Two hundred and forty-five years ago, the United States of America declared its independence from Great Britain. With its declaration and subsequent war, the United States emerged as a beacon of liberty and freedom. While at times not living up to our ideals, the United States has nonetheless made great strides in promoting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness throughout the world. Five years away from our nation’s Sestercentennial, let us take a moment to consider the pursuit of happiness from a biblical perspective.
Do You Know What You are Looking For?
In the Declaration of Independence, we are told of the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Let’s consider more closely the pursuit of happiness. What does the pursuit of happiness mean? Most likely historian Arthur Schlesinger got it right when he said that the pursuit of happiness is best understood in this context as the practice of happiness rather than the quest of happiness. This does not mean the government is to sanction anyone’s quest to find whatever they determine to bring them happiness. This leads to anarchy and moral decay. Happiness, in this context, is determined by God not man. In other words, God desires that mankind find and obtain the happiness He provides and the government should be a support, not a hindrance, in this effort.
This is very important because our society has either intentionally or unintentionally failed to understand this crucial point. We live in a society that is determined to find happiness. We live in a hedonistic age in which people live their lives to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. John Cooper, the lead singer of Skillet, recently mentioned that the prevailing spirit of the age seems to be that we are meant to be happy and feel good about ourselves. Most people are on a quest for happiness and one key area in which this quest occurs is the issue of identity. Far too many people mistakenly believe that the way to maximize pleasure is to discover their true identity. If they can find their “authentic self”, then they will be happy and feel good about themselves.
How Do You Know When You Have Found It?
The Search for the Authentic You. In his book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Carl Trueman discusses how certain Enlightenment poets and authors popularized the idea that our inner self was our true self. Soon after came an attempt to define humanity without any reference to God. Closer to our own time, it became popular to speak of being true to one’s inner self. Because—the belief is—our inner self is our true self. So the focus shifted from God to yourself.
The Search Involves Sex and Gender. Trueman presents the progression of thought further. He wrote that as human nature became defined inwardly and became severed from God, human nature became defined in terms of sexuality. Sexual desire—in this progression—is central to personhood, therefore, those who seek to inhibit your sexual desire are oppressors. The triumph of transgenderism was made possible by those who defined “the self” as an expressive individual. The idea that men would claim to be women and women would claim to be men would have been entirely foreign to previous generations. Trueman says that this wholesale rejection of sexual ethics that has been assumed for millennia is rooted in: 1) the acceptance of expressive individualism, 2) the primacy of the inner self, 3) the necessity of therapeutic well-being, and 4) The absolute authority of the inner self. This is happening in our culture. This is why there are debates about pronouns. This is why there are debates about bathrooms. Our culture has bought into these lies.
Maybe You Should Ask for Help?
You are the problem. If you are on a quest to find your true self, you are on a fool’s errand. Happiness is not a pot of gold and the end of the “find the authentic you” rainbow. Happiness is not found within you, it is found within Jesus. The sooner you understand this, the sooner you will be happier. But, we need to be careful with our words. We keep using the word happiness, but it is the wrong word. The word the Bible uses is joy. I have made this point numerous times and I will continue to do so: happiness is based on what is happening around you. We really don’t need happiness, we need joy. Joy is not dependent upon our situations or circumstances. Our joy is given to us by Jesus. The “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22) includes the attribute of joy. This is one of the spiritual blessings (Eph 1:3) granted to us by our merciful and loving God. God blesses us with joy and it is up to us to cultivate it in our lives.
Jesus fixes our identity. You will not find happiness by discovering the “real” you. The real you is a sinner with a wicked heart (Jeremiah 17:9). The prevailing spirit of the age may be that we are meant to be happy and feel good about ourselves, but God’s plan for our lives is to love Him and enjoy Him forever. Jesus doesn’t help you find your true identity, He fixes your identity. We are created in the image of God. We are given our bodies to glorify God. We are called to love God and love others. We find the most joy when we delight most in Him. We are called to serve. Becket Cook wrote about his testimony in his memoir: A Change of Affection: A Gay Man’s Incredible Story of Redemption. This is what he wrote: “In fact, because I’m now who God created me to be, I’m finally authentic. Becoming more and more like Jesus—the truest human who ever lived—is a far more authentic transformation than becoming more and more like whatever “self” my fluid feelings suggest on any given day.”
Let there be no mistake. God neither wants us to be miserable nor feel bad about ourselves. God created us to love Him and enjoy Him forever. This is the key to finding joy: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33). Let us examine ourselves this week. Have you bought into the spirit of the age? Do you believe that your main purpose of life is to be happy? To maximize pleasure and minimize pain? Examine the decisions you make on a daily basis. Are they made after seeking God’s will and wisdom? Is your life committed to the advancement of God’s kingdom? Are you encouraging unbelievers to take their first steps in following Jesus? Are you helping people grow in their relationship with Jesus? Are you being deployed in service to Christ through His church and mission? Pursue happiness by going to God the Father through Jesus and finding forgiveness of sin. Then you will find rest for your soul.