Theology 101

How to Fulfill Your Restless Search for Happiness

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“If only I had….”

How would you finish that sentence—honestly? Your answer may reveal how much you may have embraced the current culture’s definition of happiness.

Happiness has come to be understood by Christians and non-Christians alike as the individual’s experiential satisfaction. Happiness is measured by experiences that are emotionally satisfying. Many of us look for those experiences in work and in our relationships.

Ours is a culture in which the managed pursuit of pleasure is seen as the ultimate measure of one’s happiness. Even in the church, this pursuit of happiness has been used to justify all types of sin.

“I’m just not happy with him!” says a woman planning to divorce her husband of 25 years.

“I’m not super happy in my current job; I need to find something else,” says the young professional.

These are the types of statements made by some Christians trying to justify to themselves that their experiential happiness trumps God’s plan.

In God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis writes,

I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.

In Mere Christianity, Lewis describes the efforts of men and women throughout history to seek happiness apart from God.

What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

Man has been “designed” to find his purpose and happiness only in his Creator.

Lewis’ words echo the early church father Augustine, who argued in his Confessions that human beings can only flourish and be truly happy when they center their lives on God, the source of everything good, true, and beautiful.

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.

If Lewis and Augustine are correct, then happiness and flourishing cannot be found in violating God’s commandment, but in being obedient. Happiness for the Christian is not found in fulfilling one’s own pleasure, but in living a life based on God’s design as expressed in scripture.

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to share ill treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; accounting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he looked unto the recompense of reward (Hebrews 11:23-26).

Moses forsook “enjoyment” and “pleasure” in order to secure real happiness.

The Bible talks about happiness, but defines it differently from our culture. When the Bible mentions happiness, it is speaking of something that is self-contained. You can experience happiness regardless of your circumstances. The happiness the Bible advocates isn’t dependent your circumstances. It comes from living in relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In a research paper for IFWE, biblical scholar Jonathan Pennington writes that the biblical idea of happiness and flourishing is a key theme in the Bible and something God cares deeply about:

…human flourishing must be rediscovered as a central part of the Bible’s teaching on salvation and redemption. God is not unconcerned about our well-being and happiness; peace, happiness, blessedness, health, joy, and abundance of life are the consistent message of Scripture and the goal of God’s work.

At IFWE, we talk a lot about the importance of flourishing and how it glorifies God. We are not using the current cultural definition, but one in alignment with the teaching of scripture.

God does want us to be happy and flourish—it’s a God-given desire within us. But the only way to seek after it in a way that fulfills our deepest need is found in aligning ourselves with God’s story, the great metanarrative of the gospel. Only in Christ can we live a life free from thinking, “if only…”

Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun (Psalm 37:4-6).

Editor’s Note: Read more about finding fulfillment in God’s big picture plan in All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel in the IFWE bookstore

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