The Pursuit of Happiness
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all
to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV
Dear Church Family,
I’ve been reading a book about marriage lately (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage). No, it’s not because Myra and I are having trouble (but she needs all the prayers she can get—she’s married to me). The subtitle of the book gives away the central thesis: “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”
In the early chapters, Thomas comes across as a bit anti-romantic. This, however, is only because he has to correct some common errors about marriage that are rooted in the last few hundred years of western philosophy and literature. These assumptions include the following: the highest goal of humans is to be happy, and the reason for getting married is that “We’re in loooove!”
Some of this attitude shows up in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson argued that a fundamental role of government was to protect the “unalienable rights” of humans, including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Now, I don’t want to come across as anti-American, and I think there is at least some truth in Thomas’s words about the function of government. On the other hand, I want you to think for a minute about what the Bible teaches about the nature of humans as God created them, and about the purpose of human life on earth.
From the beginning (Genesis 1:27-28), God created humans in his image and gave them the task of ruling over creation. Bearing God’s image, then, may be a “job description” of humans—to be his ambassadors on earth. In the passage quoted at the top of this letter (1 Corinthians 10:31), Paul puts a very different spin on the purpose of life compared to the “pursuit of happiness.” Rather, the “glory of God” is supposed to be our pursuit.
So what do I have against happiness? Well, I have nothing more against happiness than I have against romantic love. I’ve experienced both, and they are wonderful. Happiness is not, however, the purpose for which God put me on earth, nor is romantic love an adequate foundation for a godly and fulfilling marriage.
Let’s put this another way: human existence and marriage are, in fact purposeful, but that purpose goes way beyond human happiness. Marriage, for example, is deeply meaningful in God’s design. The problem is that “happiness” is often understood as a giddy emotional state. The challenge for us is NOT to pursue happiness, but to find happiness in pursuing God’s will for our lives. That is why I like the word, “fulfilling.” I’m not after a temporary emotion; I’m after a sense that my life fulfills God’s purpose. As Gary Thomas’s subtitle suggests, part of that is making me holy, but as Paul put it to the Corinthians, it is bringing glory to God. Unless my life, including my marriage, is bringing glory to God, something is missing in my pursuits.