The Pursuit of Happiness
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
- United States Declaration of Independence, 1776
A Declaration of Independence
Thomas Jefferson and his cronies did a great job on the Declaration, and these words in particular. They are powerful ideals and revolutionary words in more ways than one. But I always wondered what he meant by “happiness”? And how are these inalienable rights given by the Creator?
I’m not sure that I’ll ever be up to the task of dissecting the Declaration of Independence. After all, T.J. and the Founding Fathers were brilliant men, given to thinking deeply about human and political issues. Anything I can add to their thinking would be, at best, footnotes. But one thing they certainly got right: Human happiness is something God is intensely involved in.
You can tell that God is interested in this because the Biblical writers talked a lot about joy. They spit out “joy” (and its synonyms) about 750 times. And, just like English authors, they use a stack of other words to describe this feeling of pleasant elation. They used multiple words to cover the nuances and shades of meaning that came with the concept. Or perhaps they were just bored. Whatever this indicates, the concept of joy must have been on their minds. A lot. They too must have been concerned about the pursuit of happiness.
What is surprising in all of these uses is that joy comes sometimes through the reception of stuff. Goods. Material. The things we buy at the store. The electronic pay stubs and the birthday envelopes that come in the mail. Even what Santa crams down the chimney. What is even more surprising is that the biblical writers insist that God gives these things. He provides them. How weird is that?
This means that God gives wealth, wine, exquisite cuisine and a host of other worldly things. Consider this excerpt from the journal of the man who had everything:
Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward. Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God. For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart. (Eccl 5:18-20, NASB)
Wow. Of course, he had a lot more to say on the topic. And he was aware that death was the cloud on the horizon. But he really nails it. Eat. Drink. Enjoy your work. Love your wife. Have some money. This is from God.
“Really?” Somewhere in the back of our minds a puritan voice is genuinely confused. “This means I don’t have to feel guilty about …”
• A new pair of high heels.
• A nice house.
• The Mustang that sits in the parking lot.
• The leather jacket.
• Dolce and Gabbana.
• Going out for Chicken Pad Thai.
• A healthy bank account.
• Or being on Forbes Fortune 500 List.
Sorry Puritans. You not only don’t have to feel guilty. You are supposed to enjoy these things. This list is quite extensive because it is filled with a world of items that God gives to human beings. So often we just don’t recognize it. God holds his hands out with a material gift or the potential for one and we refuse. Or we act as if it’s a dirty nappy that we are taking to the trash. We distrust our own desires. And we can’t believe that he would give us something so… human.
For sure the love of money and the addiction to Mammon can be a problem. But we are so worried about it that we don’t trust God to steer us in the right direction. And we don’t see these things for what they are: His gifts. And besides, what made us think that owning 500 chickens, 12 goats and a milk cow is more spiritual that having $10,000 in the bank. I guess we forgot that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were wealthy businessmen.
I’m not sure how this really fits with people starving in Africa or with Christians being persecuted in Indonesia. But then I’m not sure I really understand that much about God. Period. Perhaps our incredulity comes from this disparity of material and ease in the human condition. Or maybe it’s just guilt. We can’t seem to get our heads around it. And we don’t know why. Perhaps we aren’t supposed to. Maybe we are just supposed to thank God, pray for others, be generous and enjoy what he’s given. See him in our situation, no matter what it is. After all, every good and perfect gift comes from him.
There is probably a lot more to say. But before I do…