Man’s Quest for Happiness (Part 1)
I shared this with my discipleship group last Sunday. I decided to discuss the topic of happiness to my disciples in the coming weeks (so keep in touch for future blogs). I was surprised that there are people (my disciples included) who find the Christian life joyless. But in my experience, even with the reality of hardships, I can attest that the Christian life is the most joyous life.
Now, I’ll be sharing four points about man and his quest for happiness:
1. We all seek happiness; it’s not sin but human nature. Blaise Pascal writes:
All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.1
He’s right! Whatever we do, we do it for happiness. We want to have healthy bodies and peaceful minds, achieve our ambitions, reach our potential, treasure our friends, maintain peace in our families, secure our future, so on and so forth. Why? Because we want to be happy! We all pursue happiness, and it even true of those who commit suicide! The quest for happiness is not sin but human nature. However…
2. We look for happiness, sadly, in the wrong places. Now, I turn to C.S. Lewis:
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.2
At this point, I want to give an illustration. Think of two burgers, one with Angus patty, fresh vegetables, melted cheese, crisp bacon, and steak sauce, and the other with ordinary patty and dressing. Both are offered to a person for free, and he must choose only one. Now, we expect him to get the obviously superior one. But that’s not what he does. Instead, he gets the ordinary one and “enjoys” it. We may say, “He insane!”
He simply reflects the condition of every human being. As Lewis writes, we deceive ourselves with drink and sex and ambition and other things, thinking it would give us true and lasting happiness, when infinite joy is offered to us, just like the man who fooled himself with the ordinary burger when an Angus burger is offered him.
But why do we do what we do, namely, finding happiness in the wrong places? C.S. Lewis answers us: We are half-hearted creatures! We thought that our desires are strong. But our desires aren’t strong; they’re weak! We are far too easily pleased with drink, sex, ambition, and so on and so forth.
So here’s the truth…
3. We can seek true and lasting happiness only in God. While I plan to expound on this in the next blog, I turn to Pascal again:
There once was in man a true happiness of which now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.3
He’s right. In ourselves is an infinite abyss, an empty trace where the was once true happiness. It can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object. Only God can fill it. Only He can make us truly happy.
Even though we know this, sadly…
4. We most of the times forsake the Source of true happiness and look for other sources; the Bible calls it evil. Let’s now turn to the Bible. Jeremiah 2:13 says:
12Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, 13for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Emphases added)
Jesus was called the living water (John 4:13-14). Anyone who comes to Him, or drinks from the Fountain, will never thirst again. He is the only One who could truly satisfy our souls. He is the only source of true happiness.
But instead of drinking in the Fountain, of coming to Jesus for our soul-satisfaction, for our happiness, we make our own cisterns.
A cistern is used to catch rainfall to collect water. However, if it’s broken, it can’t hold water. So it’s useless then. The people of God hewed out “broken cisterns that can hold no water.” These cisterns symbolize anything we thought would give happiness but to no avail. It could be money, ambition, fame, spouses, friends, etc. What is yours?
Now, why was forsaking the living water and digging cisterns considered evil? The answer is simple: It is rejecting Jesus, the only one who can satisfy our souls, the only one who can make us infinitely happy. To dig cisterns that can hold no water is an insult to the soul-satisfying Son of God. It’s like saying to Him, “You can’t make me happy, so I’m looking in another place.”
Let us humble ourselves and ask God for the cisterns that we have dug. Let us drink from the Fountain of living water, coming to Jesus for the satisfaction of our souls. He alone can truly satisfy; He alone can make us truly happy.
Visit next week for the second installment of the series.
1Quoted in John Piper, Desiring God (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003), 19.
2Quoted in John Piper, Desiring God, 20.
3Quoted in John Piper, Desiring God, 21.