No happiness down the rabbit hole

“…blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

I met a man a few years ago who said of the Declaration of Independence phrase, “…the pursuit of happiness,” that he didn’t really believe in that. He did believe, however, in the pursuit of “satisfaction.” Notwithstanding, the “happiness” phrase that made it to the final draft actually replaced a line about the right to own property, which is an interesting alternative.

Be that as it may, it seems that most people do want to find happiness, or peace, or satisfaction – whatever you want to call it – in life. It seems to be a primary motive for much of what people do. Even evil deeds are often done under the motive of personal peace or satisfaction. People generally do what they think will bring them the most happiness in life.

Jesus talked about happiness frequently. He used one term in particular that permeates the rest of Scripture, too: blessed. From what I’ve read, it wouldn’t be far off to define the Greek word (makarios) as “the ultimate satisfaction.”

M.R. Vincent’s word study on the history and use of this term is worth the cost of the book. Here is part of it:

Where it told of the Stoic’s self-sufficiency, it now tells of the Christian’s poverty of spirit and meekness. Where it hinted at the Stoic’s self-repression and strangling of emotion, it now throbs with a holy sensitiveness, and with a monition to rejoice with them that rejoice, and to weep with them that weep…The Christian word blessed is full of the light of heaven. It sternly throws away from itself every hint of the Stoic’s asserted right of suicide as a refuge from human ills, and emphasizes something which thrives on trial and persecution, which glories in tribulation, which not only endures but conquers the world, and expects its crown in heaven.

Acquiring happiness (this state of blessedness, if you will) for most people is like trying to hold a hand full of water – it always seems to be slipping through our fingers. It’s just one possession, one circumstance, one dollar, one promotion, one relationship, etc., beyond our grasp.

This is Satan’s specialty, and constitutes a large part of his stranglehold on humanity. He dangles one carrot, and just as we reach it, there’s another. Before we know it, we’re asking ourselves what we’re going to do with a pocket full of carrots, and we’re down the rabbit hole somewhere in Wonderland. Yes, for the non-Christian, happiness is an impossible and fruitless search.

Jesus’s path to happiness isn’t like that. That doesn’t mean it’s easier – quite the opposite, as Vincent conveyed in his definition. It’s difficult, but the difficulty is part of the joy. It is costly, but the cost is part of the reward. According to Jesus (Sermon on the Mount), happiness is in: poverty, sorrow, submission, hunger, thirst and persecution for doing the right thing (cf. Matthew 5:3-12). Not exactly a pretty picture, but surviving the ugliness is part of the satisfaction.

A line in an old Puritan prayer says, “The way down is the way up.” Solomon said the house of mourning is better than the house of mirth (Ecclesiastes 7:4). Indeed, just as resistance is the path to strength, sorrow is the path to joy; suffering is the path to glory. Surely, happiness is in the trenches. Happiness can only be attained through being Jesus’ disciple.

Of course, the greatest happiness – the greatest satisfaction – of this life, is the assurance that the greatest happiness is yet to come. This happiness is ours, both now and forever, by his grace and our obedient faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

4 Replies to “No happiness down the rabbit hole”

  1. Well said, Rick. I like the idea that “Christianity is joyful slavery to Jesus.” That is not a biblical expression but I believe it is very much a biblical idea.

  2. The definition of “pursuit of happiness,” which is supposed to be one of the “unalienable rights” granted by the Creator according to the Declaration of Independence, presents a problem. One writer at Emory University posited that the phrase meant, “the importance of positive emotions, positive individual traits (e.g., virtues), and positive institutions.” Certainly understanding the “obedience of faith,” as the apostle taught in Romans, is the fundamental idea, as you wrote. Such an understanding is not a right that is secured by governments. Neither, are governments instituted among men for the pursuit of that understanding. A pursuit of the word of Almighty God, however, will help attain it.

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