, he said to the wise men: "I feel lost. Tell me how I can find something to live for, something to live with." It was a tense moment, as you can well imagine. A certain columnist who heard the broadcast made this comment on it: "I listened, sitting on the edge of my chair, for the wise men's answer to this lad's plea. And I was disappointed in the answer. None offered him anything he could live by or with. He was offered glittering generalities. How it was possible for such men not to have a reply for this suffering, burdened soul, is beyond understanding. The recipe is available in the Bible."9That recipe to happiness is Jesus Christ. It is He who offers purpose and direction and hope to all men. Happiness is His and His alone. So, Happiness is ours when we are His.I came one day to a quiet place
And met my Savior face to face.
I met Him and knew Him, and blushed to see
That His eyes full of mercy were fixed on me.
And I faltered and fell at His feet that day,
My castles all melted and vanished away.
Melted and vanished, and in their place
Naught else could I see but my Savior's face;
And I cried aldud: O make me meet
To follow the steps of Thy wonderful feet!
My thoughts are now for the souls of men,
I've lost my life, to find it again
E'er since one day in a quiet place
I met my Savior face to face.
Endnotes1Mere Christianity (New York, 1960), p.55.
2A Study of Ethical Principles (New York, 1921), p.83.
3Quoted in Warner Fite, An Introductory Study of Ethics (New York, 1963), p. 10.
4John Kobler, "The Dangerous Magic of LSD," Saturday Evening Post, CCXXXVI (November 2, 1963), p.40.
5"Secular Threats to Christianity: Hedonism," Seminary Review, VI (Spring 1960), p.50.
8The Problem of Pain (New York, 1959), p.42.
9Radio Message on the Back to God Hour (Chicago, 1961), pp. 12-13.
Scanned: Michael Riggs
Corrected: Daniel Dyke